Zombies are bollocks!



Updated: February 13, 2014

Several weeks back, I had the distinct double misfortune of watching some moronic TV show aired on the History Channel under the guise of would-be science, talking about how a zombie apocalypse might erupt in our modern world, and watching World War Z, which showed me how it erupts. Now I enjoyed NOT the latter free of charge, because I watched it during a flight, on a plane, so I didn't actually waste money, apart from the air fare, but then, the cost was there, with or without the movie, ergo free. At least that, because the movie was rather bollocky.

Although I have told you what you could do in the case of a zombie apocalypse, it was done in a humoristic fashion, assuming the unrealistic conditions under which the blockbuster bullshit action happens. However, after having suffered diarrhea pretending to be science, it is time to discuss the zombie phenomenon from a genuine scientific perspective, which will prove why the living dead are, indeed, bollocks.

Definition of a zombie

There's a real reason why zombies do not exist in real life. They cannot exist. Being dead means your life functions have ceased. An exposed corpse undergoes quick physical and chemical changes when subjected to heat, cold, humidity, water, and insects. But, for the sake of this silly argument, we will assume that somehow, dead flesh can be animated in a frightening manner, full of strength, agility and cunning, and cheap makeup effects and such.

This leaves us with the second option - not being dead. This means that zombies are still living humans, with a somewhat changed biology, possibly due to some bacteria or virus, or both. But if you're still alive, then the rules of the game are completely different from what the movies tell you.

Typical zombie

Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Zombie behavior

When a person becomes a zombie, there are a lot of bollo ... things that happen.

Screaming

Almost always, zombies start growling and screaming like animals. Why? First, going back to being dead theory, dead people do not need to breathe, hence they do not need to inhale and exhale air, hence there's nothing to excite their vocal cords in order to produce sound. Hence, bollocks. Big, hairy bollocks the size of pomegranates.

Teaser

Physical strength & properties

Second, zombies usually exercise more-than-normal physical prowess compared to healthy humans. They run very fast without tiring, they skip and jump like a Canadian lumberjack, and they can break down hard, heavy obstacles that living humans cannot possibly overcome without the use of tools and weapons.

How come? Does it sound logical to you that a sick person, affected by some crazy, virulent, aggressive virus, would be able to maintain their strength, let alone exceed it? Why would anyone possessed by an illness, short of drugs, be able to run faster than they could when completely healthy? Would their heart be able to withstand the extra strain for more than a few seconds? Not likely, right.

I could understand that an illness might inhibit pain receptors, and then, a zombie might become a careless thing oblivious to personal injury. I might also believe that some kind of a brain damage could make people become violent to the extreme. But none of these make you a marathon runner. Especially if you're made of dead, decomposing flesh.

Dead flesh

Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY 2.0, by Gage Skidmore.

Some movies like to portray zombies with long teeth and eyes with a funny color. Why? Do you mean to tell me that a virus can make your teeth grow? Or maybe change the color of your eyes without affecting your vision in a nasty manner? Screw that.

Social dynamics of a zombie

Zombies like to kill living humans for some reason. All right. So be it. This means that zombies can identify healthy humans in a crowd. Stop. Back up. Imagine yourself in a crowd of several hundred people. It can take you many seconds to spot a friendly face or two. You can identify people by their physical looks, and sometimes by their voice. You might be able to tell a familiar smell at a very short distance. Other than that, you cannot really know if anyone is carrying a deadly illness in their body, you do not know if some unlucky chap has cancer, you do not know what the people around you have eaten for lunch, you do not know how old they are, or anything else.

So why would zombies be able to do this? A sudden illness cannot enhance human receptors beyond their existing capabilities. It's not like our eyes or noses are operating at a reduced capacity, and you're waiting for a special virus to make you a super human. You are what you are. If you cannot see in the dark, then no bacteria can possibly make you sensitive to infrared or ultra-violet. Won't happen. You will not be able to smell people a hundred meters away. And you can't tell their properties by staring at them.

