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Arts & Culture

Cinema Junkie Podcast 199: Aim For The Head — Max Brooks, Zombies And COVID

Max Brooks' book "World War Z" deals with a zombie plague and described a pandemic that eerily resonates today.
Three Rivers Press
Max Brooks' book "World War Z" deals with a zombie plague and described a pandemic that eerily resonates today.

Author of 'World War Z' explains what we can learn from the undead and pop culture

Everything you need to know you can learn from zombies. Author Max Brooks pretty much laid out a lot of what we're been dealing with during this coronavirus pandemic in his novel "World War Z" that came out in 2006. He will have a virtual panel at this year's Comic-Con@Home called "Zombies and Coronavirus: Planning for the Next Big Outbreak." Brooks says of his panel, "People can expect to hear us discuss this real plague that we're dealing with. But through the metaphor of zombies, because the best tool of education is pop culture." His panel is at noon on July 24 but the YouTube link will remain on the Comic-Con Channel even after the convention ends, which allows anyone to watch the discussion any time. We also discuss his new book "Devolution." I know this is not cinema but it is zombies, which I love, and Brooks is the son of filmmaker/comedian Mel Brooks and film actress Anne Bancroft so there is a cinema connection! In addition to his writing, Brooks holds duel fellowships at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and the Modern War Institute. Check out a podcast that aims for the head.

Comic-Con@Home featured a panel with author Max Brooks as well as scientists, academics and doctors talking about Zombies and Coronavirus: Planning for the Next Big Outbreak. Cinema Junkie Podcast speaks with Brooks about pop culture, real pandemics and Bigfoot.

If you missed the Comic-Con@Home panel featuring Brooks, don't worry. Unlike the real Comic-Con where a panel would take place and then vanish forever, the Comic-Con@Home panels will continue to live on the Comic-Con YouTube Channel. Plus if you want to hear more from Brooks than what he was afforded in the hour-long virtual panel than this podcast is where you'll find that.

Brooks wrote the novel "World War Z," which was made into a film that shared only the title and nothing else. But the book, released in 2006, predicts a lot of what's happening right now in the current coronavirus pandemic. And that's what I want to talk about with Brooks, how pop culture rather than news, politicians, or even science might be in a better position to teach people about pandemics.

The panel is described like this in the program schedule: "Ever wonder how we can translate what we’ve learned from our recent pandemic challenges into dealing with the next unknown, even the zombie apocalypse? Join author Max Brooks ("World War Z," "The Zombie Survival Guide," "Devolution"), biodefense experts Dr. Greg Koblentz (George Mason University), Dr. Gigi Gronvall (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Shanna Ratnesar-Shumate (University of Nebraska Medical Center) and Dr. Jarod Hanson (USAMRIID and University of Maryland Medical Center) and moderator Justin Hurt (Comic-Con Today assistant editor) for an engaging and entertaining discussion of how we could prepare for what comes next in the realm of infectious disease."

Brooks's description was a little different.

"We've got an amazing panel. We've got academics, we've got doctors. We've got national security experts. We've got important, powerful intellectual minds. And me," Brooks said. "People can expect to hear us discuss this real plague that we're dealing with. But through the metaphor of zombies. Because the best tool of education is pop culture. Pop culture is the best way to communicate big ideas because it's popular."

I have always said that everything you need to know you can learn from zombies and that holds true when talking about coronavirus.

"Zombies are a great metaphor for this pandemic because they spread just like a plague," Brooks said. "You have issues of infection. You have issues of protecting your loved ones. You also have big issues like a zombie plague shutting down the economy. People fearing for their livelihoods as well as their lives. Unlike other horror monsters, which tend to be very small and isolated and intimate, zombies are big. And so is this plague."

Brooks also has a new book out, "Devolution," and he said, "if you are going to distill my book into one sentence, it would be Ira Glass and Fran Liebowitz versus Bigfoot."

For those who may only know Brooks as a writer, I want to point out that he also deals with the duties of duel fellowships at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and the Modern War Institute at West Point. Basically, he's a smart guy as well as a great storyteller.

I urge you to check out the Comic-Con@Home panel where the discussion is far better, more provocative and more informative than most of what I've found anywhere else. Plus it's more entertaining and accessible. The panel pointed out that what we may need most right now is someone to bridge the gap between science and the public, and that person may need to be a storyteller, someone like Brooks.