Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
The following is a rough remembrance of a conversation with my then twelve year old daughter when I was taking her to school.
Me: do you have your backpack?
Me: Did you remember you homework?
Emma: (Rolling her eyes) I never forget it.
Me: What about your gym clothes?
Emma: (Proudly) I always bring it.
Me: What about a machete, incase zombies attack the school so that you can fight them off and protect the other students?
Emma: (Rolling her eyes again) Dad, zombies aren’t real.
I been associated with zombies since before they became cool. It was because of a quip I made at work that has forever tied me to them. A friend at work really didn’t want to call back an irate customer, and I said I would do it for her. “You are not afraid of anything are you?” She asked, and I replied “Only meteors and zombies.” Ever since then I have been linked with the stinky shambling undead.
In the begging many people saw this as weird, now it is generally looked on as cool. There isn’t a zombie backlash like there is with sparkly vampires. And the trend doesn’t look like it will die anytime soon. So why are we in the midst of a zombie zeitgeist? Well let’s look at some of the things that make them so cool.
Superb writing: There are some great zombie stories out there. When I saw World War Z in the bookstore for the first time, I was hook when I pursued the back cover, and with his great writing skills Max Brooks had me reeled in. It is a bunch of first person short stories set during the zombie apocalypse. I kept thinking why hadn’t I written this. But I am not sure I could have written it as well.
There are a lot of other well written zombie stories. Both the comics and the TV series Walking Dead are well crafted. As is the Zom Com Warm Bodies. There is brilliant writing in Shaun of the Dead. Sure there are a lot of cheaply and made low script quality zombie stories out there. (I am looking at you Sy-Fy channel) Just like there were a lot of bad space operas in the late seventies after Star wars came out. But the bad quality knock offs don’t necessarily deter from the good stuff.
It’s the social commentary: Who would have thought that there would be statements on our culture in stories about running away from and kicking zombie butt. But the moral World War Z (the book not so much the movie) is that you can’t rely on technology to prepare for a natural disaster. Don’t think I am right? Look at the back cover of the book it is stated right there. In an endorsement written by none other than Dr. Jeb Weismann Director of Strategic Technologies for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.
George Romero is the god-father of zombie movies, and his early movies were packed all kind of social commentary. In The Night of the Living Dead, only survivor is a black man who in the end get gunned down by the sheriff posse, with the unspoken reason being the color of his skin. In The Dawn of the dead, it is the Porta Rican families who defy the martial law and refuse to turn their dead love ones over to be burned. Not to mention that the setting in a mall is a surrealistic look at consumerism in America.
Rick Grimes in the Walking Dead, the living breathing embodiment of law and order in a world of chaos. Much the same way as Shaun Riley of Shaun of the Dead, is a satire of English Slacker as much as it is a satiric homage to the zombie film.
Zombies are the most democratic of the undead: Let’s face it, as a middle aged slightly overweight guy, I don’t have much to entice a vampire into wanting to make me into a creature of the night. They are looking for hotties that will stay eternally hot. Zombies on the other hand don’t care about what you look like. All they care is that you can’t run away from them. If you got a pulse it is good enough for them.
Same thing with fighting vamps. You got to be as smart as Van Helsing, tough as Jack Crowe or hot as Buffy to have a chance to go against the fang set. But to fight zombies all you have to have is a weapon and a will to live. Deep down inside everyone thinks they can survive the zombie apocalypse, when all their friends will get bitten skinned and worn like a hat by the undead. I mean if Shaun Riley, Ashly J. Williams and Tallahassee from Zombieland can do why can’t I.
The meta-fear: Good horror stories not just scary because they have put a character you care about in danger. There is something about them causes a deeper more overriding fear. An example of this is H.P. Lovecraft’s Cuthlhu mythos. It is not only scary because these alien unfathomable entities are coming to Earth and eliminating us but also because they don’t care about us. Not only that, but there is nothing in the universe cares about us enough to save us.
The meta-fear about zombies is that when something is dead it is not supposed to get up and walk around again. To which you reply “well duh.” But the thing is thousands of years of evolution and or common experiences says that the dead stay dead. And if this law is broken then it must be something very unnatural or very bad or both. Every civilization has folklore about the undead, and in almost all cases they come back evil. Even a loving relative will come back and want to kill you. This is certainly true with zombies. No matter how much you loved someone, and they loved you once they are a zombie they want to kill you. Period. Now think about that.
Everything is better with Zombies: Got something good let’s make it better with zombies. Like Star Wars, well now with Joe Scribers’ Deathtroopers, you got zombies in the Star Wars EU. True they are not exactly like traditional zombies but hey they are in space they got to be a bit different. This claustrophobic little tale tells the story of an Imperial spaceship, getting infected. And as a added bonus half way through the story two cannon characters make an appearance.
Other examples of things that are better with a few undead walking around are,are Marvel: Zombies with all your favorite capes getting infected. Do you like video games with lots of guns and explosions? Well in Call of Duty – Black Op: Zombies, you can play Sarah Michelle Geller, Danny Truijo, Robert Englund and Michael Rocker, note I didn’t say Buffy, Machete, Freddy and Merle, but the actors, now isn’t that better than killing Nazis. Like Michael Jackson music? Well zombies made Thriller the number one video ever made. Hey do you like cute nubile schoolgirls? Then check out the comic Zombies vs Cheerleaders.
Whatever is the reason for the success of zombies it doesn’t look like it going away anytime soon. I was worried with Brad Pitt in World war Z there would be some backlash. (Nothing kills nerd cult status more than an A list actor.) But just like there monstrous counterparts pop culture zombies just keep coming back from the grave.