I’m still contemplating Michael G. Williams’ Perishables. Withrow Surrett, vampire and artist, occupied my thoughts long after I turned the last page of his story. In the book, Withrow was instrumental in stopping the second zombie apocalypse—having already survived the trenches of the first foray towards Armageddon. In the second attack, he is desperate to avoid being turned into a zombie not because he fears death, but because he is determined to fight against the erasure of his essential self.
Withrow viewed his transformation from human into vampire as the “gift of ultimate and eternal self.” I’ve never heard immortality described that way, but, like all good ideas, it seems glaringly obvious once I read it. Most books focus on the physical aspect of immortality—the preservation of a healthy, strong and youthful body. In Withrow’s case, his 350 pounds perpetuated for posterity might not be perfect, but he gets to keep it without the consequences of coronary and vascular diseases often associated with morbid obesity.
But for Withrow, the pleasures of the flesh pale in comparison to the maintenance of his mind. By becoming immortal, Withrow gets to be himself for the long haul. He doesn’t have to worry about what happens in the hereafter because he gets to stay here after everyone else dies. Withrow is pretty dedicated to being himself. As opposed to being sucked into the homogenization of the zombie hive mind. He’s fighting to win because vampires “place a premium on individuality and whatever it is that makes a person” who they are.
To become a zombie in his world is to “dissolve in a solution of Them.” When you put it like that, I can understand the horror. And I support Withrow’s clinging to that which makes him Withrow. But Michael G. Williams is also offering his readers a cautionary tale. While Withrow fights for all he’s worth to avoid a fate worse than death — to him — others only put up token resistance. Not everyone wants to avoid being ‘infected by sameness’. Some of us seek out this disease and wallow in it.
If the zombie apocalypse is about absorbing us all into a collective mind, it might already be upon us. There is a terrifying amount of sameness in today’s world. There’s not a city in our country where everyone isn’t wearing all the same brands, eating all the same foods and taking all the same medications – most likely all purchased from the same vendors. Our individuality is being systematically snuffed out as we all march to the beat of the same corporate drummers. We’ve taken the adolescent desire for conformity to new heights. All of our individuality, our distinction, is being imposed by corporations. Where are the unique expressions of our essential selves?
I went to a wedding on Saturday night. I was struck by its resemblance every other wedding I’ve been to for the past decade. The wedding industry has us all scrambling to find just the right party favors, social media curators, videographers and program printers. None of that crap was even on the radar when I got married 22 years ago, and now all of it is essential to the success of the ceremony and, by extension, the marriage. Every party is a set piece.
And I’m as guilty as anyone else; when I entertain at scale I call upon caterers. One stop shopping certainly makes it convenient – at the expense of being unique. I could call a different caterer, but nothing would be that dissimilar. In fact, the infection of sameness extends to much of our lives in the same way that Tolstoy’s happy families do. Material success in this country infects us with the sameness of our economic status—Champion and Mossimo Supply for the working class, Under Armor and Vineyard Vines for the upper middle class, Chanel and Gucci for the upper class, etc. We are all becoming labeled zombies.
But that’s not the only way our essential selves are erased. Withrow’s experience of watching humans deprived of what makes them who they are also called to mind the ravages of some diseases. Anyone who’s watched a loved lose their personality to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia know the devastation of being erased. When we can no longer remember what makes us us, can we be considered ourselves anymore?
I watched my father’s body slowly lose function from ALS, which was unbearably painful. But even in my early 20’s I was grateful that it was his body being destroyed and not his mind. The frailty of the body is hard enough to take when it happens. Anyone for whom middle age is in the rearview mirror has suffered the indignities of aging. For most of us, though, it’s the specter of memory loss that keeps us up at night, the prospect of no longer being ourselves while our bodies continue to walk around impersonating us. The walking dead. Zombies. The apocalypse is here, as Michael G. Williams reminds us. Scary shit.
So, what to do about the zombie apocalypse that is our current reality? There’s not much we can do about diseases that lay us low, but we can rail against the machine of homogeneity that is trying to suck us in. Rage, rage against the dying of the individual light. Fuck conformity. It’s highly overrated. If I have to go, I’m not going without a fight. I’m with Withrow, and damn the consequences. My essential self will not be erased.