September 2, 2005
New Orleans, Zombie City
As the situation on the ground in New Orleans has crumbled into complete chaos, danger, violence, and a failure by the powerful to protect the vulnerable, people have turned on each other with increased viciousness, moving through the city looking for safe shelter and fighting over scarce supplies. "We're just a bunch of rats," said Earle Young, an evacuee waiting to be taken out of the destroyed city by bus.
It seems not real. We normally only see people fighting for their lives in this way in movies about zombie attacks. Take a look at these pictures. One is from 2004's Dawn of the Dead. The other is from yesterday in New Orleans. Which is which? With these, and with others, it's too hard to tell.
In movies, zombies represent us turned against ourselves -- humanity is stripped away, social order breaks down in the face of fear and chaos, and nothing matters anymore except survival. Of course, when you have 100,000 people stranded in a city with dead bodies everywhere, with no food, water, electricity, or medical supplies for four days, I don't see how they could be expected to act any other way.
Political leaders are encouraging the zombie attack metaphor by abandoning efforts to rescue people and threatening to kill anyone caught breaking the law -- treating citizens as if they were the living dead, things to be controlled and exterminated, rather than helped and saved. Governor Kathleen Blanco said that the National Guardsmen who are coming into the city are fresh from Iraq, ready for more: "They have M-16's and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
Just be sure they shoot the zombies in the head, Kathleen, it's the only way to kill them. Or have the National Guard drop 100,000 copies of The Zombie Survival Guide onto the city, which I'm sure would delight all the starving, sick, exhausted evacuees for whom we should have "zero tolerance."
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