Zombie apocalypse. The best backdrop for lucid dreaming, something I do a lot.Escaping death is empowering. Looking into a mirror of what I’ll become if and when I turn—exhilarating.
Pushing a buck-20 in my vintage blue and white striped Z Camaro down leaf-covered country roads at dusk, flying between rooftops over zombie hordes in city alleys below, creeping through dark hospital basements or abandoned farm houses. I was neck-deep in this stuff long before TWD or World War Z.
Psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge first said time perception in lucid dreams follows that of waking life. Not so, at least not anymore. Tech has changed lots of things—time, identity, dreams—even zombies. Pop culture consultant Arnold T. Blumberg:
Slow zombies don’t cut it anymore. Our fears are more intense. Our technology is faster, our world is faster, we need a faster zombie. A great example is the World War Z film adaptation, where you see a virtual tsunami of zombie bodies rushing mindlessly. They’re not even human anymore, not even distinguishable as individuals. They’re just a mass of flesh washing over us.
Charlie Adlard, the artist behind The Walking Dead, says the show tapped in on a public zeitgeist. We see memes poking fun at the way we lose ourselves in smartphones or explaining our voyeuristic tendency to journal horrific acts and share them on social media. But what’s this about turning into zombies?
As time floods our perception and pixels come with emotions of their own, it’s hard to tell what’s “real” and what’s not. In cities, where even slow creeps at the speed of 4G, technology exacerbates the transformation of the real. ICT taps our inner collective, one status update, one group text, at a time; it hooks us into the zeitgeist IV. It’s hard to see what’s happening around the corner when we’re overwhelmed in the now, and if texting taught us anything it’s the danger of looking away, even for a second.
Being a part of something bigger is what we want—urban collectives, social networks, civil movements, society. Participating is at the heart of the social animal. But joining the collective at the expense of individuality is one source of anxiety. Scientific consultant on World War Z, David Hughes:
If natural selection is at play, we should expect to see cooperative behavior among zombies. Before they get bitten they’re individual humans with individual interests and different genetic relatedness, so they should be selfish. Once they’re bitten it doesn’t matter which zombie bites the next human so long as the virus gets there. We see many examples in nature of groups of organisms moving more quickly when the individual desire is subjugated to the success of the group.
The relentless onslaught of the zombie horde—or in The Walking Dead, the “herd”—represents the encroachment of human bodies on the 21st century city, which seems to mimic advancing technology. But to what extent is this happening at the expense of individualism? And is lucid dreaming a way to alleviate the anxiety of losing oneself in the horde?
For more commentary see Doc of the Dead, a fun look at zombie origins and how science and tech have made the genre.
This is a modified post from 2014. Image: The Washington Herd, The Walking Dead comics