Crowd

Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For this reason, any kind of zombie radar is pure and simple shit. In a realistic zombie scenario, zombies would not be able to tell one another apart, let alone healthy people, at any significant distance. The same goes for sound and smell. They would behave like any animal with a terminal disease. The rabies, for example.

Moreover, if zombies are mindless things, then any kind of intelligent decision making is a no-no. You cannot expect zombies to set traps against you, or ambush you suddenly, or cue on your noise. You cannot expect zombies not to attack one another. You cannot expect zombies to patiently wait for the camera to cue in before they do the scream-and-jump trick on you, preferably in 3D. Nor can they exhibit any kind of ant-like collective intelligence. Nor can they operate doors. Nor can they anything. Does not compute. The bollocks have just grown bigger.

Transmission vector

Another weak point in every single zombie movie is the way the disease spreads. Crap. Any manifestation of a deadly disease anywhere in the world would lead to an immediate response from health organizations worldwide. Take SARS, for example. Half the Asian continent air traffic was grounded for a while until the authorities decided it was safe to reopen airports. You had screening and whatnot, and this way, an outbreak was quickly and easily prevented.

Any similar phenomenon would meet with the same kind of response. People would take the matter seriously, and respond in kind. Sick people would be quarantined, and anyone seen running naked and foaming in the streets would promptly get shot.

Speaking of how you might get infected by a zombie disease, scratching someone or biting someone is probably the worst kind of idea. One, human nails are not made for any kind of serious clawing. Two, there's no fertile ground for bacteria and viruses under your nails, just some skin, dead tissue and alike. Three, to bite someone, you actually have to run them down, and sink your teeth in their flesh. Have you ever tried that? Even when you're fully healthy and in total control of your body, with perfect coordination and mental health, biting another human takes quite a bit of wrestling effort.

Zombie bacteria

Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Airborne and blood-transmitted diseases are more likely. Furthermore, zombie diseases often come to bear within minutes, if not seconds. That's actually the worst kind of disease you can have. Not for the world but for the actual agent responsible for the disease. Let's take a real example from the nature. Ebola. A deadly virus. Too deadly for its own good. It's so deadly that it will probably kill its victim before the victim can reach another human and transmit the disease. The same thing here. Viruses that incubate for days, weeks or even months are far deadlier, because they allow for far more interaction with other humans, completely undetected. Diseases that happen in a burst are extremely easily contained, and they are also rather self-destructive.

Of course, we will ignore the actual human metabolism, and how it does things, and how it responds to illnesses. We will ignore the massive bacteria culture residing in everyone's mouth, designed to stop other, less friendly bacteria from taking over your organism.

Fighting the apocalypse

It always comes to a total breakdown of society. But rather than portraying the fine nuances of human society undergoing a crisis, the movies focus on stupid effects, the headshots, which are completely and utterly stupid, and similar crap.

Should a zombie-like situation happen, your worst worry would probably be vandalism and crime. People would be instructed to remain indoors, there might be a curfew or a martial law in place, and in well-organized societies, the police and the army would maintain order fairly easily.

Here's a scenario. Humans are becoming zombies at an alarming rate. In the movies, policemen with pistols are overrun by angry crowds of monsters. Fair enough. Now, here's another scenario. An M1A2 Abrams tank with a TUSK urban-warfare conversion is patrolling city streets. It is armed with 40 rounds of 120 mm Fletchette rounds, rather than conventional Sabot and HEAT munition used against enemy armor. A typical Fletchette tank projectile contains several thousand iron needles, an anti-personnel equivalent of a cluster bomb. When fired into a tightly packed crowd, it will render total havoc in the radius of about 200 meters. For zombies, this means quick, total death, several hundred each time.

Moreover, our M1A2 tank is also armed with a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, with anything between 2,000 rounds and some 12,000 rounds, plus a 12.7mm heavy machine gun, remotely controlled, with 500-2,000 rounds. The vehicle may also have 40mm Mk.19 grenade launchers or additional machine guns, a full complement of assault rifles for the crew, and let's not forget 65 tons worth of composite armor and rubberized tracks for mauling flesh like a pro. Used with care, a single tank could inflict thousand of casualties easily.

