Zombies! . . . For Credit: College Offers Course on the Undead

For some time, I have been a voice in the wilderness trying to warn the nation of the growing problem of zombies in confrontations with police and traffic accidents. Now, at least one academic is with me. Arnold Blumberg at the University of Baltimore is offering a course on Zombies. Designated English 333, Zombie studies could produce a small cadre of Zombie-ready graduates to deal with the undead.

Blumberg is the author of “Zombiemania,” a book on zombies in culture and the curator of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. Students will watch 16 movies on zombies and read zombie comics. Sweet. They can then skip a final and instead draw storyboards for zombie flicks.

My God, this idea is the type of thing that would only be thought of by a brain-dead, aimlessly walking . . . Zombie!

Source: Yahoo

Jonathan Turley

72 thoughts on “Zombies! . . . For Credit: College Offers Course on the Undead

  1. It is incredibly important that professors teach courses with no value other than getting paid to stroke their own hobbyist obsessions. After all, when it comes to actually useful topics and skills, GOD that is so boring one can only keep up the pretense of enthusiasm for teaching those dumb little bastards for SO LONG.

    Then its time to party! With Zombies!

  2. Hey what’s a Zombie with you. If I could take courses like the Origin and Theory of Country and Western Music in the USA, The Beatles Era and a International Business course called Economic Theory’s in the US “based upon a magazine” then why the hell not teach about the undead. Haven’t we had back to back President that were Zombies? Oh, excuse me…Puppets……

  3. I got a PE credit out of the way during a winter semester by taking golf … in the gymnasium … little whiffle balls … kid’s play clubs … it was great.

  4. Quick question for everyone: Would you be opposed to an upper level English class dedicated to Classical Greek plays? What about early science fiction? The lyrics of Bob Dylan songs? For better or worse, Zombies are part of the modern iconography; they’re an archetype used in modern story telling.

  5. Gyges,

    Exactly. You can practice analysis, critical thinking, and writing with zombies just as easily as 18th century Romantic writers. If the subject matter gets the students interested, so much the better.

    As an undergrad I took a class called Science in Popular Culture, in which we looked at archetypes of the Scientist. I think it was a very worthwhile class, and I ended up using a project I’d done in it as the inspiration for my thesis.

    I’m not sure how I’d structure a zombie class in the English department, but I think there’s a kick-ass history class to be had there as well. I’d do it by looking at the rise of zombies in popular culture and how their portrayal reflects social anxieties about race, nuclear weapons, and most recently infection / biological weapons.

  6. gYGES/jAMES M:

    Zombies would not make a good class, maybe a portion of a class on Caribbean religions. Isn’t there so much that needs to be taught? Like old dead Greeks, Romans, Chinese, etc. that Zombies would take time away?

  7. Byron,

    While I agree that there are better subjects for a whole class than zombies, remember a key function of university classes isn’t what to think, but how to think critically. And as far as critical thinking goes, applying it to a contemporary analysis of zombies (which are a large part of modern cinema and literature if one includes such works as “The Monkey’s Paw” by DuMaurier and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Poe both of which are arguably zombie stories rather than ghost stories) is as good a way to teach critical thinking skills as any other subject. Keeping in mind the often vapid interests of some minds at that age, zombies are a way to overcome a “lack of interest” gap that some classical studies courses have to deal with in “selling their value” to students.

  8. Buddha,

    I dunno. Considering what it costs to send a kid to college these days, I wouldn’t think it was okay for my kid to take a course on zombies. If certain young people’s inetersts are that vapid–maybe they shouldn’t be wasting their/their parents’ money on college tuition.

    I read Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” more than four decades ago. My memory may fail me at the moment so you can correct me if I’m wrong. I thought the story was about a murderer with a guilty consience.

    My daughter attended a small liberal arts college where all of the students have to participate in the school’s Humanities Program, Portraits of Human Greatness, during their freshman and sophomore years.

