By Patrick Cox
Godzilla, Zombies, and Cultural Coping Mechanisms
Before the Internet, there were libraries. We still have libraries, of course, but they were a lot more important a half century ago, before the Web brought the totality of human knowledge and art into our homes and phones. In my mind, at least, the now archaic libraries of the past century were a lot more fun than the sterile stripped down semi-electronic versions common today.
There are still some libraries with multistoried labyrinthine complexes of overcrowded shelves where you can get lost in knowledge, but they’re pretty rare. I hesitate to admit it but, prior to the Web, travel for me always involved searching out the most interesting and hopefully antiquated libraries whenever I traveled. I’ve spent a lot of hours wandering through bookshelves waiting for a book title to pull me into some subject that I didn’t even know existed.
The Japanese culture and history section often pulled me in so I was exposed to theories, at a very young age, about the cultural significance of Gojira, translated as Godzilla in English. Essentially, it’s proposed that Godzilla was Japan’s way of dealing with the combined and lasting emotional impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Godzilla first appeared in full form in the 1954 movie, Gojira. I think there is truth to the belief that the giant monster that towered over and destroyed Japanese cities was a metaphor for nuclear weapons that could be psychologically compartmentalized. In the world Godzilla inhabits, a giant, destructive lizard would be the scariest thing possible. By dealing with Godzilla in art, the Japanese dealt with the reality of nuclear destruction. In fact, the plot of the original movie had it that Gojira was created by American nuclear weapons testing so the connection is direct.
When the Cold War brought the fear of nuclear weapons to the West, Godzilla crossed the Pacific and entered American theaters and televisions. The horror of nuclear weaponry resonated with humanity as a whole more poignantly than any other weapon has in the past. Prior to the advent of the bomb, the only weapon to have such a revolutionary impact on warfare was the gun.
The widespread adoption of gunpowder firearm technology was enormous. Quantification of the impact is probably impossible due to the ubiquity of the technology in the 14th and 15th centuries. It’s certain, however, that millions of bullets have been fired. In contrast, there have been precisely two uses of the atomic bomb in warfare. Despite widespread fears of complete nuclear destruction, that threat never arrived, except in Japan where Godzilla continues to play a major role in art and culture.
If Godzilla and other “kiaju” are, in fact, cultural coping mechanisms, it would stand to reason that there are other shared cultural tropes that symbolize and compartmentalize actual threats. There are, of course, vampires and werewolves, but they aren’t typically portrayed as civilizational threats. Often, in fact, they are portrayed sympathetically. There is only one modern monster of art and culture capable of destroying the world, possessing no redeeming qualities at all. That’s the zombie.
Zombies have been around since the 1932 movie, White Zombie. Those early zombies, however, were a different sort of creature. Basically, they were normal people who had been enslaved to serve some villain. The original concept apparently came out of Haitian myths.
The modern zombie, a person who transformed into a murderous cannibal through contact with other infected people, seems to have evolved from the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. This was, as far as I know, the first time that we contemplated through art some sort of personality-destroying disease capable of ending civilization. Filmmaker George Romero brought the concept to movie theaters in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Though the word zombie doesn’t appear in the film, fans applied the term and it was used in the sequels.
Sociologists and psychologists have speculated about the cultural significance of modern zombies, but their theories usually reflect political biases. I think they miss the obvious. You probably have experienced, at least indirectly, an actual if metaphorical zombie incident with very real consequences.
Think. Have you known someone who seemingly lost their personality and mind, transforming into a husk with nothing left but an appetite, devastating the lives of those he or she once loved?
Obviously, I’m talking about dementia and particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD). If you’ve been reading my work, you know that the singular transformation of the 20th century was the near doubling of life spans in the West. Longer life spans are, of course, a good thing, but there is a snake in the garden.
Diseases that were once deadly and common, such as tuberculosis, have nearly vanished. Vaccinations and antibiotics turned once fatal diseases into treatable maladies. People began to live much longer lives. As a result, diseases of the aged became far more common. The incidence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias increased dramatically, as did the horror they can inflict. Not only does a formerly healthy individual suffer the loss of memory and self, entire families may feel as if their own lives and brains are in danger of being consumed.
When Alzheimer’s disease affects someone, they first lose the ability to remember little things. Then, they forget those whom they love. Alzheimer’s patients lose motor function and the ability to take care of themselves, all the while, draining time and money away from those who care for them. In a very real way, the sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease turn into zombies, or at the very least, the closest thing to them.
If you chart the rise in popularity of the zombie myth, it correlates closely with the prevalence of Alzheimer’s. Moreover, AD does have the potential to destroy the world. Though it is only the sixth-leading cause of mortality, it is actually the most expensive disease due to the slow death of those with the disease. If treatments are not found, cost projections for an increasingly older population combined with dramatically reduced birth rates create a healthcare scenario that is simply untenable.
Fortunately, we are making dramatic progress. Scientists and companies are, right now, chipping away at this extraordinarily complex disease.
It’s also extremely interesting to me that, just as few of us actually are conscious of the AD threat, easily available therapeutics are being ignored. I’ve previously presented evidence from the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease about the efficacy of coffee and caffeine. Still, I hear people say regularly that they are cutting coffee from their diets for health reason.
Additionally, more and more evidence is coming forth regarding the remarkable benefits of optimal vitamin D supplementation. Though I’ve pointed this out before, everybody should follow the work and advice of Grassroots Health, the combined effort by various California universities to educate the public about the benefits of vitamin D. Recently, in fact, new research from the University of Exeter Medical School shows that it’s possible to reduce the risk of AD by 50% by maintaining optimal vitamin D blood levels. Here’s a story about that research with a link to the paper in the journal Neurology.
From the TransTech Digest Research Team:
Recently, Patrick added a company to his Transformational Technology Alert portfolio, which we believe has the most compelling drug candidate currently in development for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
This drug, for the first time, has shown in early testing the ability to not only treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but also the advance of the disease itself. If this disease-modifying candidate progresses through trials and begins to reach those who need it, it would be a revolution in Alzheimer’s care, would slow runaway healthcare expenditures, and would be a boon to societal stability.
We suggest this company’s Alzheimer’s candidate has blockbuster potential because, as Patrick mentions above, many of the plagues of the last century are now responsible for less deaths than ever. With Alzheimer’s, sadly, the search for effective treatments has thus far come up empty.
This is why the company Patrick recently profiled is so exciting. Their drug candidate, if proven effective, could dramatically alter the American economy while saving countless lives. As development stage biotech speculations go, you don’t get more potential than that.
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