zombies and minecraft

Zombies! It’s Friday the 13th and I’m writing about zombies. Fictional, undead, mindless, animated corpses best known for films like Night of the Living Dead have made a re-appearance this year- zombies. The strange case in Miami, of a man chewing off another man’s face really got folks talking- face eating zombie man. Zombies, those soulless, spiritless bodies void of consciousness and self-awareness moving through life lifelessly sucking up all human flesh in their path.

I had house guests this week, not zombies, but rather my 10 and 11 year old nieces who filled my space with Cable TV, Dance Moms, Nickelodeon, Nintendo, Draw Something and Minecraft… the building blocks game where monsters come out at night so you’d better have your shelter built and completed before sunset. One night the three of us decided to leave my shelter and head up the street to Burger King because my nieces insisted Burger King’s chicken Mcnuggets were better than McDonald’s. We were upbeat, giddy and gleeful as we entered the brightly lit restaurant only to be greeted by the lifeless young woman behind the counter, a monotone drone inquiring…“can I help you?” Her flat facial affect and dull eyes looked straight through us making no connection with us at all. She appeared to be about 17, and bored. I smiled and tried to joke with her hoping she’d laugh but nope. At one point during our Mcnugget order I managed eye contact with her and cheerfully declared “we’re not communicating are we?” She was not amused. Obviously this young woman was having a bad night.

Working in a restaurant is hard, it was after sunset, and we’re all tired and sometimes we’re bored. Adults and tweens frequently annoy teenagers. I was probably that middle aged annoyance with two pre-pubescent annoyances by my side, but this encounter was different, really odd. When we left the restaurant my nieces laughed loud, cracking up they blurted out “she was a zombie aunt C!”

I pay attention to young perceptions. Sometimes they are on point, other times they’re simply silly and age appropriate. But they squealed about zombies the rest of our week. It was our joke. According to my nieces, everybody working at that Burger King looked like zombies, nobody seemed happy and nobody looked at us when they talked at us. Unbeknownst to us this was the place where all the teenage zombies were employed at night eating up all the meat in the restaurant while pretending to work. Plausible, I thought.

However, these seemingly soulless animated corpses in uniform reminded me that there really are times when I am deeply struck by what I perceive as a general spirit of pointlessness, dispassion, boredom, and despair in a lot of people. Cornel West called it nihilism and other philosophers called it anomie.  *West wrote about a profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair. It is a loss of hope and absence of meaning which attacks many of our youth turning them into mere shells of themselves, i.e. zombies. I get it. The landscape looks bleak to me some days too. Nihilism is not only a teenage problem. It is a human condition. Zombies come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Our remedy: We have to change the landscape, not just the zombies themselves, but everything going on around them. Minecraft will tool us in building new worlds, more communities of hope and light which can de-zombie, heal and wipe out zombie populations. My nieces and I are working on that plan. We’re gonna visit the teenage zombies often, make friends, hold them in the light, build some listening shelters around them, and nurture them back to life. That’s all zombies really want, is to come back to life again. *Cornel West, Race Matters 1994:23

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About Calenthia Dowdy

Calenthia Dowdy (PhD, American University) is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator who focuses on urban youth and culture in the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on youth, cities, race, gender, and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at a comprehensive community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care