Like many millions of other people, mushroom expert Paul Stamets–who was featured in Netflix’s Fantastic Fungi documentary–has seen HBO’s The Last of Us and has some thoughts about it.
Posting on social media, Stamets said he’s enjoying the series, but wants viewers to know that it’s a work of fiction that plays on Mycophobia, which is the fear of fungi.
“Cordyceps can not infect humans,” Stamets said, referencing the fungal infection that spreads from person to person on the TV series and in the video game it’s based on.
Stamets said he is a big sci-fi fan and enjoys seeing how HBO was able to weave “the creative elements of fungi into the narrative.”
Still, Stamets pointed out how all organisms must eat, and this includes fungi, some types of which can be predatory. “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,” he said.
“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 added. “So I applaud the writers for seeing this opportunity to take us on a literary adventure into the realm of sci-fi while exploiting the public’s fascination, fear, and joy of fungi.”
All of these “mixed emotions” make for a good TV series, he said, adding that the sets are “strangely beautiful” with how nature is basically digesting cities with flora and mycelium.
“Another irony, which I thought was potent, was that the fear of the fungus stimulated humans to bomb the cities to prevent the infection, but in the process, began our global suicide,” Stamets said. “Perhaps this is the fungus’s strategy: to make humans become extinct by altering their reasoning to activate their own annihilation in a futile attempt to defeat fungi. Clever.”
Stamets went on to say that a Cordyceps-like fungi could actually be the solution to some of the world’s problems. “In fact, Cordyceps-like fungi could replace the majority of chemical pesticides with an ecologically rational and economically scalable solution,” he said.
“Who knows, a young person watching this series could become our Einstein of mycology and help save the world from the toxins we create. Breaking news: they are everywhere, all the time, and you live with them 24/7. These very fungi exist under every footstep that you take,” he added. “Fungi will never be defeated. Our survival depends on a peace treaty with Fungi. Mycologists can help by being the ambassadors….to our friends, the fantastic Fungi!”
Episode 3 was all about Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) and their story. For more, check out GameSpot’s interview with Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin about the episode. You can also read more about how Episode 3 confirmed a fan theory with a twist.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sunday nights on HBO, leading up to the Season 1 finale on March 12. HBO just recently announced that Season 2 is in the works, and fans believe it will follow the events of The Last of Us: Part II, and introduce Abby, among other characters.
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