During a question-and-answer session with students on February 7, 2014, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky was asked why there’s a cultural preoccupation with “the zombie apocalypse” in United States.
“My guess is,” Chomsky said, “that it’s a reflection of fear and desperation. The United States is an unusually frightened country, and in such circumstances, people concoct, maybe for escape or relief, [narratives] in which terrible things happen.”
“Fear in the United States is actually a pretty interesting phenomenon,” Chomsky continued. “It actually goes back to the colonies — there’s a very interesting book by a literary critic, Bruce Franklin, called War Stars. It’s a study of popular literature…from the earliest days to the present, and there are a couple of themes that run through it that are pretty striking.”
“For one thing,” Chomsky said, “one major theme in popular literature is that we’re about to face destruction from some terrible, awesome enemy, and at the last moment we’re saved by a superhero, or a super-weapon — or, in recent years, high school kids going to the hills to chase away the Russians.”
According to Chomsky, “there’s a sub-theme: it turns out this enemy, this horrible enemy that’s going to destroy us, is someone we’re oppressing. So you go back to the early years, the terrible enemy was the Indians.”
“The colonists, of course, were the invaders…whatever you think about the Indians, they were defending their own territory.” After a brief discussion of the Declaration of Independence, Chomsky notes that one of the complaints listed in it is that King George “unleashed against [the colonists] the merciless Indian savages, whose known way of warfare is torture and destruction and so on.”
“Well, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that…knew quite well that it was the merciless English savages whose known way of warfare was destruction and torture and terror, and taking over the country and driving out and exterminating the natives. But it’s switched in the Declaration of Independence,” Chomsky said, indicating that this is yet another example of Franklin’s thesis that oppressed people become, in the popular imagination of the oppressors, the “terrible, awesome enemy” bent on the destruction of America.
“After that,” Chomsky continued, “it became the slaves. There was going to be a slave revolt…and the slave population was going to rise up and kill all the men, rape all the women, and destroy the country.”
“And it goes into modern times, with Hispanic narco-traffickers who are going to come in and destroy this society…and these are real fears, that’s a lot of what lies behind the extremely unusual gun culture in the United States,” Chomsky said. “We just have to have guns to protect ourselves from the United Nations, the federal government, aliens, and zombies, I suppose.”
“I think when you break it down,” Chomsky concluded, “much of it is just a recognition — at some level of the psyche — that if you’ve got your boot on somebody’s neck, there’s something wrong, and that they people you’re oppressing may rise up and defend themselves.”
Watch Chomsky’s exchange with the student below.
["Zombie Woman Outside With Yellow Eyes Looking At Camera Biting A Victim" on Shutterstock]
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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