    **********

    From the college website:
    Through readings, lectures, seminars, and a varied program of films, concerts, exhibitions, and stage presentations, the Humanities Program seeks to confront the student with questions of value, moral choice, and the real significance of human life.

    The first year consists of ten units, each a portrait of human greatness, which range from ancient Greece through the European Middle Ages. In examining these portraits, the student experiences diverse value systems and can face the questions of why and whether a given individual or portrait can be called “great.”

    The second year consists of portraits of individuals arranged chronologically from the Italian Renaissance to the 20th century. Each individual, great in his or her own right, has far-reaching social, cultural, or political significance.

    **********

    I’m not sure my daughter appreciated all the courses that she was required to take when she was in college–just as I didn’t. I began to value the rich education I got as I grew older.

  9. Elaine Both of my children went to liberal arts colleges. I went to a liberal arts college for one year but graduated from a state university. I nudged them to go liberal arts colleges but they ultimately made the decision. Neither of then regret it.

  10. Swarthmore mom,

    I commuted to a state college in a neighboring community. I got one helluva an education there when I was studying to be a teacher. Elementary Education majors were required to take no fewer than five science courses–biology (two semesters), weather and climate, earth science, physical science, and nature studies. We also had to take American history, history of Western Civilization, college algebra (two semesters), US geography, world geography, economics, psychology, writing composition (two semesters), sociology, test and measurement, art appreciation, music appreciation, Amercan literature, British literature, public speaking…and a number of education courses. We didn’t get to take many electives.

    I decided on a specialization in science–so I took additional courses in chemistry and physics (in lieu of physical science), genetics, geology, conservation. I can’t remember what else.

  11. Elaine M: That is one great video- I had no idea George Bush was that smart. As a bonus, there is another great video there showing the Iraqi journalist throwing two shoes at President Bush. I can’t help myself- every time I see that video, I jump to my feet and start shouting “Give him more shoes! Give him more shoes!”.

  12. Elaine M.,

    I’m of the opinion that any subject can be taught rigorously (and, conversely, that any subject can be butchered). For an undergrad, I’d much rather have a student taking a course on a topic that seems silly at first blush, but that makes them really think and engages them with multiple disciplines, than have them in a class on a more traditional subject that is taught through rote memorization.

    One of the benefits of taking a class like the one being offered on zombies is that you get experience analyzing pop culture in an academic style. As an undergrad I also took classes on ancient Greek medicine, post-Colonial African literature, the history of revolutions in Latin America, and the anthropology of language. In my day-to-day life, learning how to think critically about archetypes and tropes in pop culture was by far the most useful.

    Here’s a snippet from the story’s coverage in the LA Times:

    Jonathan Shorr, chair of the university’s school of communications design, wanted a rotation of “interesting, off-the-wall” courses for a new minor in pop culture. But when Blumberg pitched him a course about the walking dead, he says, “I hit the side of my monitor a couple times thinking, ‘Do I have this right? Did he say zombies?’ ”

    The more he thought about it, however, the more intrigued Shorr became. Zombies have shown great resilience as a storytelling device and in this era of gloom and dread, their popularity is cresting. Maybe they would be a perfect hook to get students talking about sociology, literature and a bevy of other disciplines that can sound stuffy.

    “It’s a back door into a lot of subjects,” Shorr says. “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.”

    http://www.latimes.com/features/odd-news/bs-md-ub-zombies-20100906,0,5675306,full.story

  13. what the classics teach is that if humans exist they are thinking about the same things whether in ancient Greece or modern China. That certain things are true and will always be true. The only thing that changes is the tools and the toys.

  14. what the classics teach is that if humans exist they are thinking about the same things whether in ancient Greece or modern China. That certain things are true and will always be true. The only thing that changes is the tools and the toys.

    c

  15. Blouise said: “I got a PE credit out of the way during a winter semester by taking golf…in the gymnasium…little whiffle balls…kid’s play clubs…it was great.” Was this by any chance at Glenn Beck University? I’m sorry, but I’ve had a case of Smart-Ass Syndrome ever since I got up this morning- the only cure for it is a slapstick to the keester and it’s busted.(The slapstick, not the keester).

