Zombies in Miami: Naked Men Eating Each Other and the Society That Stops Them


MIAMI, FL. — Let's start with the lead from the Miami Herald. It's vivid and accurate, and I have nothing to add:

"Only the police tape, the bloodstain on the ground and a grotesque mystery remained Sunday after the brutal attack on the MacArthur Causeway in which one naked man was shot dead by police after he attacked another naked man and began eating his face."

There are many witnesses to corroborate this account. One of the first was Larry Vega, who was riding his bicycle by the MacArthur Causeway on Saturday when he saw two naked men. One was on the ground. The other was eating his face.

"The guy was like tearing him to pieces with his mouth," Vega told Miami's WSVN-TV News. "So I told him, 'Get off!'" No effect. "The guy just kept eating the other guy away like ripping his skin."

So Vega flagged down a police officer. "Police officer came over, told him several times to get off, and a police officer climbed over the divider and got in front of him and said, 'Get off!' And told him several times."

"The guy just stood his head up like that with a piece of flesh in his mouth and growled."

The man kept eating his victim's face. Police sources told the Miami Herald that he also tried to gouge out his victim's eyes.

After repeated verbal warnings, the officer opened fire. It took several shots to kill the attacker. "It was just a blob of blood," Vega told 7News. "You couldn't really see, it was just blood all over the place."

The victim was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital. 75% of his face was missing. Sources told 7News that these were some of the worst injuries they had ever seen.

What the Hell Is Going on Here?

The identities of the victim, the attacker, and the officer who shot him have not been released, although 7News reports that the victim is homeless.

The Miami Herald has released a seven-minute clip from surveillance video that shows some of the incident. You can't see it all unfold, but you can get a sense of the grisly vibe.

We're still waiting on the autopsy and toxicology reports, but police spokespeople speculate that the attacker was in a state of "cocaine psychosis." WSVN-TV decided to go with "a new potent form of LSD," which is absurd. It's also not in quotation marks, so let's just go with "cocaine" for now, since we know the police said it.

They don't know it was cocaine, either, of course, but there are at least grounds for speculating that some stimulant was involved. "Stimulant psychosis" has made a few appearances in the zeitgeist recently. It was thrown around when Jason Russell, one of the creators of the viral Kony 2012 video, was found naked, screaming and flailing on a San Diego street corner a short time after the controversy surrounding the video peaked.

Nudity is a key ingredient in this theory. This stimulant psychosis is said to overheat the body, driving people to strip naked in order to cool down. The other common thread between Russell and the Miami Face-Eater is men exploding with wild animal rage, but the "cocaine psychosis" theory separates out that symptom. It's not treated as a holistic reversion to lizard-brain behavior. Their minds are drug-crazed, but their bodies are just overheated, so the clothes come off.

Eventually, in Russell's case, the press settled on stress, exhaustion and dehydration, but not drugs. We'll see if these unknown, possibly homeless men get the same treatment.

Is This Real Life?

The police and the media blame drugs. The Gawker blog Deadspin blames Florida. Few can resist the comparisons to a "horror movie." Specifically, the event has been compared to that most revered meme, the zombie attack.

Zombies are an important post-modern symbol. The classic zombie movies are imbued with a message that is now a cliché: that modern society discourages individuality in favor of mindless drone behavior and adherence to broad norms.

The story usually begins with an outbreak of some kind. It might start with, say, one naked man running like an ape under a highway overpass, growling. He might be discovered by a passer-by eating the flesh of his victim. The unfortunate police officer who encounters him might have to fire several shots to kill him.

Then there are news clips, grainy videos and speculative reports that try to explain the incident away. The explanations are wrong. If we were in the movie, we'd be at this part now. It couldn't have been written more perfectly. By tomorrow, there should be a few more outbreaks, and then there will be panic in the streets.

But then the middle of the movie will start, and the zombie story will begin its subversive turn into a commentary on the society outside the theater, the one into which we walk back, relieved, after the credits roll.

The middle of the movie establishes the vital individuality of the heroes. Outside, the virus has spread. Now all people have become a blob, an unthinking mass seeking to devour our heroes and make them conform. By the end of the movie, they're the last humans left, the only ones who can think for themselves. They're all that's left of orderly life.

To invoke the zombie movie to describe what happened this weekend in Miami is really an inversion of this story. The "normal" people are the horde, and we don't know how to understand the rebel, the outlier eating faces on the MacArthur Causeway. We have to explain it away.

Normal Is Scary

Two years ago, at this exact time of year, I reported on a string of crazy murders of schoolchildren in China. The chain of attacks spanned from March to May of 2010. Middle-aged men and women brought weapons — hammers, kitchen knives, machetes, meat cleavers — into schools and attacked children, teachers and innocent bystanders. Some of the attackers then killed themselves. Others were apprehended and executed by the state.

The Chinese government put most of its effort into containing the story. After all, in the age of digital mass media, these stories spread like a virus. They infect other broken people who may then engage in copycat incidents. The zombie epidemic spreads unless we contain it.

We, too, have to contain this story of what happened in Miami. We have to chalk it up to "cocaine psychosis" and movie plots. But real-life zombie stories have the opposite ending. It's not the few, brave outliers who beat back the mindless hordes. In real life, the horde wins. We see the outbreak of madness, the breakdown of our precious order, and we swarm in, shoot it down, and swallow it back up. Society can't be broken. It's fine. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

"Drivers coming back from Miami Beach on the causeway took their feet off the gas, bike riders slowed down and dog walkers stopped to look at the scene of Saturday afternoon’s macabre assault, which generated international headlines."

"They didn’t see much. The scene had been cleaned up."

UPDATE 6/4 10:30 AM: Unsurprisingly, people eat each other on a pretty regular basis. This is great evidence that media frenzies distort reality.