For many, the zombie apocalypse inspires playful activities, such as choosing hypothetical zombie apocalypse teams. For others, zom-poc survivalism is undertaken with deadly seriousness, as demonstrated by the Kansas Anti-Zombie Militia. The popular tendency to engage with darkly imaginative zombie apocalypse scenarios also underlies numerous campaigns promoting disaster preparedness, public health, and self-protection. Among these are the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s high-profile guide to the “Zombie Apocalypse” and the Zombie* Safety and Self-Defense Handbook which employs zombies as a pretext to discuss less popular topics, including stalkers, sexual harassment, and assault (Cole and Owens, 2014).
In reference to Star Wars inspired lightsaber combat training communities, Benjamin Judkins writes that ‘hyper-real combat practices can be authentic martial arts’ (2016, p. 20). Indeed, one notable aspect of zombie apocalypse survivalism is the way in which the fictional framework leverages gamification and popular culture in order to manifest itself as an imaginary, but nevertheless productive, self-protection model. Building on Judkins’ insightful analysis – and in conjunction with my doctoral research – I apply traditional and contemporary self-defense practices to the ubiquitous, but often ironic, zombie apocalypse scenario.
Through artistic practice, audiovisual documentation, and critical analysis of my zombie self-defense system, I explore secular approaches to spirituality and non-toxic approaches to masculinity. Further – in line with the modern construction and invention of “ancient” martial arts extensively theorized by Paul Bowman (Deconstructing… 2019; Invention of… 2020) – I address the role of cultural, national, and ethnonational myth present within the practices and media representations of both martial arts and zombie apocalypses. In doing this, I pay particular attention to Exoticization and gender stereotyping, and seek to interrogate the combative relationship between critical theory (as a means to unravel cultural myths) and conspiracy theory and conspiritualty (as a means to bind them).