To introduce my students to the writing of pop culture critic Chuck Klosterman—last night’s featured writer in Lenoir-Rhyne’s Visiting Writers Series—I assigned “My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead.” Of the dozens of columns and essays of Klosterman’s I could have assigned, I chose his commentary on zombies in part because of the continuing popularity of zombies in general, and in particular the comic-book-turned-TV series The Walking Dead, now joined on AMC by its prequel, Fear the Walking Dead. I also chose “My Zombie, Myself” because it’s a well-constructed argument, one that makes the same moves that we make in academic writing.
In class on Wednesday, my students collaboratively examined “My Zombie, Myself,” identified its components, and summarized the essay’s argument with their answers to these questions:
- What is the standard view of zombies?
- What is Klosterman’s claim about them?
- What is Klosterman’s support for his claim?
- What naysayers or counterargument does Klosterman address?
- What does Klosterman write to convey why it matters? (Who cares why zombies are the monster of the moment?)
As the students in my 8 a.m. class collaboratively composed their summaries, I drafted this one of my own:
In ‘My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead,’ Chuck Klosterman challenges the standard view that the monster of the moment personifies our unconscious fears, claiming instead that battling the undead provides us with an allegory for our daily lives. In Klosterman’s words, ‘[t]he principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is that you do.’ To those who contend that zombies have merely replaced vampires as the current it-monster, Klosterman says their argument is deceptive. He maintains that the Twilight series isn’t about vampires but about ‘nostalgia for teenage chastity, the attractiveness of its film cast and the fact that contemporary fiction consumers tend to prefer long serialized novels that can be read rapidly.’ Klosterman reminds us that our zombie fixation matters because they “come at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly),” like all of the annoyances of life, but we can manage them.
Last night I was reminded of Klosterman’s claim about the popularity of zombies—how they’re an allegory for our daily lives—when interviewer Mike Collins, host of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, asked him about the continuing popularity of the reality show Survivor. In response to Collins’ question—why is it still so popular after so many years?—Klosterman said that what you see over and over in Survivor is the elimination of the oldest and the weakest first, then you see the elimination of the strongest, the contestants who are perceived as the biggest threats. What Survivor really rewards is mediocrity, Klosterman said, and that’s something that we see in our own lives.
Near the end of the interview—which covered topics ranging from Klosterman’s childhood in North Dakota, to his work at ESPN and Spin, to his interviews with Taylor Swift and Tom Brady, to the presidential candidates—Klosterman spoke about his writing process. I think that most writers come up with a thesis and then write about it, he said. What I do is write about what interests me and then look for a thesis.
Klosterman’s method is far more common than he realizes. It’s the one I use, and the one I encourage my students to use when their assignments give them the opportunity to see their interests “through academic eyes” (Laff qtd. in Graff 250).
Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” “They Say/I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Eds. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 2014. 244-51. Print.
Klosterman, Chuck. “My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 3 Dec. 2010. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.