Welcome to today's live chat on StarNet. Today we're chatting with Dr. Steven C. Schlozman who's here to answer your questions about all things dead and living dead.
He's an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and will be in Tucson to discuss the "Night of the Living Dead" at the Loft Saturday as part of its Science on Screen. He's also the author of the new book "The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks From the Apocalypse."
I am so delighted and honored to be here to "talk" with y'all. But, I gotta begin with a caveat. Zombies....well, they aren't real. Yet.
Depends what you mean...the zombie is actually a term from West African and island religions. Those zombies are possibly real. They're "made" that way by someone else through tetra toxin (from the puffer fish) and the skin the new world toad. The zombies I think about are in no way real. These are the flesh eating shambling corpses from movies like Night of the Living Dead. They didn't exist in the movies until 1968 when that movie came out. And...George Romero, who made that amazing film didn't call them zombies. He called them ghouls. Hollywood called the zombies, and the name stuck.
Here's the thing. I tried to write about zombies from the movies as if they're real. If we saw shambling flesh eating humanoids like we see in Shaun of the Dead, what would be wrong with them. I'm a doctor, and since I think a lot about the brian, I focused on the brain in thing about what ails them. And, to that end, we could postulate what it would take to "make" a zombie. that's the focus of my book...and to teach a bit of neuroscience while I'm at it.
Also, I am gonna have lots of typos. I could tell you that this is cuz I had one of my fingers eaten on the way over, but I just told you zombies aren't real, so you'll have to forgive or at least tolerate my lousy dexterity
I love the zombie sheep movie! So - its a fad, and fads are fascinating things in and of themselves. But you're asking, why zombies? Well, I think they speak to us and the disconnection we feel in our modern life. Ever waited at the DMV for your driver's license? Ever get stuck in mind numbing traffic? That lack of personal connectedness is zombie-like and makes us respond like zombies. to that extent they serve as potent metaphors for our lives, and a way to ask tough questions about things that are otherwise really difficult to address. How do we define human? How do we define feelings? How do we not throw up at the movies?
Always loved Zombies....always loved horror movies. Personally, the slasher films are harder for me. But zombies are not real and yet they feel strangely prescient. They seem to tell us more about each other (a movie with nothing but zombies would be REALLY boring). So - I like zombies as a psychiatrist because I'm interested in how they help us to think about ourselves. And, I like to think about the way the brain could malfunction in both the zombies and in those who are fighting the zombies.
First Zombie movie? Dawn of the Dead in 1978. Scared the pants off of me, but also fascinated me. I was 12 years old. Lied to my parents and snuck in. They made a movie in shopping mall, and malls where I went mostly to hang out with friends and meet girls. we often felt sort of zombie like at malls, and here was the movie capturing that feeling. It was funny, then scary, then both, and ultimately that combination was terrifyingly fun.
Hmmm. I get the virus question a lot. So - I'm not an ID doc, but in researching my novel I spent a lot of time with a lot of ID docs. I think it'd be hard to have one evolve naturally. And, we can never, ever, raise the dead. But, the shambling can have an infectious cause, the hunger can have an infectious cause and the cognitive impairment can have an infectious cause. So, we can postulate, but some nasty person would have to make it. (I was interviewed about this in the March issue of Popular Science)
Best show ever. Wow. I can't miss it, I love the show, and I find it immensely disturbing in all the ways that I love and that make me watch it. Some of been critical for the lack of action, but I don't see it that way. It's really about the people (all zombie movies are). That's what George Romero stumbled into nearly 40 + years ago
In terms of portraying zombies on TWD, I have a minor beef (excuse the pun). The zombies are getting faster. I like my zombie slow, and that's because I will argue to my grave (though I hope it never comes to that) that slow moving zombies are more frightening.
Thanks so much, first of all, for calling it wonderful. Any author can't hear that enough. Working with George is really wonderful. He's, and I am not making this up, perhaps the kindest gentlest man I know. He's very, very smart, much more artistically inclined than I am, but very much a teacher. I've learned from him they one learns from a mentor and a friend. We're in the early stages, but still there has been wonderful back and forth. He's a fantastic writer. Plus, think about this. I SNUCK INTO THIS GUY'S MOVIE, AND NOW WE'LL MAKE ONE THAT OTHER MISCREANTS LIKE I WAS WILL SNEAK INTO. That's pretty cool
Fightin' words! At comic-con, I though there might be a riot when this was debated. And believe me, it is debated with more vigor than lots of other academic things I get asked about. I am partial to the slow movie zombies. I think they're scarier, I think they play with our most iconic fears more aptly, I think they are more true to the neurobiologically postulated dysfunction (realizing that it is all fiction), and I think they allow for a story line that is more psychologically complicated. Having said that, I sure did like the remake of Dawn of the Dead and even if the folks in 28 Days Later aren't really zombies, that movie is pretty evocative. In the end of the day, it's like talking about the DH in baseball. People who love the genre will argue this fact out of their love for the genre, just folks who love baseball will argue the appropriateness of the DH forever and with glee and fisticuffs,.
