September 13, 2010

University of Baltimore Offers New Course on Zombies. ~ Marissa Faye

Are you prepared for a zombie apocalypse?

If you’ve come in with just a general sense or just saw ‘zombie’ in the catalog and thought ‘cool,’ I want to reinforce the degree to which this material can be found offensive by a lot of people…We’re going to be dealing with some of the truly disgusting stuff that’s been done in horror over the years…This is not fluffy bunny cartoon stuff.  Bunnies might show up, but they’d probably be torn to pieces.” ~ Arnold T. Blumberg, upon first meeting his students of English 333, U. of Baltimore.

Zombie 101: a class to die for.

Recently, while perusing the pages of Facebook, I stumbled upon a link worthy of a “double-take.” My eyes had drifted quickly down the page, when there was something like a “ding” of recognition, and the words I’d quickly browsed over suddenly registered…a class on zombies? I scrolled back up. Oh yes, a link of true epic-ness lay before me.


A fascination and adoration of zombies may not be typical of most women in their twenties, but growing up with three rambunctious brothers instilled an affection for films filled with excessive gore, blood-curdling screams and demonic monsters.

And, like many other horror movie fanatics, my love for gorey flicks made Arnold Blumberg a hero.


Arnold Blumberg, the author of  Zombiemania: 80 Movies To Die For and the curator of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (focusing on American pop culture), is teaching the new course on the undead at the University of Baltimore.

The lucky students enrolled will learn how to survive a zombie apocalypse and, instead of the usual tests and studying, they will watch 16 classic zombie films and read a hefty chunk of  The Walking Dead as well as numerous zombie comics. As an alternative to a research paper, students will have the option to write scripts and draw storyboards for their own sick and twisted zombie flick.  Needless to say, students flocked to this class like hippies to a Rainbow Gathering and none were deterred by the professor’s warning.

When Blumberg first approached Jonathan Shorr, chairman of Communications at the University of Baltimore, with what he thought would suit Shorr’s quest for an “interesting, off-the-wall” course, Shorr was taken by surprise.  But that’s not to say that he didn’t quickly warm to the idea, knowing that it would attract slews of intrigued students.

This all sounds great, but what could we possibly learn from zombies?

Zombies are consistently seen throughout pop media in films, video games, comics, print and even in music.  A zombie is a once-living person like ourselves who, through one way or another, is turned into a creature of the walking dead with superior motivation and only one intent: to consume and eradicate the living.

“It’s a back door into a lot of subjects… They think they’re taking this wacko zombie course, and they are. But on the way, they learn how literature and mass media work, and how they come to reflect our times.” – Jonathan Shorr

Through the constant barrage of media, these creatures have become parabolic to an unthinking and indifferent way of living; a life of social ruination and ignorance.  Blumberg believes that we use zombies to convey contemporary fears.  He opens his first class with a deceptively simple question: What is a zombie?  Mike Ziegler, a student, offers an answer, “I know that lately, a lot of zombies have been created by viruses.  Is that a zombie?” Blumberg excitedly agrees on this description, thrilled that his students have already tapped into the focal point of the course, even if they are unaware of doing so.

“It’s part of the American mindset… The zombie functions as an allegory for all sorts of things that play out in our country, whether it’s the threat of communism during the Cold War or our fears about bioterrorism in 2010. It’s relatively easy to connect the zombie to what is happening in culture.” – Blumberg

Would you take a course on the undead? The University of Baltimore is not the first (and hopefully not the last) school to offer such a course.  Columbia College in Chicago has offered ‘Zombies in Pop Culture’ for several years now and students at Simpson College in Iowa spent last spring semester writing The History of the Great Zombie War as a collective effort.

So, on the next rainy weekend when we zombie-lovers are chock full of popcorn and chips and have resisted nature’s call for a good thirty minutes to see the next epic scene in 28 Days Later, we should remember Arnold T. Blumberg and be jealous of all those earning academic credits for doing the same thing.

And, just in case the idea of a zombie apocalypse gives you goosebumps and makes you gulp, here’s a video of a few tips on to defend yourself against the undead…

Marissa Faye is a cultural explorer hailing from the far eastern lands of Sherborn, Massachusetts.

She is like a sponge—absorbing all things around her with a forever unquenched curiosity.  Often times she is hidden away in her mountain fortress, avidly writing tales of fact and fiction. She is a flowerchild at heart and an enthusiast of  art, music, food, and the infinite explorations of life.

Zombie-lovers often refer to her as Tree.

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