Over at Epic Reads, a new book club read is chosen each month. For August, Epic Read’s pick is one of my favorite comfort books: Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly. Well, Susan decided to spice up this month’s SS&D fun by hosting her own book club, and by adding A Darkness Strange & Lovely and prizes into the mix as well. Each week is an opportunity to win other great books–including signed hardcovers!–as well as a participatory prize of A Dawn Most Wicked or a deleted scene from A Darkness Strange & Lovely. Read more about it here and sign up if you like!
This week’s question is a difficult one to answer, and I can’t say I responded with eloquence—but I hope it’s lucid enough, however weak. (Sorry!) Continue reading, if you dare, below the cut:
Magic and ghostly elements frequent the Something Strange and Deadly series. Even though corpses do awaken from time to time and hauntings are hardly that uncommon, the people of Philadelphia seem determined to pretend the Dead are not a growing threat.
Do you think that’s part of human nature?To push on and ignore the danger at our door? Or do you think Philadelphia’s ignorance—or for that matter, any ignorance/false sense of safety in modern days as well—can be pinned on politicians? Can you think of any examples where something similar happened, but rather than the Dead, it was a natural disaster/growing crime rate/etc.?
This week’s discussion question is a tough one—one that’s made me think (and even ignore), and here I am at the very last minute proposing an answer. Again, like last week, my answer is both “yes” and “no.” To carry on with your regular, daily life when an imminent threat lurks around the corner, I think, depends on how someone copes or wishes to view reality. I, for one, handle situations by either ignoring or tackling them straight-on, and how I choose to treat those situations varies on their severity. I spent a few minutes putting myself in Eleanor’s world—what if the dead not only could be raised, but already had been?
When I first read this book, the level of normalcy Philadelphia’s citizens treat their zombies with perplexed me. Is it a regular occurrence to hear of zombies attacking a city? I wondered. But now… I think I understand.
To live under this kind of threat, I think that behaving like there is no danger is almost necessary for sanity’s sake. In Something Strange & Deadly, the Spirit-Hunters are brought in to contain the situation and prevent more deaths from occurring—but put in context of SS&D’s politics, this all feels like a pretty decoration to provide a good appearance. The politicians’ concerns seem mostly directed at the upcoming election. They want to show they can handle this problem (they can’t), and that the problem is under control (it isn’t). They want a reputation that won’t be scratched by anything, least of all the walking dead. So what do the politicians do? They tell Philadelphia the zombie issue is under control, despite the Spirit-Hunters’ warnings.
This is a problem sitting on top of a problem, and if you add it together it equals disaster. What is both sad and frightening about this is how it reflects our own lives. There are people who will buy into a false sense of security so long as an authority figure says it’s all right. A disturbing example, one that goes beyond simple, feigned ignorance is Milgram’s obedience experiment.
Milgram’s focus was obedience to authority, whereas the people of Philadelphia don’t need to obey anything. However, what I think Milgram’s experiment shows well is not just how easily people submit to authority, but how much faith is put in people with positions of power.
Oppositely, however, there are also people who won’t take authority’s word—whether that’s combatting politicians, police, doctors, you name it—to feel at ease. There are people who will fight to protect not only themselves, but for loved ones (as Eleanor Fitt does!) and for those who don’t have a voice. It’s why people assemble and gather at protests.
One example I’d love to share is the tragedy that befell Love Canal (see article here). The area was declared toxic, yet only pregnant women and families with children under two years were evacuated. This left many more families—families with young children—abandoned to prolonged exposure of chemical effects. It took several years of unrelenting (albeit, angry) protests and the holding of two EPA workers as hostages for the government to take action. Enter: the Superfund act. Now, decades later, Love Canal is considered safe for re-population. Or is it? Some residents disagree, although Love Canal is no longer on EPA’s national list of Superfund waste sites and officials are unwavering in their position.
“I wouldn’t have any problem living across the street from Love Canal,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, who does not live in the Love Canal neighborhood. (Source)
(Who knows? Perhaps if more residents toss in complaints, officials will move forward and take action. Either way, this is one issue I want to keep an eye on.)
I spent half of spring quarter learning about and discussing Love Canal in my medical anthropology class—it’s one of the top examples that come to mind, yet there are many more. Global warming? Homelessness? Having recently re-read Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, the disastrous cycle of poverty, violence, and poor education also comes to mind. These are all issues of value that deserve acknowledgment, but I scarcely hear about them or, in the least, working courses of action. (And, if I do, the problems feel side-swept or down-played.)
So, I don’t quite believe it’s human nature to push on with our daily lives and ignore danger. However, I do believe that we often become wrapped up into a comfort zone, and our reaction to anything that threatens to break this zone varies on the individual. As for Politicians, they can certainly help sway people’s mind toward indifference.