Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ebola Zombies

If you use Ebola fear to sell something, is that ethical?
 
Is it legal?
 
Is it in good taste?
 
I posed these questions to my students yesterday. As you may know, I shed my pen name for a few hours each weekday to teach business and law at a community college. I recently asked my students what they want to glean from their current capstone course, and one of them said she wanted to study more ethics. Great, I replied. I'll scour the headlines and see what's popping.
 
Here's what I found Monday: Ebola zombies.
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
 
That's not a photo of an Ebola zombie. THERE ARE NO EBOLA ZOMBIES. Yes, I know there are headlines claiming existence of an Ebola zombie, but the man was not an undead creature. He was alive and mistakenly assumed dead.
 
But dang, it's so catchy, the internet says: "Ebola zombie."
 
Our culture is obsessed with the undead. I'm certainly not immune to the fascination; two books in my Undead Bar Association fiction series, Matriculated Death and Binding Deceit, feature zombies. We're a society primed for undead panic, in a country now facing the realities of a dangerous and highly contagious disease.
 
Does that make it okay for people to make money off other people's fear? I asked my students that question. Think about it, I said. It's just a matter of time before someone starts to market cheap "Ebola preparedness kits" and "Ebola zombie safety kits". Is that ethical? What about companies that make legitimate products like Ebola resistant suits, who now see increased demand for their products ... should they respond to fear-driven demand by increasing production?
 
Most of the class said no, but one student had no problem with that marketing idea. This particular student feels that if there are people foolish enough to buy such products, then such products can ethically be sold. Sounds like a derivation of the old adage, "There's a sucker born every minute and two to take 'im."
 
On other issues, the class was in total agreement. Connecting the season premiere of Walking Dead to the first reported US Ebola case was recognized as funny but not in good taste. I wonder what the class will say tomorrow when I show them this article about Ebola themed Halloween costumes.
 
What do you think about Ebola zombie marketing?