Pandemic Ethics and the show Santa Clarita Diet

     To begin to analyze the ethics of killing zombies (ie. patient zero of any given disease), it is important to distinguish which specific scenario is being envisioned. Rose Eveleth of SmithsonianMag.com wrote a brief summary of some ways zombies have been construed fundamentally. One precept they paint for the readers is that zombies may be a brain-damaged person who has retention of their memories. According to SmithsonianMag.com, it is not moral under any conditions to kill the zombie, given that containment and a cure may be possible in every instance. Still, if it were true that Zombification were irreversible, and that to survive one may have no choice but to kill, perhaps it should be permissible to kill a zombie or even all zombies. It would be ideal to contain and to study some zombies that are manageable, so that a cure can be explored. However, only once society is safe from the constant threat of death by these zombies, should such an option begin to be explored. Is this conclusion ethical? Let’s explore more to find out.

As computer science dictates, exceptions are emergencies, and in emergencies all normal execution ceases. If an exception cannot be handled by an ordered set of methods or the main method, a program is terminated, and this is what we refer to as a glitch. If the program does not close when a glitch occurs, an entire computer system may need to be shut down and fixed before being restarted. The world has gotten used to behaving this way by force recently, but is it all ethical? We may never know except in hindsight, and so we should be open to accepting the consequences of our actions, should they present themselves.

In Episode two of the 1st season of the show, Santa Clarita Diet, the ethics of killing is explored in a light-hearted and whimsical manner. Do not blink or you may miss it, because while the first choice to kill seems to have preceded the start of the show, the second choice to kill happens just before the three-minute mark. The second choice to kill is statedly premeditated and conditional, but is revealed not 10 seconds later. To clarify, the second choice to kill occurs when the man in the show realizes he has no good alibi, and flies into a murderous rage at a person he could only presume was an authority. From fear for his own self, he was willing to murder a person he was not even able to identify. In explaining why, they drove up on the pair of obvious murderers disposing a body, their daughter explains that her boyfriend borrowed his stepfather’s vehicle. The boyfriend then exclaims that he would be killed by his father were his father to find out he took the car without asking. So far what is clear, is that two out of two fathers in the show are murderers. 

Within another ten seconds, the mother in the show explains that she killed a man, because “he was not a good man,” and that, “he didn’t listen to (her) words.” The big reveal is that she ate the man. She says that she will, “go away,” if the others want her to, and they all agree that is not what they wanted. As we begin to consider whether the family in the show should kill a zombie, which we may call a monster, then we should also consider that the very beginning of this tale involves the acceptance of a monster. Therefor any action to push away a monster in the show will be an act that is hypocritical for this particular family. Would others in their society agree? 

The family in this episode begin to change immediately due to the event, as the boyfriend begins helping to clean up the body and advising on how to cover up the murder. The daughter announces in a next scene that she will now be swearing in front of her parents, and it is clear there is no negotiation. It seems that when one person gets away with doing something boisterous and unexpected, the people around them tend to feel encouraged to try that as well. In the next scene the father is asking where to find a doctor to help with his private issue, and the nurse giving directions shamed him for not making that information public, which came off very seriously and could only have been comedic due to a sound effect at the end of the scene. Many people today might see no problem with asking someone to reveal a fact that involves the coverup of a murder as well as any future murder which may occur, the intent of the show to frame the narrative of a disease outbreak in this way is very telling of their overarching opinion, that to share a virus knowingly is tantamount to murder. The characters in the show seem content to hide something until it can be understood, whereas today many people might agree that to contain something until it can be controlled is the only best way to survive. With so many people disagreeing on the most basic premises of living with the reality of disease, and what way we should respond, it seems like a good time to ask if all of this is truly ethical. Why is it ethical? The person making the claim should always supply evidence, and so we should look for more as we continue watching this engaging episode.

The next dilemma explored in this episode is the question of, “what if…I can never go back.” This question is intriguing because it considers the possibility the transition of the monster-zombie-woman (as opposed to a woman-zombie-monster) is irreversible. While the uncertainty begins to eat at the couple, a distraction fast forwards the plot nicely to the next ethical dilemma. The monster-zombie-woman-mother in this show explains to potential home buyers that when life presents a “new truth,” one must “accept it,” and, “live your new truth no matter what.” The father then explains that without having “enough information,” our actions would always be, “crazy,” as if to say this is true no matter what those actions are. Only inaction is an acceptable solution to the father, which seems a pragmatic stance. On the other hand, do people ever wait in vain for something that will never come? I think there are times when it is evident this is possible.

In the next scene the boy and girl dating share a conversation on the way their parents expect them to behave as if things are normal until things can be understood. Even in her attempt to remain normal, it is clear the daughter’s behavior is changing. She is becoming overly aggressive with other people she meets, and in slamming the shop owner to the floor she exclaims, “I just don’t feel like following all the rules today.” The premise of this scene seems to be a conversation on the coronavirus, and paints people who do what they want as hardened criminals escaping justice, who bring harm to others around them. That premise being made, the show shifts to the next ethical dilemma. 

In consideration of their awareness that they “cannot be killing people,” the ‘Mombie’ and father decide to restrict their activities by switching to a modified diet of already dead people. When that does not work out, they decide immediately and without flinching, to “kill people.” Soon after, they lie to their child when they tell he everything will eventually go back to normal, because they do not know whether that is true or not. In fact, they suspect it absolutely is not true.  These modern parents have thus committed not only to murder, but also to lying to their children, which again became dwarfed by the next ethical dilemma which occurs in yet again, the very next scene, when the parents discuss who they would prefer to kill more. 

Each scene in the show was an ethical conversation that from start to finish, paint a premise, hold a discourse, and conclude by accepting one of the premises discussed. The list of conclusions the show makes, paints a picture the makes it clear that the father and mother, daughter and boyfriend are all making unethical decisions that will harm other people, setting the stage for the next episode when they begin to conclude that killing people is what they should in fact do. The show was created a year or two before the Coronavirus took center stage in people’s lives, but bears many similarities and uses pointed rhetoric to convey attitudes about behaviors that can precondition people to judging the morality of the situation presented, a year before it then become a concurrent reality. Such a possibility for the media to condition our responses to our natural world, might cause some to conclude that they should be careful what they consume visually, audibly, and physically of course. Others who find themselves thrust into a situation where they must consume such propaganda, should at least make every effort to break down what they are witnessing, so they might decide whether they agree with the ethics portrayed in the media itself, both what they are being led to see, and what premise lay underneath such conclusions. In the end it is worth it, not to shy away from such discourse, but to go through it so that we as individuals can utilize the faculties of our mind’s rational processes, and form our own opinions for our own reasons, rather than acting on the impulses that memories of conversations played out in the narratives of shows dictate.

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