  16. Ay I was a hippy and was anti-sorority and anti-frat. Brought my kids up the same way. Daughter is trying to avoid former frat guys in law school.

  17. AY One of my sisters was in a sorority and her daughter is in one also. I got a pair of baggy jeans at the salvation army and a poncho and rebelled.

  18. SWM,

    I too ascribed to those sacred…..I was a GDI….I went to many a Frat partys’ and well….they drank and smoked weed….well, it was like a homecoming so to speak….They usually had sorority girls come over and I stayed for the festivities….Then one of the Sisters thought I was nice and well….the rest…is history as we say…..I am now grinning ear to ear……

    I ask myself, today, would I do the same thing……HELL Yeah….

  19. SWM,

    I too was in a Sorority…a couple of em to be exact…..way on yonder on the west side of the drag…..

  20. AY I know west campus now. I have spent enough time at the university in the last month. My daughter told me it is to be avoided by graduate students.

  21. Its amazing what you can find walking down that street about 11pm…sometimes a date….just for the night….not that I’d know anything about that….

  22. Ay It is not dull like Dallas. You should move back there. If I were single I would move. I have two rented places there. Trying to get out of one of them.

  23. SWM,

    Is that an offer?

    Bryon,

    I usually started out at the Frat House and then ended up somewhere else for the remainder of the evening. I had a different agenda than the Frat Boys. Well we may have had the same agenda…I was rarely talk…One of the benefits of a frat house…the enormous bank of tests…the second benefit well…free booze….and women….what more could a young man ask for?

  24. Swmom,

    Conservatories were my higher education destinations during my teenage years. One was expected to go where the “visiting” teacher/maestro was presently enthroned and after investing inordinate amounts of time auditioning for acceptance, spend a year or two with each being tortured. I went to three and all credits transferred nicely so I could graduate before my 21st birthday and get going in the career. Perhaps HenMan can thus appreciate the relatively unimportant place PE held in the schedule … no one in their right mind wants to play golf in a School of Music! (PE was only required at one of the universities I attended)

    In later years I sought graduate degrees in theology and business simply to satisfy my curiosity. I also spent 6 semesters at a Community College taking every chemistry class they offered and therein developed a real love and admiration for the Community College. There is some absolutely stellar education offered at Community Colleges and I recommend them highly … both to students and to employers looking to hire graduates.

    Sororities and Fraternities were far too silly for serious consideration … both on my part and the part of my children during their university years. Honor Societies, on the other hand, are taken seriously in my family.

  25. HenMan
    1, September 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm
    Blouise said: “I got a PE credit out of the way during a winter semester by taking golf…in the gymnasium…little whiffle balls…kid’s play clubs…it was great.” Was this by any chance at Glenn Beck University? I’m sorry, but I’ve had a case of Smart-Ass Syndrome ever since I got up this morning- the only cure for it is a slapstick to the keester and it’s busted.(The slapstick, not the keester).

    ============================================================

    Off with your head!

  26. Elaine,

    I’m with James on this one. It comes down to the teacher more than the subject matter. I had classes that were of the supposedly classical nature that taught me nothing while I had others that one would call a fluff class that taught valuable analytical skills. The main difference between them was how the materials were presented, what the instructor expected out of your work and how they prepared (or didn’t prepare) you to deliver upon those expectations.

  27. James,

    I’m guessing an English Zombie class would be pretty close to what your imagine the historical zombie class to be. It’d probably just have a bit closer analysis of it’s role in literature, and a more technical look at style.

    Byron,

    I imagine that if you looked at the courses on Science fiction, and the course on Zombies, you’d be amazed that they teach the same thing. Like I keep repeating: People are people.

