Sunday, December 3, 2006

The Zombie Zeitgeist

Is it just me, or have others out there noticed that Zombies just seem to be everywhere in media today? There seems to be a great resurgence of the genre, and it's just popping up everywhere. Dawn and Day of the Dead get remade, Romero brings out a 4th of his own with Land of the Dead, 28 Days Later, Resident Evil 1 and 2, House of the Dead 1 and 2, Dead Rising and Stubbs the Zombie for XBox, Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead and a whole slew of other comics doing great business, All Flesh Must Be Eaten and the Zombies!!! boardgame with its numerous supplements, and of course, Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z. That's just the stuff I'm aware of, I'm sure there's more that I haven't found yet. I mean, I know the genre's always been around, but it seems that in the past few years, it's exploded. I suppose the Zombie is the creature of the decade, like the Vampire was the creature that was everywhere in the 90s.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the political climate, at least here in the US. In the 90s, we had a relatively moderate political climate, with Clinton in the White House. The creature that seemed to capture the imagination was the vampire, which, in most of the popular fiction they're associated with, are kind of the Republicans of the "monster" world. They're usually rich, sophisticated, elitist in their attitudes, and they seem to take great pleasure in manipulating people for their own ends, even beyond their need to drink blood. Vampires are the true assholes of the monster world.
Werewolves are generally people who get inconvenienced every time a new moon comes around, but aside from that, they're pretty decent people. Their curse is something that they rarely, if ever, in the popular mythos have any control over, and when they can, it seems like if they can get their wild on, they'd be perfectly happy to hunt down some wild animal when they're changed, and then be done with it. I don't know of any popular werewolf "mythos" material that has them fucking with people to the extent that vampires seem to do. Sure, every now and then you get the "tortured, romantic" depiction of the vampire, but even with those bloodsuckers, their behavior is fairly sociopathic. I think those very sociopathic tendencies are what make people attracted to the idea of the romantic vampire. After all, Ted Bundy got lots of marriage proposals after they caught him.

In any case, getting back to my point, after a decade or so of vampiric fascination, the Republicans, the most sociopathic (in my opinion) of political parties took control of the country and quickly proceeded to use and abuse it to their (non-beating) heart's content, sucking it dry for the benefit of their fellow vampires, namely corporate oligarchies and other "elite" assholes.

Interestingly enough, the media glorifying vampires started to dry up. What vampire media that still flourishes usually involves either vampires getting their asses handed to them (the Blade Trilogy), or stuff that casts Vampires in a very unfavorably light (The Underworld movies). What has replaced the vampire largely is the zombie genre. George A. Romero once said, "I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters." I think this is a key notion in this new zombie zeitgeist.

People are no longer enamored of vampires simply because in a very real sense, they're already being dominated by vampires in the political arena. Looking to a similar creature for entertainment is simply no fun anymore. But anyone can be a zombie. You don't need connections. You don't need to be attractive. You don't need to participate in any kind of complicated ritual. You just have to get bitten. What could be more democratic? Zombies don't care about your bank account, or your race, or religion, or whether you got a degree from a reputable university or at all. They don't care about any of that. They just want your tasty, tasty flesh. Now granted, it's a horror genre, so the fact that people are getting eaten is a bad thing, of course, but I think that there's also something rather comforting in the indiscriminate nature of the zombie holocaust. That asshole who cut you off in his Lexus while talking on his cell phone? His money and entitlements won't protect him, not once the apocalypse gets up to speed. Do you have credit card debt? Who cares, when there's zombies running around trying to eat people? No one does, and as horrible as the zombies are, I think people do get some sense of relief from the fact that the soul-killing pressures of modern American life all slip away when one has to revert to basic survival needs.

...An entire generation pumping gas and waiting tables; or they're slaves with white collars. Advertisements have them chasing cars and clothes, working jobs they hate so they can buy shit they don't need... We were raised by television to believe that we'd be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars -- but we won't. And we're learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed-off. - Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Most people drag their asses into work at a cube farm every day, listening to inane chatter around the water cooler, watching their 401K like hawks, dreaming of being an old person because then they'll finally be free of the rowing the wage galley. They get migraines while trying to pay the bills, since their measly 3% pay raise ends up being a pay cut in real dollars since inflation has risen to 6 or 7% in the meantime. They have to try to keep up with the bullshit of car registration, license renewals, medical co-pays, all the little things that take tiny nips out of their soul all year round.

Suddenly, you give them a scenario where all of that BULLSHIT no longer matters. All that matters is their ability to shoot a rifle, run faster than the shambling dead, and secure and fortify a temporary location to hold off the hordes of the undead for one more night. Sure, it's tough to do, but there's also an enormous sense of freedom in it. It's like returning to tribal hunter/gatherer days. You don't need money, you just climb into the nearest Wal-Mart and loot what you need. If someone else got to it first, well, you move on to the next one. Is it a tough existence? Sure it is. But it's also a remarkably honest one. If you have the skills to survive, or the ability to learn them, you can flourish. If you don't, well you can join the ranks of the undead, and still be free from all of those burdens and cares and worries that were killing you slowly from the inside anyway.

People ask me why I'm working on a zombie survival plan, since there's "obviously" no such thing as zombies. Maybe they're right, maybe they're not. I'm not just preparing, I'm looking forward to it.

Bring it on.

In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway. - Tyler Durden, Fight Club


sag0016 said...

I think you're reading too much into politcal metaphors for zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc. While I will agree that Republicans are not perfect, I would argue that Democrats are not any better. Your average group of Democrats makes a much more compelling example - they don't think for themselves and are brain dead.

Em said...

"Zombies don't care about your bank account, or your race, or religion, or whether you got a degree from a reputable university or at all....I think people do get some sense of relief from the fact that the soul-killing pressures of modern American life all slip away when one has to revert to basic survival needs."

I love it, this is exactly what the genre does... frees us from the bullshit.