Let’s do a quick compare and contrast. I’ve got two hyper-famous basketball players in mind. Player A, from his highschool days on, has been known for teamwork. I don’t mean this in the sense of some nauseatingly inspirational cliche either, I mean there are articles by people with PhDs analyzing Player A’s abiding psychological yearning for the highest forms of teamwork. Watch him play and you will almost always see a happy space where each teammate operates as part of a synchronous whole. You will watch as each sacrifices individual glory for the sake of the whole, where enormous star Player A consistently passes up decent scoring opportunities because a less talented comrade has a great scoring opportunity. It shows up in objective measures as well. Player A’s teammates consistently deliver vastly more efficient performances when Player A is around. He has massively overachieved with no-name teammates, bad coaches and idiotic management. He has dragged two exceptionally disfunctional teams to the NBA Finals. He is a fantastic passer, perhaps the best defender on earth and great at doing the little, unglamorous things that competing stars typically don’t.
Outside of his profession, Player A has twice endangered his endorsements/revenue streams to stand up against social injustices. He is gracious in defeat, consistently the bigger man in the face of provocations and, from all indications, devoted to his family. He is perhaps the biggest villain in the NBA.
Player B, by contrast, has such popularity he can get away with a Hitler mustache. He uses this popularity and power to bully and psychologically break his
victims teammates. Provided the target teammate is insufficiently teenaged to break in the face of his mind fucking, Player B moves on to simply breaking noses. Player B delighted in betraying “friends” for competitive advantage, was loathe to share glory with his teammates and was a ball hog of historical proportions. Player B disproves of passing, save when the passes go to him. Indeed, a long string of formerly productive players joined Player B only to see their statistics plummet. Unlike hated Player A, Player B was never able to lift a subpar team over .500, much less the NBA Finals. Player B required, at minimum, a hall of fame teammate, the most successful coach in basketball history, another borderline All Star and the most efficient three point shooter in history.
Without those, he repeatedly wilted in the face of tough, team oriented rivals. Perhaps wilted is too mild a term. He got brutalized. When a white supremacists, anti-AIDS research politician asked for and received Player B’s endorsement, Player B famously reminded us that white supremacist homophobes wear sneakers, too. He treated his ex wife like crap and used his Hall of Fame Acceptance speech as a platform to trash-talk his own children. He is also a global hero. (If you haven’t yet figured it out, Player A is LeBron James. Player B is Michael Jordan.)
So what gives? Why do we idolize the prick of infinite awfulness and pile hate on the consummate team player? I’m going to advance two theories. The first is based on the enduring power of zombies to capture our imaginations and the second based on the enduring fantasy of John Galt.
For creatures that have never actually existed, we sure spend a lot of time and money thinking about, preparing for and obsessing over zombies. The problem of non-existence is compounded by the fact that, on a practical level, zombies wouldn’t be very scary anyway. Imagine the headlines of a zombie outbreak tomorrow. “Tonight on CNN, swarms of unarmed cannibals with brain damage get effortlessly converted to fertilizer in ill-advised attack on US military base.”
Clearly, we aren’t interested in zombies as practical things. We must be using them as representatives of something else. Guys like George Romero think they represent mindless capitalism or communism. Others use them as proxies for mindless herd behavior in the “sheeple.” Other’s still use the brain-damaged-people-with-appalling-hygiene-walking-in-large-groups idea as a representation of the now gone Wild West. While these are all valid interpretations of the phenomenon, I prefer to think of zombies as an excuse to be really, really anti-social.
Let me explain by way of example. Pretend I have been trying to get my beautiful, classic car registered for a month. I’ve done all the paperwork and performed all the stupid tasks the cow-eyed bureaucrats demanded. I’ve explained my problems, proven my insurance, provided the smog check and wrapped it all up in alphabetized folders. As I walk into the office, my chest swells with anticipation. It’s just a matter of time before I drop the convertible top, smell the breeze and feel the fine leather against my skin. I smile while waiting in line. I skip every so slightly as I approach the window.
In front of me a woman with freckles and pictures of her kids on the desk asks me to take a seat and hand over the paperwork. As she looks the papers over, I drift off to imagine my first journey to the ocean. Damn, it’s gonna be awesome. My sweetheart holding my arm, charming oceanside villages, approving waves from oncoming motorists. The woman snaps me out of my daydream with a cough and informs me that, “I’m sorry sir, but you forgot to put a grey paperclip on the 82nd page of the gas cap inspection form. If you come back in three months with the proper paper clip, I’m sure we can get you on the waiting list.”
Now, imagine I strike a heroic pose, pull out my ax and bury it in her forehead. This reaction makes me a total psycho, right? My righteous strike against the unthinking masses is complicated by the fact that I’ve just murdered someone with freckles, a gender and progeny. Now, imagine we get rid of the freckles, the gender and the progeny. Hell, let’s throw in an inability to think and really bad personal hygiene. Let’s make that bureaucrat a cannibal and succubus of infection. All of a sudden, as I’m killing a zombie, I get to act out my anti-social desires to be a murderous psycho, my desires to strike out against all the oppressiveness of a social existence, with none of the guilt. All of a sudden, I’m acting out a fantasy where I’m not dependent on anybody else, where I’m the unquestioned smartest person around, where I’m the law and justice and really, really powerful and I not only don’t need a community, it’s my duty to destroy the entire thing. It’s fun to imagine.
John Galt is, as conceived by author, philosopher and tweeker Ayn Rand, an inventor and thinker of Hurculean proportions. He uses his ultra brain to leave home at twelve (thus ameliorating the problems commonly encountered by Objectivists – accounting for a little thing we call childhood), enters college at 16 and invents a motor that totally wasn’t stolen from Nicola Tesla. When the social structures of infinite stupidity try to make him share credit for his totally not stolen motor, he refuses. Burnt out with the oppression of society, Galt creates a utopia where, after convincing all the smart people in the world to think exactly like he does, the superior people all stop helping the parasites, watch the world burn and start over with a new paradise of atomistic, ultra individuals who don’t need the vile tit of community.
Galt doesn’t need the bureaucrats. He refuses to support crazy Aunt Margery or underwrite the hangers on. Everything he does he does in his own self interest, any help he gets he gets because he’s just that inspirational to his friends. Galt is self-contained, powerful, a God among men.
Are you noticing how much Galt is starting to look like the negative image of the zombie fantasy? Where zombies are a fantasy about destroying stupid society, John Galt is a fantasy about building a world where the social part of society isn’t even needed. Where the zombies allow you to fantasize about killing the undesirables, John Galt allows you to fantasize about not needing the undesirables. Where zombies represent the lowest possible outcome of society, John Galt represents and individual so awesome as to be above even the need for society.
We love us some Michael Jordan. We made him the most famous American athlete by miles. We made him wealthy beyond imagining. We made him into a legendary measuring stick with which to beat LeBron James. I want to say our fondness is in spite of the fact he treats his teammates and family like 13 year old gamer nerds treat virtual zombies. I want to say it’s in spite of the fact that he’s built his entire image around his own personal, highly B.S John Galt myth wherein Jordan is the ultimate winner, the ultimate alfa dog who’d be great regardless of context. However, when I think about the powerful fantasies John Galt and zombies represent, I think we might like Michael Jordan because he’s exactly the kind of prick we wish we could get away with being ourselves.
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