Zombies, Sanjay Gupta, and the Great Cambodia Mystery Disease of 2012

The Capitol. Being shiny. I walk by it sometimes and think “Well, that’s the Capitol.” I took this photo and am a bit proud of it.

I’m writing for the GlobalPost now, and I apologize for recent radio-silence. I’m also still in DC, which is actually about 50% hotter than Cambodia, Xinjiang, or Calcutta, or at least that’s how it feels to me. I am spending my weekend with a loaner-dog (she belongs to my housemates, and she is awesome) trying to move as little as possible. It’s supposed to be raining. I see no rain.

I’ve been doing some updates for GlobalPost about this “mystery illness” sweeping Cambodia, and I feel a bit torn about the media circus that has ensued over this. I suspect a lot of this plays into Western society circa-2012 and its ever-escalating fears about a horrifying pandemic that will stack bodies in the streets, cause video-game like apocalyptic privation, and generally ruin everyone’s tenuous rapport with their neighbors. We will, however, all have great excuses to wander around heavily armed.

The Atlantic had a great article about society’s ever-increasing fondness for zombies, and a fear of zombies – which, after all, have a way of spreading their undead attributes – ties rather neatly into a profound cultural terror of pandemics and disease. Colleges host zombie-walks, and movies and TV shows cash out on undead plot-lines. You can even buy whimsical zombie themed ammunition and targets, for all those heavy weapons you’ve been carefully stockpiling “just in case.”

One of the first zombie movies ever made, set in Cambodia. “Revolt of the Zombies.” Seems very fitting to this screed.

I read the comments on news stories. People say you shouldn’t, possibly because comments on major news stories are a portal into hell, or at least the profoundly disturbing lizard-brains of your average Joe International English-Speaking. This is, I’ll admit, a very accurate observation – but I feel reading news comments does give one a certain amount of perspective into popular opinion on a given topic.

A lot of comments on the CAMBODIA TERROR DISEASE story expressed similar sentiments: globalization has gone too far. There’s too many of us. Mother Nature is gearing up for a day-of-reckoning-via-pandemic. We’re like too many rats in an enclosed space, and mystery, mutant diseases are nature’s way of telling us to stop-with-the-fucking-breeding-already. The Catholic church continues to fail to get the memo.

Summer, the media is telling us? Summer is for terror. Terror and cute celebrity commentary, but mostly terror.


Sanjay Gupta has been deployed to Phnom Penh, with his powers of Comforting Voice and Wholesome-Yet-Exotic good looks, his ability to beguile whole battalions of slightly-overweight middle women. CNN coverage consists of Gupta standing around in Cambodian hospitals looking concerned and compassionate, while short clips of wide-eyed Cambodian children clutching their parents are played for the viewing audience.

What will come of this? Maybe some more donations for the cash-strapped Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals, which would be a good thing. All those battalions of slightly overweight middle-aged ladies also have remarkably receptive guilt centers, at least compared to the rest of us – perhaps they will open their hearts, and their designer wallets.

Perhaps some clever little enfant terrible shit will create a snappy Kony 2012-like video, and mobilize the sorority sisters of the civilized world to action – they can sell MYSTERY DISEASE vinyl stickers and booty shorts. 5% of the proceeds to charity.

(Dr Beat Richner’s sudden stand against the CAMBODIA DISEASE HORROR media circus is somewhat ironic given the circumstances. But I believe the man is fully committed to getting some more money for his hospital, using whatever techniques possible. The problem of getting wealthy Cambodians to donate, instead of expats and foreign soccer moms – well, that’s another story.)


Cambodia has somehow become story of the week, and we perhaps have our existential fear of zombie pandemics to blame. And there is a darker side to all this then just the tragic, sudden deaths of innocent children.

Consider the possibilities. Do those doe-eyed moppets harbor a mutant disease that will kill our families and ruin our civilization? Is this some sort of psychic redemption for how the Western powers both precipated and ignored the Khmer Rouge? (Ah, wait. Everyone forgot about that). What will happen if the WHO and Sanjay Gupta and the great white hand of the West fail to ferret out this problem?

Refer to the Cambodian zombie movie linked above. We in the West have a fear of terrible things emerging out of jungles and poor places, of some horrid biological retaliation for the myriad things we’ve done to the unknown parts of the world in the name of our own personal comfort. We have had this fear as long as we have been.

Waiting for medical treatment. Via WIBW.

Can you imagine what will happen if a Western kid somehow manages to contract the disease? And I  mean less what will happen to that poor hapless child, and more what will happen to the media, to popular culture. Helicopter moms in darkest Orange County and Fairfax have irradiated and put-away their children for a lot less.

The segment on CAMBODIA DISEASE TERROR I was watching just now cut to reports of GREAT WHITE SHARK MENACE, in which a large, steel-grey fin was seen menacing a flabby and confused looking kayaker. Natural selection had come, once again, to Cape Cod – scene of the original Jaws movie, as you may recall.

Natural selection was creeping up on errant, slightly overweight sunbathers and suburbanites, as it always does, eventually. Something terrible and hard to defeat was coming out of the woods, the caves, the oceans, and there was a chance – a slender one, but a chance – that it would get you. 

This only seemed fitting. 

One thought on “Zombies, Sanjay Gupta, and the Great Cambodia Mystery Disease of 2012

  1. Craig Etcheson

    Turns out that it appears to be good old Foot and Mouth Disease, which infects millions and kills hundreds in China and Vietnam every year, perhaps combined, Cambodia-style, with improper medication (thus accounting for the exceptionally high mortality rate). Where on earth did you come up with Zombies of Angkor? You leave me speechless once again, Faine! We’re getting the hell out of here! I’m not worried about FMD, but I’m not taking any chances with those zombies!

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