Zombie PhD, thanks to Bobbi Katz

Among the many witty and endearing details of Bobbi Katz’s book for the child in all of us, The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, is one that nobody but me seems to have noticed. First, give Bobbi her due. The author of many fine children’s poetry books, she knows her trolls and golem, her cyclops and kraken, her Medusa and Grendel. Such classic beasts have provided generations with the fright and thrill of seeing their worst fears brought to life and defeated in bedtime tales. But for today’s #1 monster (sorry, vampires) Bobbi sought my advice as the author of dozens of poems inspired by Night of the Living Dead. “My colleague Will Nixon, / the zombie specialist, / made me an e-mail offer / too tempting to resist,” she writes to introduce her “International Zombie Survey,” which ends by identifying me as “Will Nixon, PhD” from “Monster University, Dept. of the Living Dead.”

Please note the PhD, the first and last that I’m likely to receive. My late mother would have been proud. Even if I did throw her into a few of those zombie poems.

The funny thing is, Bobbi, who conceived of this book ages ago, thought she was making it up. But Monsterology turns out to be a bona fide academic discipline, though not so concisely namely. By 2009 Oxford University had hosted “the seventh global conference on Monsters and the Monstrous” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2010 Horror Studies debuted as a peer-reviewed journal.

“For horror studies the ‘It’s alive!’ moment was the 1979 publication of ‘An Introduction to the American Horror Film,’ an essay by the film critic Robin Wood. At a time when horror was treated by many as a second-class genre, Mr. Wood introduced the now-familiar idea, rooted in psychoanalytic theory, that scary movies provide a valuable window onto what our society ‘represses or oppresses.’ The monster, he wrote, represents the marginalized, the sexually or politically subversive, the taboo: the 1931 film Frankenstein identified the creature with repressed homosexuality; the first zombie in the 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, was a manifestation of family dysfunction,” wrote Jason Zinoman in an op-ed for The New York Times, neatly summarizing my own compulsion to write zombie poems. I intend to read his new book, Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror, which discusses Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, and others from that era. These theorizers are onto something.

But back to Bobbi’s poem. Rather than psychoanalyzing, she wants to collect some hard cold data.

International Zombie Survey

Funding for my project
has finally come through!
I’m delighted! I’m excited!
There is such good work to do.
Yes, the Undertakers Union
and the Rest in Peace Foundation
will underwrite this research
coast to coast in every nation.
We will take a zombie census,
which has not been done before.
We will profile ALL the living dead
and assign each soul a score!

We’ve met in Paris and Madrid
at professional conventions.
I’ve heard your brilliant papers.
You’re the thinker thinkers mention.
So when the money was in place,
I closed my eyes and saw. . . your face!
Would you be my co-director?
Who better than you could I find
for a project so wide-reaching
that demands your kind of mind?

Hoping you agree,
Will Nixon, PhD

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