Anthropology Class Appeals to Zombie Enthusiasts

A class titled Zombies: Social Anxiety and Pop Culture was offered at the University for the second year in a row during this Fall semester. The class is a three credit First Year Seminar class for undergraduate students with fewer than 18 credits completed.

Dr. Edward Gonzalez-Tenant, assistant professor of anthropology, taught the class the last two years and appreciates the way the unorthodox curriculum compels students to view the world in a different manner.

“There are multiple reasons that we treat zombies as an introductory study into a historical premise and context of something larger,” Gonzalez-Tenant said. “Zombies can be a good metaphor to symbolize some of the critiques of capitalism, such as how it has turned some people into mindless forms dependent on technology, among many other things.”

Gonzalez-Tenant said that the class examines various historical and ethical contexts of zombie culture from several anthropological perspectives. They also study their growth around the world through several disciplines.

The University’s decision to offer the zombie class reflects a growing national trend of colleges and universities that also have courses structured around learning about zombies. According to Forbes.com, dozens of higher education classes now offered across the nation, although not all allow students to obtain college credit for taking them.

Gonzalez-Tenant’s actual curriculum differs from what most of his student’s expected it to be. Alexander Moylan, an undeclared freshman enrolled in the class, said “I signed up for the class because it was about zombies. I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to, what I guess you would call, nerdy stuff, so I jumped at the chance to learn more about zombies. I figured we would watch zombie films and read books. I did not expect to actually read scholarly articles on the zombies.”

The perceived difference about what students expect to learn and what they actually learn is one of the main reasons Gonzalez-Tenant has enjoyed teaching the course the last two years. “Most students come in thinking we’ll be watching zombie movies. But there are more reasons to examine them than just entertainment,” Gonzalez-Tenant said.

Zombies: Social Anxietyand Pop Culture is designed to “sharpen higher-level academic skills, enhance awareness of ethical issues, and make a successful transition to university life,” according to the course’s description on WebAdvisor. Gonzalez-Tenant believes that the course accomplishes those serious objectives, despite the course’s perceived amusing title.

Gonzalez-Tenant said, “Zombies destroy the dichotomy through which we view the world as containing things that are either alive or dead. Zombies exist in both. Studying the numerous cultural and religious contexts and origins of them gives students a greater understanding of the way the rest of the world views and approaches life and death.” He indicated he has received positive feedback from most of his students regarding the class.

Moylan said that he particularly enjoyed his project that explored how the University would tackle a zombie invasion. “It’s awesome to be able to write a paper based on how you would prepare the school for the Zombie Apocalypse. This is one of the coolest classes ever,” Moylan said.

TJ Nicastro, a sophomore animation major, would have jumped at the chance to take the zombie class, or any course about zombies, if the opportunity was brought to his attention. “I would because I’m a geek. I’ve been killing zombies [in video games] for 20 years,” he said.

Despite his enthusiasm for the content of a zombie course, Nicastro has long-term doubts about the relevance of college-level courses that revolve around zombies. “I feel like zombies are more of a fad. When I was playing Resident Evil and House of Dead in the 90s, zombies were nowhere near as popular as they are now,” Nicastro said. “Their popularity will fade just like any other fad.”

A college course’s curriculum that invokes a revolutionary study or invocation of a pop-culture reference might predictably be met with mixed reactions from the University’s students. However, Moylan said his dad thought the course was “pretty awesome,” and one of his friends said told Moylan the course “sounds kinda sweet.”

Instead of focusing on any of the mixed external reactions to the course, Gonzalez-Tenant has chosen to view the class’ internal success as a positive for the University’s incoming first year students. “As a professor, if I can’t talk about the world in a way that makes sense to my students, then I’m not doing my job. One thing this course does is it helps translate some academic theories and puts them into concrete terms that the students can understand.”

Gonzalez-Tenant said he will not be teaching Zombies: Social Anxiety and Pop Culture next year and is unsure if it will be offered again during the 2014-15 school year. “If it is offered again, I’m sure students will find it engaging. It really helps them look at ethical, societal and historical issues in a much broader sense,” he said.

PHOTO TAKEN from blogs.ft.com