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Brains, Brains, a Zombie Class Wants to Fill Students’ Brains

By Jason Jacks on September 22, 2010

Each Thursday evening this semester at Mason, expect to hear gasps and screams coming from Room 80 in Enterprise Hall. That’s because what’s being discussed inside is a topic that has most horror movie fans clutching their popcorn bags in fear: the walking undead.

Jeffrey Mantz, an assistant professor at Mason, is teaching an anthropology class that we at the Mason Spirit happen to love. Called Zombies, the course explores how humans have historically expressed their social anxieties through references to the undead.

“Tracing the history and cultural impact of zombies allows us to tell a particular story about the way different cultures have engaged with phenomena like ‘globalization’ and ‘modernity,’” Mantz writes in the course’s syllabus.

Some of the hair-raising names Mantz has given his lectures include: “Why Zombies Truly Bite While Vampires Merely Suck: Taxonomies of the Undead and the Philosophical Quandaries that Arise” and “Zombies … They’re Everywhere: The Zombie Problem in Cross-Cultural Perspective.”

As part of class, students (likely with hands over their eyes) will watch clips from such movie classics as Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead. Meanwhile, selected zombie readings include World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead.

In his syllabus, Mantz points out that humans (of the living variety) focus, in part, on zombies because they represent the philosophical struggle many humans have with the meaning of their own existence.

“Though [zombies] devour us and are rapacious in their intent to exterminate us from existence, in some ways we need them just as much as they need us,” he writes. “This course thus proceeds with the premise that you must learn to admire and appreciate them, before you bash their skulls in with well-fashioned blunt instruments.”

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