Objectification & Consent
Some nights, I can’t get the zombiefucker off my mind. I can still see his toys’ feminine forms pinioned up in inviting poses, the swell of a breast pressed with a rope, the curve of waist flaring out into a hip, a gap between two narrow thighs. Yes, I saw these things. I wasn’t blind. They were zombies but still largely unmarred and, if viewed through squinting eyes, even a little arousing—and in that way awful. Yet I struggled to understand exactly what it was—not in general but at its core—that made the zombiefucker’s act so repugnant, a full accounting of all those principles he’d offended that made you want to pound his skull into the floor with a mallet.
All that day as we pursued him, I had kept returning to this inquiry. I wanted to settle the matter in my own mind. Something about it seemed necessary, as if being unable to identify the man’s central failure meant I was no better than a zombiefucker myself, and so I kept at it, asking whoever was willing to chat for a second what they thought, but I remained so unconvinced by all their arguments that I just couldn’t let it go. Sure, our grievously wounded friend, Huckleberry, spoke for a lot of people and a very common perception of zombies when he said, “Because they’re fuckin’ dead.” And only a sociopath would have disagreed with Jason, who said, “We are only people, but must try to be better than our worst nature.” And Christopher Martin’s concerns were wholly warranted: “You might get whatever they have.” And though Neo subtly avoided the central question, he wasn’t wrong to say, “Um, they may not have been zombies yet when he took them….” And so too did I agree with Starbucks, who said only, “There are just some things you don’t do.” But none of this completely settled the question for me. It felt like something was there, right on the tips of our tongues, remaining unsaid, some essential knowledge sitting on a bier just inside a dusty mausoleum door for which we’d lost the brass key.
I mean, sure, if you held that all zombies were dead, there were certain aesthetic and health concerns that argued against necrophilia, but didn’t our old conception of death exclude the possibility of wriggling or squirming or thrashing about against various ropes of bondage? and wasn’t something then missing in that analysis, something tied to our very ignorance of the zombic origin? And, sure, anyone with any education and a single scruple must know that the entire moral project of humanity has been rooted in the idea that we should try to overcome traits that, if not entirely consuming, are at least present to some degree in all of us, things like selfishness, greediness, and brutality? But doesn’t that take as a premise that zombiefucking is morally reprehensible? and isn’t that the very question before us? And, yes, Christopher Martin was not wrong that zombism might be sexually transmittable. But even if that were unassailably true, a fact proven by science, the very fact of transmission through sex is not inherently negative in any strictly moral sense, or even necessarily in the biological, since we can also be said to transmit life through sex. Am I saying zombies and babies are the same thing? No, of course not. But would it follow that the act would be okay so long as we could prevent the transmission—say, if a zombiefucker used a condom? Here the problem comes into sharp relief, as most people would probably still maintain a moral qualm. And it was an extremely good point, that the man may have taken the zombies before they were zombies, that they may have been girls only struggling to survive. But if that were the case, then that would have changed the nature of the question, making it a question of what you do in such a world to punish a crime against a person, but even if we agreed that he’d only captured them after turning, many would have still found it appalling, disgusting, not a crime against woman, but more a crime against nature, so that the question remained: why is it wrong to fuck a zombie? And what about what Starbucks said? that there are some things one simply doesn’t do? I agree it might seem that way and yet I also know that developing the list of taboos is not spontaneous, doesn’t bubble up out of us the way a new spring emerges in a divot in the mountains—and it certainly isn’t settled that things and actions entail moral judgments, or that moral judgments somehow inhere or cling to them. No, it seems we have to construct our lists of taboos, often out of the exact same kinds of concerns discussed above as well as many others, and any time a society constructs such a list, that list needs to be revisited every once in a while to make sure it still makes sense, especially when groups of men, such as ourselves, were planning to murder another man—that is, break one rather obvious and ubiquitous taboo—for breaking another less-than-perfectly-obvious taboo. So you see why a person such as myself was so concerned with understanding the revulsion I myself felt: I didn’t want to condemn a man to death just because my gut said, “What he did is horrible, disgusting, wrong.” Humanity has seen too many dark ages and too many people have already died because we allowed certain men to unilaterally declare others horrible, disgusting, wrong, without even a second’s deliberation on the point. If humans can truly be said to be better than zombies, which is itself debatable, we owe ourselves that much.
I had barely spoken three words to Custer this whole stint, but this night much about his personality became clearer to me, though I never did feel he fully expressed himself, as if only one part of his being was there having the conversation while the other half was out in the wilds, searching for his one true subject: Moby-Dork.
When I sat down across from him as he looked up at the atrium windows, he spoke without looking down: “You’re still one of those young men who thinks all things can be answered, aren’t you?”
“No. I just think we should try.”
“There are some things you don’t have to answer. Some things are evident.”
“What do you think is the root of his sin?”
I was speaking, of course, about the zombiefucker.
“That he did it.”
“But what principle makes it wrong? That’s what I’ve been asking everyone and I’m just not satisfied. There’s something important, some elemental thing, that everyone is dancing around.”
Custer squinted and seemed to take the measure of me. Or maybe more like he was trying to decide if I already knew my answer and was simply trying to get others to articulate it, as if I were goading everyone, even him toward some conclusion, and what galled me was that he seemed to know exactly what it was even though I had just posed the question to him. But when he realized I really didn’t know, he turned the rudder on our conversation, started toying with me.
“Do you not think it’s wrong?” he asked.
“I do. But I want to know why.”
“Does it matter? if you already believe it’s wrong?”
“Because my belief might be wrong.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve heard people say that before.”
