Berk: Zombie movies can teach us

Is Yale prepared for a zombie attack?

After wasting hours of time studying for tests, writing senior essays or building Styrofoam dinosaur dioramas, many students forget to focus on the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Once the crisis hits, where will the unprepared student body turn? The political science majors are too soft, Directed Studies freshmen are too inexperienced and those math kids will probably just stay in the library working on problem sets. Who can possibly be our zombie saviors?

Enter public health enthusiasts.

If you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, you’ve seen an introductory guide to public health. The flesh-eating undead are an epidemiologist’s worst nightmare, but they can teach us a lot about public health crises and begin a philosophical discourse on the trade-offs between individual liberties and public safety.

Whether students learn them from an HIV surveillance internship or from watching “The Evil Dead 2,” there are four vital public health themes that everyone should know.

First, epidemics can strike at any time. Whether caused by medical experimentations of the rage virus (“28 Days Later”), pollution of 2-4-5 Trioxin (“The Return of the Living Dead”) or unusual moon alignment (“Night of the Living Dead”), a virus can appear quickly and spread rapidly. Without adequate resources, preparation or knowledge of the disaster, uninfected individuals face a heavy disadvantage compared to those who understand the risks of disease. Educational public health warnings are important. Pay attention next time: Get a flu vaccine.

Second, the medical model doesn’t have all the answers. In today’s health system, almost all health funding goes toward treatment of illness instead of prevention. This is an inefficient way to deal with cardiovascular disease, and an inefficient way to deal with proliferation of the undead. There’s no cure for zombie-ism, just as there is no absolute cure for diabetes or HIV (there are, however, life-saving treatments for both of these diseases). Prevention is key and must receive greater priority when looking at the health policy issues today.

Third, public health is an interdisciplinary field. Broad epidemic preparedness requires work from all academic disciplines from epidemiology to sociology, from medicine to economics. The economic efficiency of vaccine delivery, the morality of community quarantines, the anthropology of disease and the construction of wooden barricades are all important issues that come up during a health crisis such as a zombie attack. Disease — whether caused by a stomach bug, biological attack or brain-devouring syndrome — rarely has a magic-bullet cure. Instead, a coalition of experts must provide new perspectives to new problems. Going into the consulting industry after graduation? Public health experts can still use your help!

Fourth, disease is a global issue and affects everyone. Pathogens ignore national borders. They are able to cross the world in hours or days; no country is invulnerable to the importation of disease. Additionally, pathogens can adapt to changing ecological environments, creating strains resistant to basic treatments (the infected in “I Am Legend,” for example, began as allergic to sunlight, but by the end of the movie could venture into the dusk-time shadows). Around the world, the improper delivery of medications for tuberculosis and HIV has already created such resistance. All demographics — whether poor or rich, local or distant — must have access to effective health care treatment and prevention programs to prevent the global spread of these resistant “superbugs.”

Other important life lessons abound in zombie films: Always keep your doors locked; it’s a good idea to have some canned food around; in general, avoid malls; don’t bro out too long with your buddy who just got that zombie bite.

Is Yale prepared for a zombie attack? Probably not. But public health experts constantly fight to prevent such epidemics and, when they occur, work diligently to recognize, isolate and cure any infectious disease.

So how can you become one of these champions of global health? How can you better understand the epidemiological principles that serve as a foundation of a healthy population? How can you learn to protect yourself from outbreak, starvation, or your infected residential college master charging you while you’re cornered against a fence?

Go watch a zombie movie.

Justin Berk is a junior in Pierson College.


  • Lavasplash

    This is legit.

  • Laaz

    I hope some folks have guns on campus… gonna be hard for those public health students to work on a cure with zombies crashing throguh the windows… a couple of ROTC stundents who can really shoot are going to be an indispensable part of any anti-zombie campus response team.

  • second that

    i second that #1.

    Seriously? Jon Wu? Mathilde Williams?

    Thank god we didn't elect Brian Levin though… and we might elect Colin Adamo?

    The YCC will likely not have any money anyways, based on how Wu operates… also, Spring Fling '10 is going to blow.

  • Porkov

    Yale has been a zombie vector for years. How old is Skull & Bones?

  • sleeperg

    These planned measures are all well and good. But they fail to address the more immediate problem - zombies at your door.

    In such instances, I recommend a more remedial approach. Shoot them in the head. As such the best approach is similar to that proposed in many of the video games - a high capacity carbine, such as a Bushmaster or SIG 556, lots and lots of 5.56 mm ammunition and an appropriate sidearm.

    I'm ready! Are you?

  • jjv

    Given Yale's hostility to firearms, the most effective weapon against the zombie menace is unlikely to be found in any dorm. As we have learned, "Kill the Brain, Kill the Ghoul" and nothing does that better than a shot gun shell.

    Once again, Yale's reflexive Leftist perspective leaves its graduates unprepared for the challenges of the real world.

  • Orion

    Actually, all you do is hand Woody Harrelson a baseball bat, tell him the zombies are paparazzi, and get out of the way.

  • algie

    If zombies eat only brains
    The Ivy League Will Cause Strains
    A severe lack of same
    Will bring the end game
    And bring peace to their mortal remains

    Illegitimi nOn carborundum

  • Recent Alum

    I don't understand why white males even bother running for office at Yale. They will never get more than 10% of the minority vote so they stand no chance of winning a majority overall (since white people don't vote based on race).

  • yehiel

    Of course they'll be ready. after living in New Haven…..

  • i'mnotgonnalie

    This is excellent and well-written. I bet the columnist is really cool.