Growing up as a kid in the 1970s, my first experiences of academic lectures were either snatches of TV programmes aimed at those studying courses with the Open University (thankfully, all that now seems to be done by DVD or online) or the annual Christmas Lectures broadcast from the Royal Institution. When it came to the latter, I remember watching many a fine academic find themselves outside their comfort zone, not only having to deal with practical demonstrations which helped visualise the points they were trying to make, but also the assistance of rather polite children.
Those small little humans can stick their hands up quicker than you would believe. Especially when it might just involve hitting a zombie over the head with something heavy!
There’s a whiff of those halcyon days here in the nightly lectures provided by Doctor Austin of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies, which is hidden away in the depths of the University of Glasgow. He’s got the threads; he’s got the knowledge, and he’s got his advice-filled business cards for every occasion.
Brain of the Dead is one of two “spoof” lectures inspired by the subject of zombies; as the title suggests, it’s pretty much a beginners’ guide to the human brain, some of which are shown on screen outside of their skulls. Yet, by focusing on four main characteristics of the iconic zombie of popular perception—stumbling movement; aggression; constant hunger; an inability to speak—Doctor Austin does effectively give a lecture, albeit a frequently amusing one. Nevertheless, a lot of his time is spent explaining the various parts of the human brain which are most involved with these zombie-like characteristics, and also some of the consequences of them going wrong.
Unlike some lecturers I knew while at university, Doctor Austin is willing to take comments and suggestions from his students – sorry, his audience – and usually comes up with a funny response or two himself. As with the Christmas Lectures, there are certain props and demonstrations for which he requires assistance, but a word of warning here: if there are any kids in the audience, you’ll need to be fast if you want to be a volunteer. Those small little humans can stick their hands up quicker than you would believe. Especially when it might just involve hitting a zombie over the head with something heavy!