Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Are We Studying Zombies? and Brains ... er ... Cauliflower Soup

The other day, during a meeting in which we reviewed the course offerings for the spring term (yes, really, all of them), it became obvious that the university was offering no fewer than three courses on zombies this semester, along with two one witches/mystics.  I never really got caught up in zombie-mania (that whole not-having-a-TV thing means that I never got addicted to The Walking Dead), but I have to admit, the fact that a student could practically minor in zombies at my place of employment shifted my perspective a little bit.

What is it about zombies, anyway?

I asked an old friend this question over tea the other morning; she works at a university press and was, herself, just about to go write copy for a book on this very same topic.  Her theory, which she'd borrowed from a co-worker, was that zombie-mania comes in waves, altering with vampires: that when the economy is tanking, we find fascination in vampires (a metaphor for our own guilty consumption), and when things are looking up, we like zombies: exuberantly consuming everything. Someone actually tracked this, and while the correlation is imperfect, it's not implausible.  But it doesn't get us anywhere.

There's another theory: that zombies allow us to express our fear of ourselves.  Of the unknown, the unpredictable in human nature.  The erratic infection that reanimates some humans, the frightening evil that lies embedded within us.  The thing that makes us heartless, soul-less, and nearly impossible to kill.  Because of all of the scary things in the world, zombies are just like us.  They are us.  And they're out to get us, too. 

I sort of prefer the second theory, probably because I'm a humanist and not an economist.  I'm interested in (among many other things, of course) the things within us that destroy us.  What makes people evil?  What makes us self-sabotage, and be willing to eat others alive?  What makes us lose our souls?  How do people prepare for the zombie apocalypse, and what does this mean about our own defenses against the dark arts?  This is, to me, the more interesting question for the college classroom.  It makes minoring in zombies seem like a worthy pursuit.

I'm not sure we'll ever get a satisfactory answer to that question; that's not what the humanities are about.  Studying patterns of zombie behavior isn't likely to protect us against them any better (though the writers of copious zombie survival guides would argue differently, I'm sure; they would encourage me, barn-owner that I am, to get the app.).  Then again, maybe it's like going to therapy: if you figure out the patterns of behavior, and can recognize them early enough, maybe there are some souls--even your own--that you can save?

Are you a zombie-lover?  What do you think about the fascination with zombies?  Are you prepared for the zombie apocalypse, just in case?

Cauliflower Soup
The cauliflower just looks like brains, right?  Once you blend it up, only your inner zombie has to know.

1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
8 leeks, trimmed and finely chopped, white part only
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cauliflower head, finely chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
4 bay leaves
4 c. chicken broth
2 2/3 c. milk
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter and oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the leeks and onions, and saute until just beginning to caramelize.  Add cauliflower, potato, bay leaves, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, covered, until the cauliflower breaks apart easily with a fork, about 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.

Add the milk, salt, and pepper, and puree until smooth, either in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Top with shredded cheese, toasted almonds, creme fraiche, or snipped chives.
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  1. I think people just like zombies the way they like post-apocalyptic stories and horror in general. In the way that if you can imagine it, then that guards against it coming true. And the next generation is already buying into it - last week in the pre-K classroom three boys came to blows over the very important question of whether zombies were once people or not.

    Being able to study zombies for college credit, though; that's new to this era.

  2. Both theories as fascinating however, like you, I think I would subscribe to the second one if either. But like Maud said, that would be something else - to be able to study this for college credit. But understandably so. What an interesting peek into human nature.

  3. I think we like zombies because we all like brains. We like to talk about intelligence as much as we like to be intelligence or look for intelligence in others or compare our kids to the Joneses. And what better thing than to consume brains. To consume the organ that is at the root of all of that intelligence.


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