December 13, 2012
Zombies are the new vampires in the entertainment world, but unlike pop culture vampires, they don’t sparkle, they aren’t sexy and brooding, and you don’t want to turn into one.
The most popular show in cable TV history is The Walking Dead. Dozens, if not hundreds, of zombies are slain in every episode. Head shots are taken with no more compunction than swatting as mosquito before it lands on your arm. An axe to the skull, a pick through an eye socket, blunt objects, arrows, daggers – anything goes. What’s more, it doesn’t matter if the zombie is a man, woman or child – it must be killed immediately as it staggers hungrily towards you.
Even the US military is getting into the spirit of the Zombie Apocalypse, holding mock disaster drills with the shuffling horde as the enemy.
It’s all in the name of fun, right? Simply entertainment and anyone who says otherwise needs to lighten up, right?
Perhaps not – perhaps we need to take a look at psychological experiments undertaken in the last century to determine whether the Zombie craze is just a big psychological experiment being perpetrated on us.
In 1971, a 2 week experiment was funded by the US Office of Naval Research to study the effects of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard. A mock prison was set up at Stanford University, and 24 students took part in the experiment, half taking on the roles of prisoners and the other half, guards in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.
The situation escalated quickly into a cycle of abuse and torture. The psychological reactions were so dramatic that the study was suddenly halted on day 6. Out of more than 50 people who had observed the experiment, one graduate student finally objected to the abuse and torture. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who was in charge of the experiment, wrote:
At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation — a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work.
I ended the study prematurely for two reasons. First, we had learned through videotapes that the guards were escalating their abuse of prisoners in the middle of the night when they thought no researchers were watching and the experiment was “off.” Their boredom had driven them to ever more pornographic and degrading abuse of the prisoners.
Second, Christina Maslach, a recent Stanford Ph.D. brought in to conduct interviews with the guards and prisoners, strongly objected when she saw our prisoners being marched on a toilet run, bags over their heads, legs chained together, hands on each other’s shoulders. Filled with outrage, she said, “It’s terrible what you are doing to these boys!” Out of 50 or more outsiders who had seen our prison, she was the only one who ever questioned its morality. Once she countered the power of the situation, however, it became clear that the study should be ended.
And so, after only six days, our planned two-week prison simulation was called off.
This experiment proved how fragile the human resistance is to wrong-doing under stressful sitatuations, and how quickly people who are normally considered to be “moral” and “mentally stable” can digress to behavior that is both sadistic and repugnant when that behavior is considered normal for the circumstances.
This occurs because of a behavioral theory called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance (a phrase coined in the book When Prophecy Fails, by Dr. Leon Festinger) describes the mental discomfort that a person feels when faced with two diverse values – the reality of a situation and the moral belief system of the person collide. When this occurs, the person must make alterations to one or the other in order to regain his equilibrium. According to Dr. Festinger theory, “people engage in a process he termed “dissonance reduction”, which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.”
So, using the theory of cognitive dissonance, we can understand that through popular culture, any mass of crazed, violent, hungry people may be considered no longer human. Members of the military, police forces and guards can distance themselves from violent actions by reprogramming their moral compasses and aligning them with the adjusted reality that it’s okay to kill women and children and the hungry, because they are sub-human. They are to be dispatched quickly and efficiently to quell chaos and return to a more comfortable situation.
We are being pre-conditioned by the entertainment industry to accept death on levels so massive that they make concentration camp videos look like a Disney movie. When you watch the following trailer, notice particularly at minutes 1:20, 1:56, and 2:10 – the cinematography itself dehumanizes the millions being slaughtered, making them look like little more than faceless insects to be destroyed as they seek to invade.
We are being pre-conditioned to accept the inevitable scenes of death that will be flooding our evening news, so that we won’t object when we watch these real-life incidents of mass extermination. We are being socially programmed to find the unacceptable to be a matter-of-fact, everyday occurrence when we watch an axe be delivered to the head of a dirty, hungry, feral child. Forget racism – we are being taught a new kind of bias – the categorization of someone terrified and hungry as something less human than us – a threat to be enthusiastically destroyed without remorse.
During the 1950s, Solomon Ashe conducted a series of experiments on conformity. The conclusion of the experiments was that
“Self-categorization theory suggests that our individual functioning at any given moment is dependent on whether or not we categorize ourselves as similar or different from groups. When we see ourselves as similar to a group, we engage in depersonalization, a key concept in self-categorization theory. Depersonalization is when individuals see themselves as embodying the social category of the group rather than their own personal identities. Therefore, from this perspective the Asch results are interpreted as an outcome of depersonalization processes whereby the participants expect to hold the same incorrect opinions as others in the “group”.”
It’s a lot harder to brainwash people who know they are subject to manipulation. By your very awareness of the motives behind entertainment and media patterns, you can protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be mindlessly “entertained” by death and violence – don’t allow this to become the social norm. When/if you watch things like this, do so with an engaged mind – don’t be a passive recipient.
Fight the cognitive dissonance by thinking critically and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable with the reality being forced upon you by the media. That’s what taking the red pill is all about.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Morpheus – The Matrix