  28. Gyges Anything about the fires today. Son is right next to the evacuation line. I have one child in hurricane rains with a leaky roof and the other one might have to be evacuated due to fire.

  29. James and Buddha,

    I agree that it comes down to the teacher–but, I think, subject matter is pertinent to the discussion of whether I–as a parent–would have been willing to pay thousands of dollars for my daughter to take a college “zombie” course. The two of you are assuming that this “zombie” course is going to be rigorous and that the instructor will be teaching his students valuable analytical skills–maybe…maybe not. I’d like to read the course syllabus and to find out more about the course before I come to the same conclusion as the two of you.

    Having students watch 16 classic zombie films (including “Zombi 2,” in which a zombie fights a shark), read zombie comics and, write scripts or draw storyboards for their ideal zombie flicks doesn’t strike me as all that rigorous. Call me a skeptic when I ask: “Where’s the beef?”

    BTW, I have never heard of “Zombi 2.” Is it really a film classic? Are there actually 16 “classic” zombie films?

    *****

    Buddha,

    Believe me when I say I’m not fixated on the classics. I think there is high quality contemporary literature that would appeal to plenty of college students–and maybe inspire them to read more–and more enthusiastically.

  30. Elaine,

    Don’t get me wrong. I feel there should certainly be a balance between classes like this and the classics. I just think they can have a place and value in a modern curriculum. If all one took were classes like these, it would be a waste as the content – the what you learn to think – needs contrast to be of value as well. IMO teaching how to think is a large part of being well educated, but having a broad sample space of raw data to apply those skills to is critical to the education being well rounded.

  31. Buddha,

    I think a young person can get a high quality college education and learn how to think without taking a “zombie” course. I believe the “zombie” course being taught at the University of Maryland is an English course. I would guess that there may be many better ways to teach kids about the language of our modern culture and how to think critically/analitically than this. A course that had students take an in-depth look at the language and catch phrases used by politicians and the media might be a good place to start.

  32. Elaine M.,

    I can think of a lot better course to take than linguistics as an elective. But a fool suffers if they don’t read the course description.

  33. Maybe there is a link between the zombies and the vampire shows the students watch like “Trueblood” on HBO and the “Twilight” movies.

  34. Elaine,

    I disagree. Zombies are a perfect example of how basic story elements can resonate with the culture of the time. I mean Romero filmed “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968. The sudden explosion took 40 or so years ago, and the idea didn’t just gradually grow.

    You want to know how stories and archetypes are spread through modern culture, you look at zombies.

  35. Blouise,

    I just posted that to the Corrections page for the Prof’s consideration.

    What a joke. A bad joke, but a joke nonetheless.

    Hail Caesar!

  36. Blouise,

    You and Buddha used to live closer together until he decided he wanted to be a bug suckin, dirt eatin coonass. Now he lives to far away from you to be that close.

  37. lol

    You have hilariously missed the point of Blouise’s response, AY.

    And I’d thank you to leave my dining habits out this.

  38. Anonymously Yours
    1, September 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm
    Blouise,

    You and Buddha used to live closer together until he decided he wanted to be a bug suckin, dirt eatin coonass. Now he lives to far away from you to be that close.

    ==========================================================

    Ha … shows how much you know … we’re moving closer to YOU! You can run but you can’t hide!

  39. Can we get back on topic, Zombies is serious stuff.

    Incidentally, I was watching “28 Weeks Later” while posting most of my comments. People who thought it shied away from the Romeroesque qualities of the first one just never saw “The Crazies.”

  40. Gyges
    1, September 8, 2010 at 7:31 pm
    Can we get back on topic, Zombies is serious stuff.

    Incidentally, I was watching “28 Weeks Later” while posting most of my comments. People who thought it shied away from the Romeroesque qualities of the first one just never saw “The Crazies.”

