The NewsFlesh Trilogy
Two journalists, a presidential campaign, political powerplay and conspiracies, and the zombie apocalypse
Fear and Control
One of the trilogy’s major themes is fear, specifically with:
- How prevalent it’s become after the Rising
- How it’s a key part of controlling others
While small to normal amounts of fear are still healthy, after the Rising fear has become so commonplace that it’s often described as a kind of chronic illness infecting the population. Even in a world that’s genuinely more scary after the Rising, it still doesn’t justify the excessive fear people feel.
“This constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re all addicted to being afraid.” (Deadline, 182)
That’s the trouble with being scared all the time. Eventually, people just go numb. (Deadline, 335)
The main criticism of this is how it restricts people from living an authentic life. Fear is great for avoiding acute dangers, but not when it limits goals or experiences you wish to achieve in the long-term. Georgia’s passion for the news continues despite the Rising, since she doesn’t let her short-term fears of avoiding zombies become a long-term fear of pursuing her passions.
There comes a point when you need to get over the fear and get on with your life, and a lot of people don’t seem to be capable of that anymore. (Feed, 186)
Chronic fear even has damaging effects beyond the individual, in society. Fear pushes us away from rational discourse and towards action focused mainly at attacking those who we’re afraid of, dressed up as “protecting innocents from those we should fear.” The author points out how this takes many different forms in society - hatred of racial minorities, gay people, religious minorities, and in the novel it’s people who are “pro-zombie.”
There will always be people for whom hate is easier when it’s not backed up by anything but fear. And I will always do my best to hoist them by their own petards. (Feed, 134)
Fear to Control
Another major theme of fear of how it’s often a crucial tool for those in power to control the masses. It’s a simple yet effective method - the more fear you can instill in an enemy, the more power you can claim in the name of protecting people from that enemy. This can be very effective when there’s already an enemy those in power can simply exaggerate fears of, whether it’s terrorism or zombies, since the shades of truth make it harder to notice or criticize.
It’s amazing how effective simple disorientation is as a mechanism for controlling people. (Blackout, 39)
The trouble with the news is simple: People, especially ones on the ends of the power spectrum, like it when you’re afraid. (Feed, 346)
All the antagonists in the novel stick to this theme, using fear of zombies to scare the population into greater compliance, whether its giving unprecedented power to the CDC or pushing for regressive, populist policies in the presidential election. It’s even implied that those in power are partly appreciative of the Rising, since zombies are the best enemy by far to great extra fear in the populace.
The problem with people who have power is that they start thinking more about what it takes to keep that power than they do about what’s right or wrong or just plain a bad idea. (Blackout, 562)
This is bad, since those in power have a responsibility to provide protection to the people when needed. But there’s an extremely blurry line between justified and exaggerated fear. Those in power have a great interest in exaggerating or outright fabricating this fear - increasing their power at the cost of increasing chronic fear in the public.
This is a key relationship between the two themes of fear: “chronic fear” and “fear to control” can easily fuel each other, damaging our civil liberties and very society in the long run. It all drives home a warning that humans should fear being too afraid, since that’s where the real horror is.
The main theme around truth is simple - the truth hurts, but ultimately it’s better than being lied to. Seek out truth, because even if it’s painful and seems to be hidden for good reason, in the long-run it helps everyone.
The trilogy is a giant struggle to uncover and expose a major conspiracy regarding the zombie virus within the CDC. It’s a truth officials are willing to continuously kill to hide - even creating a second Rising that kills thousands. The ultimate truth of there being no cure for the zombie plague, and lying about this to keep people both hopeful for the future and more afraid of zombies at the same time. It’s painful to hear, but is needed for people to begin making adjustments for the actual state of the world and not an imagined one - one built to deal with zombies long-term instead of as a temporary issue.
The difference between the truth and a lie is that both of them can hurt, but only one will take the time to heal you afterward. (Feed, 248)
…a truth you don’t understand is more dangerous than a lie. (Blackout, 544)
A lie, however well-intended, can’t prepare you for reality or change the world … To tell the truth is to provide armament against a world too full of cruelties to be defeated with simple falsehoods. (Deadline, 243)
However truth is also difficult to find, both from others and within ourselves. While truth is hidden by others, it’s even harder to overcome our mind’s barriers to it. Finding the truth in ourselves takes lots of critical thought, always examining where we may be wrong and our mind’s unwillingness to accept a tough truth.
Sometimes the hardest thing about the truth is putting down the misassumptions, falsehoods, and half-truths that stand between it and you. Sometimes that’s the last thing that anybody wants to do. And sometimes, it’s the only thing we can do. (Blackout, 51)
…the only way things could’ve gotten as bad as they did was if people were willing to take the first easy answer they could find and cling to it, rather than doing anything as complicated as actually thinking. (Feed, 277)
A major example is Sean’s struggle to accept Georgia’s death. This truth is horrific, painful, and nearly drives him insane, but he still accepts it as a truth. It’s also throughout many of the major plot twists in what the characters discover - from Raymond’s ranch being targeted by terrorists to the virus transmitting through insects, their reaction is always painful acceptance and trying to share it on their site.
One man’s gospel truth is another man’s blasphemous lie. The dangerous thing about people is the way we’ll try to kill anyone whose truth doesn’t agree with ours. (Blackout, 394)
Normal is Bullshit
A minor theme is the idea of “normal” not being real. Too often it’s a status quo that paralyzes us, or an illusion that keeps us in one place. Either way, clinging to ideas of “normal” blocks progress, so we should be willing to throw out what we’re comfortable with and reassess our worlds. To live life in the “now,” instead of the “then.” But humans resist it since it puts a greater strain on our minds, so it’s a reflex to overcome.
“We’re all hauntings waiting to happen, Shaun. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll get past wondering when our normal lives will be starting up again.” (Deadline, 377)
The characters’ definitions of “normal” constantly change through the story as they learn more about the conspiracy and its actors. The more it changes, the more it puts them at odds with the rest of the world, and the harder it gets for them to function. It underscores both the heavy burden placed on those outside of the “normal,” but also the importance for them to shatter outdated versions of it. Despite the danger they’ll face in the progress.
There is a time when even reasonable men must begin to take unreasonable actions. To do anything else is to be less than human. (Deadline, 292)