Tank firing

Multiply this tank by four, and you have a platoon. Then, multiply some more. Send a tank division into any zombie hive, and you will have cleaned it before sundown. It's not like the zombies are going to stage ambushes with RPG-7 rockets or anything alike. They will mill around needlessly, or run about stupidly, or get overrun by the tank. So, more bollocks there.

Yet for some reason, in the movies, it always comes down to the lone guy, or maybe his family, or maybe his bunch of friends and such, fighting with shotguns and such. I am well aware that Americans are fascinated by shotguns, and that they love this idea of a bunch of people fighting for survival in a Deliverance-like situation, but that does not change the fact that a zombie apocalypse would have nothing to do with gun lovers and doomsday preppers. And of course, let's never forget that zombies are technically alive, right.

Killing living people is called murder

There you go. Even if they suffer from a horrible illness, and the rabies seems like the closest equivalent, popping a few shotgun shells into a zombie would constitute as murder. Killing ill people sounds rather bad, don't you think. Moreover, if they have been inflicted with some deadly pathogen that alters the way they behave or think or perceive reality, then they are most likely unaware of their actions, and cannot be held guilty or even responsible for them. On the other hand, the healthy society around is morally and legally bound to help the afflicted.

Murder

Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

More movie bullshit

Now that we have thoroughly debunked any pseudo-scientific rationale behind zombies and their behavior, let's discuss several more things that happen to be portrayed in the cinema. And let's not forget I suffered during my flight, so some of the stuff here will definitely touch on that one particular movie.

The guy who knows everything

There's always one scientist who holds the key to whatever. Not just zombie movies. We saw the same thing in the movie hacking article, right. Wrong. Any serious global outbreak of any kind of disease would be addressed by thousands if not tens of thousands of doctors, scientists and researchers. It would never, EVER come down to a lone guy. And he would never be sent on some shitty mission somewhere, to collect samples or whatever.

The guy who knows everything

Note: Computer Nerd image, courtesy of memegenerator.co.

Random cure against zombies

If you approach the zombie problem with all the grace of a car mechanic, yes, the solution will be equally enlightening, just as your sub-100 IQ crowd watching the movie and munching on their oversize popcorn portion. But I hardly see how you can translate a careful statistical work in multi-million dollar labs to field work done by would-be government hotshots and super guys fighting to save the world. I mean, have they not been trained to kill rather than run Anova tests in Excel? Would they know Anova if you showed it to them? Not likely.

Miraculous cure

Note: Image in public domain, courtesy of CDC/Laura R. Zambuto, James Gathany.

Headshots

Yes, we talked about this. Not a computer game, moving on.

Headshot

Everything breaks down

For some reason, zombies also cause electricity shortage. Go figure. Why? If they are so keen on being screaming pedestrians, then the actual problems will most likely be limited to a medieval-era like areas of interest, small urban centers and the nearby region, within the walking distance.

And yet, for reasons unknown, you have power plants melting, cities looking like Pripyat after just a few days of some silly disease and even satellites going wonky. Hell, there has been less chaos after the tsunami in Fukushima, and that was a major one. Hold the horses. The zombies are here.

Riots

A religious spin

You can't have any good zombie mambo-jumbo without at least a small, innocent reference to mythology, religion and past practices related to death, burial and superstition. Oh noes, in the middle ages, people used to bury their neighbors with their mouth sown or with a non-sexual gagball equivalent so they couldn't possibly bite if resurrected. Oh noes, they used to nail coffins shut, and not only because grave robbers ran such a lucrative market selling bones as relics of would-be saints. Who cares. Did they have the Internet then? No. I win.

Apocalypse

Conclusion

And we're done. While good zombie fiction can be appreciated, most of the time, we're dealing with poor, pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific-scare C-class entertainment, designed to please the common oligophren, which is why we the smart people get pissed so much. Animal snarls, teeth, ultra-human speed and strength, just does not compute. And let's not forget. Killing sick people. That's the basic message of zombie movies. Right. The living dead concept is no longer fun, is it. We're done. Another bollockness myth dispelled. Booyah.

P.S. The images of the riots and the apocalypse are in public domain.

Cheers.

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