    ==============================================================
    I HATE ZOMBIES … (I really do)

  41. Damn and I thought everything was settled with food, cigars, liquor and after dinner brandy sniffers.

    And anybody that would eat those mud bugs would eat anything. Louisiana Lobster, yummy…..

    Yes, I heard about the tornado….did they per chance smash the living hell out of Hicks and Dubya’s houses? Just hoping…

  42. Blouise,

    I liked Zombies before Zombies were cool. Heck I even knew about those weird online communities devoted to surviving the zombie Apocalypse that were really devoted to surviving the zombie Apocalypse (read race wars). No I’m not kidding.

    But in the end, I’m just a fan of a well told story. Modern Zomsploitation flicks annoy me just as much as any other gimmicky horror movie.

  43. Gyges,

    The “28” movies are an odd example of where I actually like both the original and the sequel equally. Different kind of zombie movies, but both worked well. Due in large part I think to the casting. Cillian Murphy is a good actor and I’m a long time fan of Robert Carlyle (since his days on Cracker from the BBC).

  44. Gyges
    1, September 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm
    Blouise,

    I liked Zombies before Zombies were cool. Heck I even knew about those weird online communities devoted to surviving the zombie Apocalypse that were really devoted to surviving the zombie Apocalypse (read race wars). No I’m not kidding.

    But in the end, I’m just a fan of a well told story. Modern Zomsploitation flicks annoy me just as much as any other gimmicky horror movie.

    ===============================================================

    I wish I could appreciate your fondness for the genre but Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires, scare the livin’ crap out of me. I don’t even watch horror flicks … ever.

    … even Zombie Halloween costumes scare me.

    I’ll back away so as not to impede others from enjoying the discussion.

    Would you hit the side of your computer in disgust if I told you the only vampire movie I enjoyed was Love At First Bite?

  45. Gyges,

    “You want to know how stories and archetypes are spread through modern culture, you look at zombies.”

    I disagree. You look at vampires! It’s vampires–not zombies–that have become the rage. Think Anne Rice’s vampire books. Think “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–and what’s kept the vampire craze going recently is Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series of books for young adults, the “Twilight” movie, and the “True Blood” TV show–which was based on books by Charlaine Harris.

    Vampires are the way to go!!!

    :)

  46. Elaine,

    Think about the spacing of your examples. Love of vampires is cyclical, every 10-15 years or so they become popular again. It’s much more analogous to comic book movies (let’s be honest, most vampires are just Superman, but evil). The base characters are always pretty established as pop culture, they’re just waiting to be snatched up by the latest generation of writers\directors.

    Zombies on the other hand had always belonged to subcultures. Sure there was the occasional successful movies here and there, but nowhere near as consistently as vampires.

  47. Blouise,

    Eh, I get icked out dealing with raw chicken, so who am I to judge?

    Buddha,

    Like I said, they each were influenced by Romero (who, aside from “Monkey Shines,” was a great director), just different Romero flicks. Also I really liked some of the camera work.

  48. Gyges,

    I’m not sure I get your point about zombies and vampires and subcultures–and about why taking this zombie course would be so beneficial to college students.

    **********
    You said–in regard to vampires: “The base characters are always pretty established as pop culture, they’re just waiting to be snatched up by the latest generation of writers\directors.”

    I believe the zombie course is being taught in conjunction with the University of Baltimore’s new minor in pop culture–so why wouldn’t vampires also serve as an appropriate subject for such a course?

    **********

    In regard to the spacing of my examples: I noted books, TV shows, and a movie that are popular today/have been popular in recent years because they are the ones that came to mind.

  49. Elaine,

    With Zombies you have something that went from a relatively obscure sub-genre of “horror” to something that invaded pop-culture.

    With Vampires you have something that’s been part of pop culture, and waxes and wanes in popularity pretty regularly.

