The Zombie Rights Campaign Blog

‘Zombie’ Ants, or Biased Journalists?

Yet another instance of supposed ‘professionals’ using loaded and inappropriate language to defame the Differently Animated.

This time we have ‘scientists’ who describe the process by which a parasitic fungus infects ants, and then forces them to bite down on plants to obtain nutrients for the fungus to grow to its next stage, and thereby infect more ants:

A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis that infects a plain old carpenter ant and takes over its brain, leading the ant to bite into the vein that runs down the center of a leaf on the underside. The ant dies shortly thereafter, but the fungus gains the nutrients it needs to grow this crazy stalk out of the ant’s body and release spores to create the next generation of ant-controlling fungi.

This cryptic cycle has been going on for at least 48 million years.

Meanwhile, Zombie-bashing has been going on for at least a few decades.

What part of that description sounds like a Zombie to Discover magazine? These ants aren’t Undead, in fact, when infected by the fungus they’re not even Dead-dead. Granted, especially in a post-Boyle era, rife with your Resident Evils and your Left 4 Deads, even your Dead Risings, the Zombie community now embraces a wider continuum of living and unliving states. However, these ants aren’t even profoundly changed by some inexplicable biological process; they’re just being controlled by a fungus in their heads.

What’s next, referring to victims of brainwashing as Zombies?

Err, ok. I guess I walked into that one… but it’s still not fair! Zombies aren’t mere thralls to some mushroom-wannabe, they’re self-determining individuals who operate with intelligence and collective action to achieve their goals. These poor ants are just sick, confused, and being used as puppets of another organism.

Ironically though, even Zombie-hating fiction is moving in this defamatory direction. The ‘Hunger Plague’ featured in Marvel Zombies could be seen as quite similar to the ant fungus, in that it is a living thing that hijacks the behavioral process of much larger and more intelligent organisms in order to spread. Marvel Zombies then however assume more standard traits of Undeath; the living-vs-unliving question is never properly decided.

Meanwhile, as Zombie Fiction moves toward the Living Zombie, pop-science reporting moves toward describing every instance of a parasite controlled host as a ‘Zombie’. Witness this gallery of horrors, again from Discover, depicting ‘Zombie Animals’.

In all these cases, ‘Zombie’ does not refer to a profoundly altered system of biology and existence, possessing new traits and abilities fundamentally different from ordinary biology, whether it is or is not still technically itself ‘alive’. Rather, it’s a code word for ‘duped’ or ‘mind-controlled’, because to the popular mind Zombies must all be slaves to some outside influence, otherwise they wouldn’t be Zombies, right?

It’s a not-very-subtle bias that allows the Living to both blame the Differently Animated for their condition and avoid feeling any empathy for said DA individuals.

However this strategy may have negative implications, and not just for the relative emotional maturity of science writers at Discover (and The Guardian). Observe the information from the last slide in the Discover gallery:

Humans might not be exempt from the mind control of parasites, either. Half of us, scientists say, carry the parasitic protozoa Toxoplasma gondii. And once we have toxoplasma in our bodies, we carry it for life.

The rate of infection can vary wildly from country to country; only three percent of South Koreans have are infected by toxoplasma, while as many as 80 percent of French people are carriers. The Centers for Disease Control says that areas where people prefer undercooked meat, like France, or have stray cats running around, like Central America, are rife for infection.

Though the parasite’s main host is the cat, it can live in thousands of warm-blooded species (and we’re on the list). Toxoplasmosis, researchers have found, might make people more likely to be schizophrenic, and can change personality in subtle ways. One researcher found that infected men were more aggressive and jealous, women were more outgoing, and perhaps most seriously, both had slower reaction times and were in more traffic accidents.

Dun dun DUN. Which brings us right back, I suppose, to the subject of Human Zombiism. While we at the ZRC disagree with the assertion that minor mental influences are in any way comparable to the profound and fundamental alteration of Undeath or related conditions, even if it’s not accompanied by an actual Undead status, we would hope that the wide-ranging nature of these forms of ‘mind control’ might give the readers of Discover pause for how they themselves view ‘Zombies’. After all, the Zombie they fear most could well be the one in the mirror.

On another, lighter note, if 80% of French people are Zombies, then the ZRC needs to hire more staff, and establish a Paris bureau. I wonder if we can get government funding for that…

Liberté, égalité, fraternité indeed.


About The Author

The role of 'Administrator' will be played tonight by John Sears, currently serving as President of The Zombie Rights Campaign.

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