Written by transgressive fiction author and Pacific Northwest native Chuck Palahniuk in 2013, and released in his short story collection Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, “Zombies” tells the story of a high school student whose community is plagued by the fad of “de-evolution” or lobotomy by defibrillator. These kids, tired of the astronomically high expectations put upon them by their parents and teachers, decide to shock their brains into retardation. Our narrator struggles with the temptation to defibrillate himself which culminates with him in an airport with electrodes on his temples.
As a child of the “talented and gifted” movement, I can unfortunately relate to the stress experienced by the characters in Zombies. As soon as you can read, you’re expected to be constantly improving academically. You’re praised, and for a while gifted children develop very strong self-esteems. There is a phenomenon, though, that seems to occur around middle school where the gifted child is suddenly not as smart as they once were. The problem is, the expectations placed upon the student when they were small children have not changed and now for the first time in nearly a decade, they have to try very hard to do well in school. This is distressing, and when combined with the already traumatic experience of puberty, it is not surprising adolescents “act out”.
Palahniuk has a tendency to present a nuclear option for problems such as this. The first kid who shocks himself, Griffin Wilson, “knew the SATs were just the gateway to a big lifetime of bullshit. To getting married and going to college. To paying taxes and trying to raise a kid who’s not a school shooter,” (Palahniuk 1). So rather than deal with the boring inevitability that will be his life, Griffin reverts to his inner child. Permanently.
A myriad of other kids follow his example. They end up not caring anymore. They are drooling, laughing shells of themselves – “it’s suicide, but it’s not,” (Palahniuk 3). They’ve cracked under the pressure that has been placed on them since they could tie their shoes. It’s an exaggerated example of what often does happen to overworked, gifted students. They plunge into depression and anxiety and cope any way they can – drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever. They might not literally lobotomize themselves, but they do try to numb their stress in often unsafe ways. This is what happens when teenagers crack under pressure blown up to ten times its original size. It’s horrific, and what’s even more horrific is the fact that I am able to relate to “Zombies”, especially with finals week approaching.
Palahniuk, Chuck. “Zombies.” Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread. New York: Doubleday, 2015. 28-39. Print.
Jalena Post is an undergraduate Linguistics student at Portland State University. She enjoys horror in all of its forms, from Bela Lugosi classics, to poorly-written Internet creepypasta, to the films of the New French Extremity movement.