    Buffy was released in ’97 right about the same time as Ann Rice’s popularity. Ten years later we have the next incarnation, Twilight and True Blood. Ten years before we had “The Lost Boys,” and it’s rip offs. The mean time, you’ve got Dracula. He had is movies being made in pretty much 2 year intervals for 40 some odd years. Plus Blackula, Chocula, etc. Zombies had nowhere near that much pop culture presence, until recently.

    The two types of undead represent two different pop phenomena. Something about Zombies speaks to the late 00’s\early10’s. Something about Vampires speaks to humanity.

  50. Gyges,

    Weren’t zombie movies made in the fifties, sixties, and seventies–and even earlier?

    **********
    From the course description for Zombies in Literature–English 2025–at Louisiana State University

    The zombie is a relatively new addition to the pantheon of monsters, making its first appearance as a fictional monster in Victor Halpern’s 1932 film White Zombie, itself loosely inspired by William Seabrook’s popular Haitian travelogue The Magic Island, published in 1929. Seabrook spent a great deal of time in Haiti and collected stories of Voodoo and the creation of zombies, and actually claimed to have witnessed the resurrection of a dead man via these means. Soon after the publication of Seabrook’s book, the figure of the zombie captured western consciousness, appearing in popular films and pulp fiction. Perhaps one reason for the zombie’s popularity is its malleability as a symbol for our deepest fears. The creature rapidly went from representing white xenophobic fears of the dangerous propinquities of former slaves to a metaphor for fears about communism, capitalism and the boundaries of medical science.

    This course will explore the creation the zombie as literary character and its rapid transformation into numerous signifiers. In particular we will examine much of George A. Romero’s influential Night of the Living Dead series and how it changed how we view the creature: all subsequent zombie texts pay homage to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead series, if only to refute the rules of living death it established.

    Since the zombie is primarily a cinematic character, we will view a film during each class meeting. We will also examine zombie pulp stories from the thirties and forties, as well some more contemporary novels, comics and graphic novels. Comics are particularly important to the creation of the zombie character as well, as this creature, along with vampires and werewolves, was a staple of the much maligned horror comics that flourished throughout the 1930’s to 1950s before congressional hearings fueled by Frederic Werthem’s 1953 book Seduction of the Innocent lead to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, an industry group that voluntarily squelched the publication of horror comics for the next 20 years. We will also discuss this figure’s relationship to other creatures in the generally recognized pantheon of monsters such as vampires and mummies.

  51. Elaine,

    In re Poe. I would argue “The Tell Tale Heart” would be good for the curriculum because it deals with the dead living on albeit in the mind of a twisted killer as contrast to DuMaurier’s “The Monkey’s Paw” which is plainly about an actually revived corpse. Teaching analytics requires contrast.

  52. And for the record I think vampires would be a marginally better topic than zombies simply for the reasons Gyges pointed out: they are a cyclical trend demonstrable over time thus providing a larger sample space to show how memes propagate in literature and the arts than the relatively recent zombies.

  53. Buddha,

    I have no argument with “The Tell Tale Heart” being included in a school curriculum. I think I read it when I was in high school. It was my kind of reading–along with more contemporary literature like “Animal Farm,” “1984,” “Brave New World,” and “The Good Earth.”

  54. Man my editing is sub-par today.

    Elaine,

    It’s not that I think Vampires would be bad a class I just think that a vampire class wouldn’t be nearly as effective for showing (and I’m going to quote myself) “how stories and archetypes are spread through modern culture.” In retrospect, “contemporary culture” would have been clearer. Let’s face it, the widespread use of the internet has drastically changed how culture works, to the point where in order to show the workings of our current culture, you need to pick examples P.I. (post-internet).

  55. To whom it may concern:

    If you haven’t already read it or added it to your stack of books to read, may I recommend:

    Mayflower, A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

    It’s a great book.

    Sorry to interrupt …

  56. Blouise,

    I have it in my stack of “to be read” books.

    Here’s a book I think you might like: “Idiot America: How Stupdity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.” It was written by Charles Pierce, a staff writer for the “Boston Globe Magazine.”

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