Saturday Morning Zombies: how infection is portrayed in the genre

As it’s Halloween and National Pathology Week 2021 is coming up I thought I’d re-share my love of zombie movies plus a little activity if anyone is looking for a fun outbreak to run with colleagues or as part of outreach.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m spending my day watching zombie movies. There is a reason that I watch in the morning… I’m a complete scaredy-cat and so I don’t want to watch these before I go to sleep. Also, I don’t really like horror movies. Correction: I only like horror movies with plot, i.e. Get Out.

So, why am I spending Saturday exploring the world of zombie horror?

Three reasons:

  • Despite not liking horror movies as such, I’m intellectually obsessed with how infection is portrayed in them and debating whether the infectious cause would result in different types of zombies.
  • Nicola Baldwin and I, because of our shared obsession with the genre (albeit for different reasons), are going to create a new piece of work on zombies and infection for the Rise of the Resistance Festival (online 7th and 8th May 2021). I therefore need to do some homework.
  • My husband really really likes zombie movies: he is super-stoked that this is my weekend homework, rather than writing papers or analysing data

My friends and I talk about this so much as part of our ‘pub conversations’ that we honestly do have a zombie survival plan. So much so that one of my best friends included saving her husband ‘during the zombie apocalypse’ as part of her wedding vows. This may sound silly and, believe me, it is; But there is some interesting and philosophical stuff in here:

  • Where is the best place to run to (cities vs country)?
  • What would you do in the 1st 24 hours, 1st week, 1st month?
  • Who would you get to join your party? Why? What skills do you need?
  • Do you take people along for the ride because you like them, or does everyone have to have purpose?
  • What rules of society might you abandon for the sake of saving the human race, i.e. monogamy, patriarchy?
  • How much aid would you offer to strangers ‘Good of the Many’?
  • Would you opt to die as you or turn if infected? ‘Survival at any cost and in any form?’
  • What would your ‘rules’ be?

These questions are all about how we, as humans, would react to a zombie outbreak. However, the thing that really fascinates me is how the zombie might change based on the cause of the zombie infection.

There are real life instances where infection can result in behaviour change. As part of my interest in this, I created the activity at the bottom of the page called ‘Zombie Island’. It was one of the first public engagement activities I designed and ended up being turned into a live action takeover event in the city centre of Toronto, where visitors had to solve different clues and challenges in order to cure themselves before they became zombies. The activity in Toronto was called Zombie Rendezvous and the link to the booklet is below:


Zombie Island – How Will You Save your Tropical Island Home?

The first thing you need to do is design your zombie. Will it be due to:

  • A virus?
  • A bacteria
  • A fungus?

This decision will affect not only how your zombie transmits infection, but also how fast and easy/hard to kill it is.

How do infectious causes affect zombie characteristics?

Slide taken from Design You Zombie Activity (see downloads below)

Once you have your zombies designed you can then play the scenario. Each different type of zombie requires different infection control and public health decisions/prioritisation. Make the wrong choices and the zombies will reach the port or airport and get off your island to infect the outside world. They can also infect your food supply, take down your military, or cause mass point-source outbreaks if you fail to shut down public events. All decisions aren’t equal, so make your choice…+

More on all of this later when I’ve watched some movies. Remember – aim for the head!

All opinions on this blog are my own.

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