“Sure, but that’s a trap,” I said. “Imagine how you feel if you do a thing because your conscience says to do it and then you find out your conscience was wrong. How much worse is that, how much more destabilizing of the entire personality, than if we’d just given it some thought up front? I mean, isn’t that even worse than if we fail to act and find out we should have? That generates a crisis too, but so long as we were trying to err on the side of the good and didn’t—”
He cut me off, scoffing: “What is life to you? a cost-benefit analysis? haven’t you learned yet that humans aren’t rational? Maybe we sort out certain administrative details with our pros-and-cons lists, but the arc of a person’s life is plotted in heartbeats.”
“That sounds good, but what if you kill him and he doesn’t deserve to die?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Do you hear yourself? What if a zombiefucker doesn’t deserve to die?”
“That’s exactly what I mean: we call him ‘zombiefucker,’ but what if we take a step back and ask these same questions, but start by calling him ‘lonely man’ or some other—”
“We’re all just lonely men and we all deserve to die.”
“We’re getting off track! My point is just that we haven’t even identified what his core sin is, or even if it’s a sin at all, and yet there’s going to be an execution for which we’ll all be complicit.”
“Your ego can’t bear being wrong?”
“Not without thinking through it.”
“No time like the present.”
“Okay, but let me finish. Because my point won’t be immediately obvious and—”
“Let’s start with the stripping, with all the ways he has stripped these girls….”
He waved me on, more than a little impatiently.
“Yes, I admit what I see plainly: one, he stripped away their clothes, literally peeled them off with his grubby fingers.”
“And I’ll admit that, two, he stripped away all the cultural pretexts, all the lip service so many men used to publicly pay to feminine equality and personal autonomy and—”
“Sounds like we agree that—”
“But there’s a third layer,” I cut in. “He stripped away their humanity. He peeled off their autonomy, stole their very ability to express anything like self-determination and—”
“Exactly!” Custer broke in. “No more mental masturbation, young man! you’ve already hit the heart of—”
“But you’re not letting me—”
“You think you’re very clever but you’re overlooking something essential. He didn’t just strip all these things away. He dressed them back up. He took away the symbols of their humanity, but then put them back on again, and, in so doing, affirmed the very cultural pretexts you say he must have stripped away to justify his actions. He dolled them up, as they used to say, made humans into toys who looked like they might actually want it, precisely because he knew it was wrong and couldn’t fully face what he was doing. What condemns him? His own knowing.”
“No, it’s this simple: he reduced those girls to mere bodies and he made them up in such a way that he could pretend he wasn’t doing precisely what he was doing—these are the only truths I need to find him guilty.”
I couldn’t argue with this man. He was so caught up in his declarations now that he wouldn’t let me get in a word edgewise and, even if he had, I could see he had reached conclusions he was entirely incapable of pulling back from. He reminded me of the captain of the Titanic, powering forward at full tilt, trying to win the eternal argument of man against the world by simply lumping on more fuel, even as icebergs lay obscured in the night—he’d dash his own skull against them just to keep from slowing down. I saw everything he said. I felt his analysis was accurate and true, grim as it was, and that, if this were the sole analysis of our zombiefucker, then the man indeed needed to die for his crimes; yet, his analysis still lacked that crucial … something. The very same something that I had been wrangling with since we first laid eyes on the zombie girls so trussed up and used. But here I was frozen, couldn’t push back, because I was intimidated and still unable to formulate the words in my own mind, the very thing I might have said to convince him, the thing I am certain he already knew but refused to allow. Yes, when I think of that day I wish I could go back and shout, that I could somehow harness the power of my own voice as Custer did, to back him down the way he did everyone around him, and pronounce with all the certainty what I have since realized…. maybe I would have said something perfect or struck the nail on the head like this:
“If it’s a sin to objectify a person, to reduce them to a usable body without their consent, shouldn’t that be universally applied? and if universally applied, then how do we justify what we are doing? for if zombies maintain even a shred of that human autonomy you’re quick to extend to the poor zombie girls, then don’t we also need consent to use bodies as fuel? Sorry, Captain, but either zombies are mere objects or zombies are not mere objects. If they are objects, we can’t execute the zombiefucker—unless, that is, we prove he found and trussed them up that way when they were still living girls, which would change the nature of his crime—because zombiefucking, while revolting, would be no crime; however, if they are not objects, if we say the girls have autonomy even into zombihood, fucking them is not only wrong, but so is feeding them into the abattoir. Yes, this implicates all of us! what hypocrites you would make of your men! Let me put this as plainly as possible: it’s either okay to fuck zombies or this whole enterprise, our current pursuit of zombie after zombie, is corrupt to the core, and you, dear captain, must set the white zombie free.”
Yes, how I wish I could have said all that, but the words—hell, even the core concept—still eluded me, tantalizingly out of reach, and yet there was that flicker in the captain’s eyes again, that flicker of realization, of being two steps ahead of the man before him. I am certain Custer knew what I was trying to articulate: he could have walked me through my own flailing logic that night if he’d so wanted, but he did not, and yet a little shudder ran through him, as if someone had opened a door in another room down some long and dark corridor on a cold night and the terminal wisp of the wind had brushed his cheek. Did I say he was two steps of me? No, it was probably more like four, and these years later, all I can say for sure is that what he said next must have had something to do with the kind of knowledge only available to those already walking hand in hand with death.
“You’re still grappling for it,” he said with a demonic grin. “The truth feels close, doesn’t it? right here in the room with us? And it is. But it will remain out of your reach until the end. You may think you’ve come to it, what Custer knows, but it will continue to elude you for years. You think it’s something to apprehend, but some things lie just beyond apprehension….”
Before leaving off, he stood there a long moment, perhaps allowing me time to speak again, to say all the things I didn’t yet know, or maybe to call him back from the edge, as if I, or anyone else, could have talked him away from that bright white iceberg floating silently in the eerie blackness of night, that white zombie of our fate.