Zombies Eat Academic Brains in Misbegotten PBS Documentary Exhumed
- Exhumed: A History of Zombies. PBS. Friday, October 30, 10 p.m.
- B Positive. CBS. Thursday November 5, 8:30 p.m.
You’ve got an important television choice this week: Yet another medical pestilence to worry about along with the virus; or the scariest Halloween show ever. It’s kind of a trick question, because I didn’t say “best” Halloween show, just scariest: PBS unleashes a slavering pack of fanged academics on zombies, and the bloody brain cells and decapitated IQ points are scattered in all directions. Save yourself and stick to CBS’ kidney-transplant sitcom.
Exhumed: A History of Zombies is a special broadcast episode of the streaming PBS series Monstrum, a weekly dissection of the history of monsters, myths, and legends hosted by Arizona State English professor Emily Zarka. Like any respectable academic trying to explain her interest in something like zombies, she says she’s asking, “What does their complex history teach us about ourselves?” The answer, as you’ve probably surmised, is nothing as simple as “We don’t like to be disemboweled and have our brains eaten.”
Zombie stories originated in Haiti, perhaps as early as the 17th century, where voodoo priests known as bokurs were said to steal the souls of their enemies and reduce them to shuffling, blank-eyed slaves. Exhumed argues that the zombie stories are “an allegory for colonialism, imperialism, and oppression.” But the tales were considered anything but folkloric allegories by Haitians, who in 1835 (long after white rule ended) outlawed the practice. And in any event, the original zombie stories sort of screw the metaphorical pooch; the supposed creators of zombies were not white planters but black voodoo priests.
Zombies remained largely unknown in America, or at least the white part of it, until U.S. Marines began returning from stints in Woodrow Wilson’s 1915 military intervention in Haiti with lurid accounts of battles with them. By 1932, zombie fever had r
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