Arts/Literature

The last word from the foremost expert (a zombie apocalypse postscript)

Matt Mogk has been out of town for a few days, but whether that’s because he’s been on vacation or he’s been out investigating an outbreak of the living dead, he doesn’t say. I don’t ask either, figuring that some things are better left unknown.

Of course, Mogk, the author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies and director of the Zombie Research Society, would be quick to remind me: “What you don’t know can eat you.”

I’d been trying to get in touch with Mogk as I wound down my zombie series for S&R, but Mogk, who works as a full-time zombie expert, had been off the grid. May was Zombie Awareness Month, and things kind of “went crazy” because of the spate of bizarre zombie-like attacks that showed up in the news during the month.

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” Mogk tells me, “and that’s about as strange as you can get.”

While the media made much of the “zombie attacks,” Mogk points out the obvious. “Zombies are the result of an infectious disease,” he says. “Unless the guy in Miami starts moaning ‘Braaaaains’ and gets up and starts eating his doctors, this isn’t zombieism.”

So far, he says, that’s not happening.

“That’s their strength, right? One zombie can create another, who can create another, can create ten-thousand,” he says. “That’s the obvious thing missing here.”

Mogk was unsurprised by the media sensationalism, though, because zombies remain a hot pop-cultural property. “Look how important zombies are as a pop cultural phenomenon,” he says. “They’re the most compelling and relevant monster of the last fifty years.”

As a result of my semester-long study of zombies, I’m taking my new-found knowledge into the classroom. I’ll be teaching a new summer-session course starting on Monday “Pop Culture: Tales from the Zombie Apocalypse.” The class is fully subscribed. I ask Mogk for any final advice.

“Encourage people to do their own research,” he says. “By the time the dead do arise, it’s ‘run-and-scream time’ by that point. People should check into stuff in advance. They can raise their own awareness and share that awareness with others.”

I suppose that’s what I’ll be doing with my class: raising awareness, sharing what I’ve learned, carrying on the work of Mogk and the other experts of his Zombie Research Society. In fact, my own ZRS membership card (and members-only t-shirt) is now on its way to me in the mail.

“That’s really cool,” Mogk says. He wishes me luck with the course. I promise to keep him posted.

After all, what we don’t know can eat us.

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