ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
At first glance, one could easily mistake Chuck Palahniuk’s new short story, “Zombie,” for being the inventive author’s own take on the renascent zombie/un-dead genre. Boy, that would be fun, but that assumption would also be incorrect. That does not mean the title is misleading, however, because, as it portends, the content of the story is disturbing.
The premise of Palahniuk’s narrative surrounds the inception of a morbid teenage fad in which students at a high school begin using defibrillators to zap brains. The effect: mental retardation. “It’s basically a peel and stick lobotomy,” describes the narrator, a student at the high school. He watches as his classmates, upstanding students interested in string theory and cheerleading, devolve into drooling mental zombies content with watching Fraggle Rock for the rest of their lives.
The motivation behind the teens’ radical choice is one part selfishness and one part nemesism — a terrible fear of a despicably dull and domesticated future. Palahniuk weaves the defibrillator zap fad into the fabric of youth culture; the phenomenon is like a drug fad. “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” the narrator’s uncle asks. Albeit extreme, the defibrillator parallels today’s youths’ penchant for escapism, whether it be drugs, Facebook, alcohol or television.
Maybe, Palahniuk supposes, pure ignorance is bliss. Is the mean by which the teens achieve ignorance extreme? Yes, of course. Yet, the ludicrously dark social issue in the story (defibrillating gains quite a lot of traction very quickly) is not only a literary technique (Palahniuk excels at creating intriguing hyperbolic scenarios), but also it is a critique on the extreme ways in which 21st century American society already chooses to numb itself to inner and outer personal problems.
Even though “Zombie” is not riddled with moaning undead zombies in search of human flesh, the short story made me recall the “The Walking Dead,” 28 Days Later and all those other zombie dramas. Save for the occasional snort and growl, those zombies look quite content and peaceful when left undisturbed by human racket.
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