If there were to be some kind of zombie attack, or let’s call it an outbreak, it would probably be in a pretty densely populated coastal city, so let’s say for the sake of speculation Los Angeles, clear across the country from where I am right now. Which would mean I’d have plenty of time before I had to take the zombie threat seriously, which means the first time I saw something about the outbreak on the news I’d be comfortable making a joke about it. I’d see the headline, “Zombies Rampage Through LA,” and I’d think, “Yeah, they’re called actors.”
I’d think about tweeting that but then I’d hesitate. I have nothing against actors, I can’t think of an actor I’d guess is actually dumb. Some probably are, some (Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones) seem to confuse gravitas for intelligence, some (Natalie Portman) seem genuinely pretty smart. So I’d revise, maybe change it to, “Yeah, they call them network executives.”
And I’d be pretty satisfied with that. I’d get as far as typing it out. But then I’d hesitate again. I like that the joke is going after the power structure but I don’t have any firsthand experience with network executives or reasons to mock them. Sure, I get annoyed when some show I really like—Deadwood, for example—gets canceled, but at the other end every show I’ve ever really loved had to get the greenlit by an executive, and then okay’ed to actually air. Without network executives there’d be no Deadwood in the first place, let alone 30 Rock or The Sopranos or Mad Men or whatever. So mocking network executives would ultimately be kind of hollow and meaningless.
But I’d have to tweet something. This insane shit, real-life zombies tearing apart Los Angeles, something like that can’t go uncommented on. I mean, I this is going to be a hot trending topic, which is a good opportunity for exposure. Come up with the right tweet, get enough retweets and favorites, gain some new followers who end up looking through other tweets I’ve sent out, maybe they stumble across links to things I’ve written and retweet those, sooner or later something I’ve done ends up on the screen of someone with real power, someone with opportunities to offer, someone who can reach out and give me the shot I need to finally achieve a more fulfilling life.
I’m not trying to be Rob Delaney here, book deals and a show on Amazon Prime. I’d just like to be creatively fulfilled enough that I think about killing myself 10% less, how about that?
So I’d think about these zombies some more and finally settle on tweeting this: “I had no idea the RNC was being held in LA this year! #ZombieAttackLA.”
And maybe I’d try to turn it into a series: “Poor #zombies, all that effort chewing through RNC member’s thick skulls only to discover such tiny, bland brains inside…”
I might go as far as sending both of those out, but very quickly I’d regret it. The premise isn’t that strong. And I always feel like a fraud when I talk about politics or try to make a political joke. I don’t want to say I’m not interested in politics, because on some level I am… I’m interested in politics the way a dog is interested in its own tail. I know it’s there, I know it’s important, but I only ever study it if something terrible happens or I’m very, very bored.
Also, I dislike the idea of adopting the ideology or branding of any political party too strongly, so why start tossing jokes at the Republicans and not the Democrats? And even if I felt passionate hatred for the Republicans, mocking them for being stupid is toothless. People used to call George W. Bush stupid, you’d see bumper stickers, and I always thought accusing him of idiocy was excusing all the bad shit he was responsible for. Also, when you make a big deal out of Bush being stupid you’re by extension accusing the majority of the country, who voted for him twice, of being stupid as well; and if all that’s true, if the president and most of the American people are so, so stupid, then you’re the asshole for sitting around complaining when really you have a moral imperative, as this great genius, to save us all from ourselves.
So yeah, if I did send out those politically-tinged zombie attack tweets I’d probably end up deleting them. Which would be good, because by that point the outbreak would be really raging, there’d be footage of stampedes and eviscerated bodies and old ladies with big bloody bites on their faces and middle school Earth science teachers smashing the skulls of their zombified students with big heavy textbooks and the conversation surrounding the outbreak would have moved beyond jokes into the “my prayers go out” phase. Jokes would be tone-deaf as fuck at that point, but the topic would have rocketed beyond trending– it would be the only thing anyone on Twitter was talking about, because the only thing people on Twitter like more than irreverence is horning in on a tragedy and making a big deal about how it effects them and how sorry they are and how deeply they personally empathize with the people actually being impacted by whatever the fuck is going on, in this case a zombie attack.
(You see this whenever a celebrity dies. Last week Roddy Piper was a silly, outdated weirdo, this week everyone has a deep personal connection to his work, which more than any other external factor shaped the way they see and move through the world.)
By the time the conversation got to the “my prayers go out” phase, the problem would be that not participating would make me feel weirdly insubstantial while it also wouldn’t matter what I had to say, because at that point it wouldn’t matter what anyone had to say. At that point everyone would be out for themselves, in a total frenzy of wanting to feel connected to culture through commentary and commentary alone.
Which really is not that much different than the way Twitter functions under the best circumstances, when there are no zombie outbreaks, because ultimately no one cares what you have to say unless you’re very famous. If you’re very famous, if you’re Lena Dunham, you can tweet that some of the fruit you picked up at the market was bruised and get hundreds of responses. People expressing sympathy, people with their own bruised fruit stories to share, people accusing you of being an elitist for complaining about damaged strawberries when children are starving all around America. Otherwise, if you’re not famous, you’re tweeting for an audience of one, no matter how many followers you have, because your followers are either robots or only following you so you’ll follow them back. You’re shooting your bon mots off into the web for the satisfaction of seeing your name pop up in your own feed, and that’s it.
So I think, ultimately, I wouldn’t end up tweeting about the zombie outbreak at all. I’d stay away from Twitter in general, at least for a couple days. And then, lets say a week later, after the outbreak was quashed, I’d login to look around and see that someone had posted a picture of a herd of zombies wandering around with the caption “Lunchtime at the Republican National Convention!” and gotten 400 retweets and I’d go sit outside and watch the sun go down and feel sad for the mosquitos swarming my ankles, that they were subsisting on the blood of an imbecile, filling their bellies with plasma from a man who does not matter.