By Rachel Gilinski, Social Media Manager
iZombie Spoilers Ahead!
“Life imitates art.” The phrase is simple and commonly used, a shorthand way to allude to humanity’s malleability and the great influence art and culture have had on societal values. I’ve been rewatching the show “iZombie” recently, in the midst of a modern pandemic, and in viewing it, the phrase takes on a new meaning. Life may imitate art in terms of, say, cultural values, but for art to predict an entire pandemic, not to mention the rising political and social tensions that this past year has both brought to light and exacerbated, feels unprecedented.
I don’t mean to imply there’s currently a zombie apocalypse going on, of course. But the parallels between the show and reality are certainly unnerving.
In one of the earliest scenes in the show’s first episode, main character Liv Moore’s boss Ravi Chakrabarti finds out she’s a zombie. He’s not afraid, or even all that surprised. Instead, he tells her he’s suspected as much for weeks, and that he’s feared the spread of a virus like this one — the “zombie virus,” he calls it — for even longer. “The most urgent issue facing humanity,” according to him? A plague. (For any conspiracy theorists reading, I’ll add that he actually specifies manmade plague, as a form of biological warfare.) He argued that we weren’t prepared for a pandemic. Watching the conversation unfold on-screen while in real life in the middle of a pandemic we were thoroughly unprepared for would have been almost comedic if it weren’t so painful.
Throughout the rest of the first season and into the second one, Ravi and Liv are preoccupied with finding a cure for the zombie virus. For as long as she’s a zombie, she’ll never be able to live a normal life or have a normal relationship with any of her loved ones. In the middle of a pandemic, when most of us have to be careful in all our interactions and where relationships have evolved to include the least physical contact possible, that hit hard. In the show, Ravi then manages to develop a cure for the zombie virus: when injected, the zombie in question becomes human again. Finally. You had the zombie virus, you were a zombie and couldn’t live a normal life, but now that’s all over. Anyone with COVID-19 antibodies knows how freeing it is; nobody wants to get the virus itself, but the virus itself serves as its own “cure,” so to speak, and you can live a relatively more normal life now. The relief is only temporary, though. Reminiscent of COVID-19 antibodies, which can only protect you for so long, the zombie cure only worked temporarily, with the patients eventually reverting to zombieism.
It isn’t until the show’s third season, though, that the parallels to reality become jarring. Season three begins with the secret of zombies’ existence on the verge of coming out. Only conspiracy theorists believe zombies are real at this point, but the truth is slowly being revealed. At one point, a tabloid newspaper runs a story on zombies, and although it’s all true, most people dismiss it as nothing more than fake news. Nowadays, in a social environment where the lines between “real news” and “fake news” are prone to blurring, where anything you don’t like is immediately dismissed as “fake news,” this minor plot point felt especially apt.
Another plot point, this one more significant than the former, is the outbreak of a virus. It’s a new strain of the flu, originating somewhere outside the U.S. and making its way in on a packed airplane. “Just a flu,” it seems, but officials and scientists immediately catch on to its gravity, with one scientist calling the virus deadly and contagious, likely to fill up the city’s hospitals quickly and leave sick people on the streets. (I doubt I have to draw the parallel here.) Officials and law enforcement bicker and debate in an attempt to figure out who’s behind this flu outbreak. Fingers are pointed, tensions run high, trust dwindles. Everybody is suspicious the flu was brought over purposely, and everybody blames a different person. I can’t help but think of the responses to the coronavirus, and how many people still look for somebody to blame. From the very beginning, fingers were pointed as to whose fault the virus’ existence is, and even now, politicians on all sides of the political spectrum are blaming others and being blamed for COVID’s worsening effects. Right up until the city-wide vaccine mandate, and later, when zombies are more widespread and a “quarantine zone” is defined, this entire subplot feels like a direct predictor for the past year.
Lastly is the connection I first made between the show and reality. In June 2020, Seattle became a self-declared autonomous zone. Barriers were set up, barricades were constructed; Seattle, or the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, as it was called, branded itself as no longer a part of the United States. It was governed internally, and only few outsiders were permitted entrance. In iZombie, similarly, the city becomes an autonomous zone, with a private military seizing control, walls being constructed around the city’s borders, and designated areas where only specific officials could enter. No one was allowed in or out without permission and tensions were high. The plot is too close to reality for comfort — and where, you may ask, is iZombie set; where has it been set ever since its release in 2015? Nowhere else but the fair city of Seattle, Washington.
To conclude, I’d like to clarify that I’m not theorizing that iZombie or The CW caused COVID-19; I’m not claiming they engineered it so as to parallel the show’s own plot points. If I would claim as such, I wouldn’t argue that they did so in order to gain viewers en masse out of the shock value and to boost profits — I’d likely get sued for defamation if I tried arguing something like that. But, of course, I’m not not saying that. Reading this much into a show like iZombie may be pathetic, but I’d argue it certainly is prophetic, at least regarding the pandemic. (…Sorry, I felt poetic.)