When it comes to most plots featuring a post-apocalyptic future, many would agree that they “feed on fear.” Meaning that they take something that humanity naturally fears or could fear and then turns that into a whole plotline that a hero has to overcome. Whether it’s fear of machines taking over, losing all our natural resources, aliens coming down from space to invade us, etc., the plot writes itself. But what made The Last Of Us so unique when it came to PS3 was that its “villain” was there the whole time on Earth, and we ignored it until it was too late. Fungi.
In the video game, a special real-life fungus known as Cordyceps was used as the basis of an infection that turned humanity into monsters. In real life, the fungus does infect ants and controls them as if they were zombies, so the idea of them getting humans and controlling us is frightening to say the least. The HBO adaptation of The Last of Us has drilled that fear into humanity, even making a “cold open” for the series stating why we should fear this.
However, a scientist named Paul Stamets has something to say about this. On Twitter, he did a thread about how while the show is great and he loves the meshing of science and sci-fi in it, he feels that it’s wrong to think that Fungi are a threat to humanity:
He did admit, however, that something like fungi can be dangerous, and the show feeds on that fear:
“But all organisms must eat. There are animals that are predatory. There are plants that are predatory. There are fungi that are predatory. We are all part of a giant food web where we are sustained by each other. This is fiction weaved info a theme speckled with mycology and exploiting Mycophobia: the fear of fungi. It is natural for humans to fear that which is powerful but mysterious and misunderstood.”
Stamets would later say that Fungi are much more helpful to humanity than harmful and that our existence possibly depends on us using Fungi to our advantage in the long term.
While it’s refreshing to hear that we won’t be “infected and turned into monsters” anytime soon, we must say that life, uh, finds a way.
Remember, scientists have been wrong about many things in the past. Plus, as the show notes, what happens if the Fungi mutate and evolve? Perhaps it could infect humans and control us. Of course, if that happens, we’d be screwed.