Interview: Theoretical Zombiologist Doctor Austin on the rise of Zombie Science
'There is no evidence to support the idea of fast zombies: I can’t run very quickly now, so why would catching a disease suddenly improve that ability?’
Cultural interest in the zombie tends to go through peaks and troughs, usually related to news that George A Romero is about to unleash his latest army of flesh-eaters. But nowadays you can barely turn a metaphorical corner without a zombie hurling itself at you in the big-screen likes of World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil and 28 Days Later. While in literature, there’s such a plethora of novels about the brain-chomping undead, that to get yourself noticed you have to merge Jane Austen with zombies (yes, it happened, in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).
Feeding mercilessly on this ever-potent genre is Theoretical Zombiologist Doctor Austin, with his unpicking of zombie mythology and, most worrying of all, interactive demonstrations. ‘The recent upsurge of interest in all things zombie is perhaps a reaction to the increasing complexity of life,’ muses the good doctor. ‘The idea of living in the Zombie Apocalypse, a world with no rules, where you take what you want, and even wear an eye patch, is very appealing. It is obviously far easier to kick down a door and take a property for your own than to try and understand the government’s “help to buy” scheme.’
Fair enough, but let’s get to the root of the matter. What’s scarier: a slow, lumbering, groaning zombie or the really fast running ones as per Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set? ‘The fast would be more frightening to me, but less scientifically likely. The cerebellum and basal ganglia, two areas of the brain important to movement, can be damaged producing the slow zombie shuffle. These are the same areas suppressed when drinking alcohol, hence why any city centre on a weekend appears to be in the midst of a Romero production. Whereas there is no evidence to support the idea of fast zombies: I can’t run very quickly now, so why would catching a disease suddenly improve that ability?’
The Stand, Glasgow, Sun 29 Jun.