At Spooky Empire, a great, convention in Orlando, I engaged in an Oxford Style Debate where I argued the affirmative: Slow Moving zombie are scarier. I lost, I think, but it was close
Hey, Peggy: Which local bookstores have Steven's book? Will it be for sale at the movie?
the illustrations really make it special, I think, and this is all due to a fantastic artist named Andrea Sparacio. She was asked by editor to talk to me about drawing this stuff. I had the idea that a medical illustrator would sketch things in the island where the book takes place, and poor Andrea subjected herself to my descriptions and then time in various anatomy labs around NYC. Without her, there'd be a different book. Gives a gothic feeling that I love
For surviving? KEEP YOUR HEAD. Literally and metaphorically. Easy to panic, but zombie are slow and dumb. They can't open windows. They can't solve problems. They can't do all sorts of things except clumsily lunge at you. Don't walk while texting. Don't shoot your gun. Hide. They'll shamble on past. I think the enemy in a zombie apocalypse is us (as Pogo said)
On TWD, there's a super-important issue that we need to think about in that semi-serious way that campy horror affords. Zombie are sick. They're infected or changed or damaged or otherwise impaired. What if we can cure them? What if there's a chance at a cure? When do we give up and dehumanize someone so that we can with comfort shoot them? That's heavy stuff, but that's what Hershel asks in the TWD, and that's at the core of every good zombie story, and it is central to the way I was thinking in the book I wrote. Who are we decide that they are as good as gone? And when can we not afford to not make that decision?
Oh yeah, and as for the hunger - someone just asked why are they so hungry. If we look at the brain, there are regions of the brain (of the ventromedial hypothalamus) that tell us we're full. Something ain't right with that brain region. I suppose if I were a GI doc, I'd wonder first about tapeworms, but I thing more above the neck. Now, why only living things. Well, if we reduce the brain to the reptilian brain, then we have lots of evidence for snakes, alligators etc for eschewing dead things for living, probably because they're healthier. Why is is usually human? Scarier story, for one, but also there's this primitive brain function that might make the other want to go back to what it once was. (Think of King Snakes eating other snakes). Because its all fictional we get to make it up. I'LL TALK MORE ABOUT THE BIOLOGY TOMORROW AT THE LOFT. WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOU
Peggy, yes, close that window, and then relax. Eat a sandwich. You've got time, and you'll need to refuel. Tomorrow, part of our talk includes 10 ways to stay clear of the zombie in the movie you'll watch.
Steven's nearly caught up with the early questions so keep ' em coming!
Rabies, a megalo-virus, is pretty compelling. Here's where that bug falls apart for me: people unfortunate enough to get rabies are NOT hungry. They bite, but they don't eat. In fact, they're terrified of swallowing anything because of inflammation in their throat. We can't have the hunger without major morphing of that rabies virus. Rabies is pretty awful. You don't survive without shots, so don't hesitate if you suspect exposure. (watch To Kill a Mockingbird if you want to see one of the greatest rabies scenes ever in a movie)
The CDC post is pretty great. So - the doctor there and I spoke and I even got mentioned in the piece. Do they think zombies are real? No. (sorry to some who are disappointed) but getting ready for a zombie outbreak is an awful lot like getting ready for any public health emergency or natural disaster. The CDC got its message across
What does Harvard think? Thank you for asking that and for giving me the chance to thank Harvard. I checked with all the people I reported to first, and they were fine with it. Moreover, some have jumped in and all have been helpful. I work on the Transplant service, and the ID doc for transplants was a great source of information and would even e-mail me in the middle of the night with new ideas. I also had great discussions with neuropathologist, neurologists, neuroscientists, and other psychiatrists. I just gotta stress: THEY AREN'T REAL (zombies. Harvard is real)
Great question - I'm not an anthropologist, so I can't answer with the same comfort that I might bring to other inquiries. But short answer: yes. Every society and culture has it's mythical sub-human. think of the Golem in the Kaballah. That's one from my background. As to how they differ from culture to culture, I would direct you to Matt Mgok's new book about zombies. He does a fantastic summary
BTW, cultures have unique vampires also. Japanese vampires, for example, are particularly obsessive. If you toss rice at them, they need to stop and count it. These little quirks give you insight into the culture from which the stories emerge
People boo'ed me at Comic-con when I said zombies aren't real. I say, we're humans. We have lots of ways to do ourselves in without zombies. But we can stomach (sort of) a zombie movie because its easier than taking on a nuclear war...also, every other day we hear about a plague, disease, new threat etc. Zombie aren't real, so they allow us a safe place to ponder the real threats.
Thank you SO much for letting me talking with you guys. Although this may be in the TMI category, my bladder is full so I will need to go. PLEASE - I'd love to meet people at the Loft tomorrow. The Science on the Screen initiative is way cool, and I'm grateful for the sponsors for letting me meet you.
Here's the Loft information again:
Meet Steven at Saturday at the Loft
The Loft's "Science on Screen" presentation featuring Dr. Steven C. Schlozman and screening of "Night of the Living Dead." Schlozman will discuss the theoretical neuroscience of zombies and the psychological effects they have on others. Also, copies of Schlozman's new novel, "The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse," will be available for sale and signing. It's part of the Loft's "Science on Screen" series, which pairs movies with experts in science, medicine and technology.
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.
• Ticket: $9.
• More: www.loftcinema.com