July 19, 2011

Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, Part V: Artifacts of Zombie Elimination

The following is an excerpt of our upcoming chapter in the edited collection Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education.

As we try to move our analysis beyond the simple mapping of references to “zombies”, as was shown in Part IV, references to other zombie-related keywords can be particularly revealing of a variety of socio-spatial patterns, whether they be medically related keywords, such as Max Brooks’ fictitious “solanum” virus, or even a comparison between the relative presence of the zombie food source “brains”, as compared to what we presume to be the inverse, “salad”. While these selections are certainly amusing, they provide little insight on the connection between the zombie metaphor in the geoweb and the lived realities of different people. A potentially better line of exploration lies in mapping references to various material artifacts related to zombies, in this case the weapons used to kill zombies in literature and cinema. After all, upon finding out where exactly the zombies are, the next task usually involves getting rid of them.

Using the following keywords – “machete”, “shotgun”, “crowbar”, “AK-47” and “flamethrower” – we mapped the relative prevalence of each term across Europe and the US. As is par for the Floatingsheep course, each color dot signifies a point at which there are more references to that keyword than any of the other four weapons. Although this does not take into account the absolute number of references to each keyword, it highlights the dominance of references to any particular weapon and its concomitant cultural implications in a particular place.

Zombie Elimination Artifacts in Europe
There are three noticeable spatial patterns visible in the first map. First, a cluster of references to AK-47s exists in the former Eastern bloc countries. Given the weapon’s origin within the Soviet Union, the prevalence of references in Eastern Europe is unsurprising. Second, the dominance of references to shotgun in Great Britain is the most noticeable pattern, especially because it broadly conforms to the boundaries of the island. Third is the fact that most locations within Europe have no references to any of these keywords, a fact that indicates that their usage on the internet, like that of zombies, is concentrated in very particular places.

The references to weapons in these maps have the effect of mirroring distinct socio-cultural traits in offline, material practices. The second map, depicting the same keywords mapped across the United States, is, like England, blanketed with references to shotguns. This, compared with the dearth of references to any of these weapons throughout much of Europe, is indicative of a greater degree of the embeddedness of the artifact of the shotgun in the cultural practices (e.g., real or perceived levels of violence), and by extension the virtual representations, of some parts of the world.

Zombie Elimination Artifacts in the United States
While not resolving the debate of whether “guns kill people” or “people kill people”, this analysis makes evident that in the event of a zombie horde, shotguns would likely be killing zombies in the British Isles and the USA. On the other hand, continental Europe would likely draw upon a mélange of machetes, crowbars, Kalashnikovs and the occasional flamethrower. Choose your weapons carefully, friends.

Be sure to check out the previous iterations of our Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse series in Parts I, II, III and IV.

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