Last Saturday, police officials shot dead Rudy Eugene, 31, in Miami, Florida for chewing off the flesh of a homeless man’s face. Eugene’s gruesome attack on the 65-year-old homeless man, Ronald Poppo, was a product of Eugene’s consumption of a “bath salts” drug, but this is not the first time such a gruesome attacker has been found on Miami streets. Eugene’s outburst is just another incident comprising the “zombie apocalypse” phenomenon that is taking over American media and pop culture news. These “zombie” cases have caught the eye of major newspapers as a response to sensationalist reporting, but is it possible that viewers are understanding these acts to be humorous, instead of unspeakable attacks that must be dealt with seriously?
After the attack of Ronald Poppo last weekend resembled that of a “zombie” outburst, many viewers have been left thinking of the possibility of a “zombie apocalypse.” From movies and television programs to books, zombies have become a common theme in American pop culture, and we just cannot get enough of it. The media have insisted there is a correlation between these attacks and are getting viewers worked into a frenzy about a proposed “zombie apocalypse.” Through pop culture, we become more sensitive to apparent connections between real life events and what we read in books and see in movies, which explains the recent “zombie apocalypse” sensation that reporters recall on when commenting on gory attacks. Larry Vega, a witness to the recently coined “Miami zombie” attack, even mentioned to reporters that “[Eugene] was like a zombie, blood dripping. He just stood with pieces of flesh in his mouth.” The closest reference to this very attack? “The Walking Dead.”
The Miami zombie attack has not been the first incident that has lead to the pop culture worthy luring “zombie” attacks. On May 25, a 21-year-old Baltimore “zombie” was found eating his roommate’s heart and brain straight from its sockets, and a 43-year-old “zombie” in New Jersey was found this past weekend stabbing himself and throwing his own flesh at the SWAT team that had entered his house. "They are seeing monsters, soldiers trying to kill them, and they’re extremely delusional," Dr. Mark Ryan of Louisiana Poison Control Center said of these attackers.
So many strange and seemingly coincidental attacks such as these have made headlines of major news sources that the The Daily Beast created a humorous map to track "instances that may be the precursor to a zombie apocalypse." Iconic fictional “zombie” activities parallel these grueling acts, so we are prone to believing they are practically imaginary. "They've heard of these zombie movies, and they make a joke about it," says Lou Manza, a psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College. These attacks, however, are anything but a video game, as they involve real people committing almost unspeakable acts under delusional causes. When grouping violent and cannibalism attacks such as these jokingly as zombie related, we are unable to see the picture – these are actual people that are being targeted and these stories must be paid attention to.
These reports go far beyond comic books, scary campfire stories, costumes, and conventions. With a diluted approach provided by media, these attacks have influenced the way we view pop culture. As fictional stories become reality, it is time to remove our pre-conditioned ideas of zombie apocalypses and focus on the truth at hand. "The zombies, they could be anything," says gory film director, George Romero. "They could be an avalanche, they could be a hurricane. It's a disaster out there. These stories are about how people fail to respond in the proper way."