The Exclusive Geek Anthem Interview with the Zombie Professor
Dr. Arnold Blumberg has a resume that would make any geek envious. For twelve years he’s taught comic book literature at the University of Maryland. He’s the author or co-author of several pop culture books including the Howe’s Transcendental Toybox series. He’s published official Dr. Who fiction. He contributes to IGN.com. And his day job? Curator at the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore.
His favorite quote—by the fourth Dr. Who, Tom Baker—sums up his career perfectly: “There’s no point in growing up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”
But it’s his latest gig that has pushed him into a more national spotlight. When the University of Baltimore was developing a minor in pop culture this year, they talked to Blumberg about the possibility of bringing something to the program.
“Zombies was the first topic that I thought I could shape into a course,” he said.
The road to teaching about zombies started with comic books. Blumberg, a lifelong comic fan, started his teaching career at a time when there wasn’t much academic work going on with comics. Although he wasn’t the first to use comic books in the college classroom, they were, back then, more commonly found in art departments or history classes. Maus, for example has been widely used in courses on the Holocaust, World War II, and Judaism.
“To have a comic course that’s a literary course, that was rare,” said Blumberg. “This is a literary art form. We can take a look at it with the same critical eye and the same kind of analysis you would apply to any literature.”
He remembers that the University of Maryland’s PR team expected a lot of negativity when the course was initially offered. But the criticism never materialized.
“There weren’t that many people that, at least publicly, made any real stink about it. Now, twelve years on, it’s pretty legitimized. It’s something worthy of critique.”
So, apparently, are zombies. The University of Baltimore has Blumberg’s course this semester double-listed in both upper-level media and English in its college of arts and sciences.
According to Blumberg, zombies are an intellectual gold mine.
“When you look at the entire history of the zombie, it’s one of the most direct and most potent reflections of any icon,” he explains. “You see it embodying the fears and thoughts that our culture has at that given time. Right now we’re consumed with terrorism on a global scale, viral infections, and plagues, and as a result the zombie embodies those fears.”
The course covers a variety of profound topics and themes you’d find in advanced philosophy, humanities, and psychology classes. Individuality. Free will. Survival. Human interaction. Racial fear. Religion. Communism. War. Politics.
“It’s important to take a look at any phenomenon in pop culture that attracts so many people. It’s one of the most pervasive movements in pop culture, and it has been for many years now.”
Students spend the semester watching a variety of films, including the original 1932 White Zombie and the classic Night of the Living Dead from 1968. They read novels, comic books, video games, and other media where zombies turn up. Throughout the course students are required to keep a weekly journal to write their responses and generate their own ideas. At the end of the semester they have the option of writing a script, creating storyboards, or even shooting a short video that presents their ideas of what a zombie film should be like.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to show people there’s a little something more behind whatever it is they enjoy. They see this whole other layer of meaning they never saw before.”
In addition to being intellectually stimulating, Blumberg finds zombie movies to be cathartic.
“People are fascinated with pushing themselves psychologically to the brink, except when you’re in the movie audience you don’t have to worry about dying or not surviving. You’re going to make it out.”
There’s one thing, however, that Dr. Blumberg is more passionate about than zombies.
“I love Dr. Who more than anything else. Yes, I love Dr. Who more than zombies. It’s an emotional connection.”
When Blumberg first watched Dr. Who in the 1980s, he became hooked.
“When you discover something that’s existed for a while, it can be an incredible level of excitement to know that you now have a whole new universe to explore.”
That’s something a lot of geeks can relate to.
“If you can make your life out of things that give you that sense of joy, that kind of emotional fulfillment, then that’s great. There’s no harm in that whatsoever. You can balance being a kid and being an adult on a daily basis.”
You can learn more about Dr. Arnold Blumberg at his official website.