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Overthinking with Crit: Zombie Flicks

Posted 12-10-2010 at 02:19 by Critias

Every now and then, I get distracted by stuff. Some thought flutters in between my ears and then sticks there, and when I'm supposed to be doing something else -- reading, writing, even settling in to watch tv -- I mull a thought over, smooth the rough edges like a clam with a piece of sand, and hope that eventually I get a pearl. Or, uhh, some other appropriate metaphor that combines a nagging sensation with a piece of jewelry?

Truth is, it's how I do my best writing. Not my rambling blogs, mind, or my Glocktalk posts. No, my writing-writing. Fiction stuff. I'll get an idea for a cool one-liner or a description of a high paced fight scene or something, and then I'll build backwards (or forwards) from there, making up the characters, the setting, figuring out how they got into the standoff that prompted the snarky comment, or puzzling over who's in the fight, and why, and what for. I just get an idea for something or someone, and it sticks with me until I've got it all mapped out in my head. When I'm lucky, I make it to a keyboard and toss it all together and then I either post it (on another forum, ones dedicated to gaming so I don't look so crazy), or spin it so it fits a current freelance project (so I get paid for it).

...right, sorry. I was supposed to be talking about being distracted. Heh. Hello, irony, nice to see you again.

Today's distracting thought? Zombies.

Blame it on The Walking Dead tv show that Mrs. Crit and I have been watching. Blame it on The Walking Dead comics I've been re-reading since the show started. Blame it on my swanky new Mossberg shotgun. Blame it on the rain (yeah, yeah).

One way or the other, the Zombpocalyse (that's "Zombie Apocalypse" smooshed together, see? I got that idea a couple years ago, I'm hoping it catches on) has been bouncing around in my head lately.

What's our fascination with it? Why can someone make money publishing shooting range paper targets of zombies? Why can a cool guy like Hickok45 make awesome Youtube videos about "zombie shooting" and everyone immediately identifies? Why can World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide -- both excellent books, don't get me wrong -- resonate with so many people?

What makes it an enduring, almost endearing, horror/drama film genre?

Every now and then, here on GT especially, someone throws out the not-so-subtly-insulting suggestion that Glocktalkers talk about zombies because we're holding out for the day we can run around our neighborhoods with guns in hand, willy-nilly blasting at every shambling corpse we see, saying "I told you so" to our neighbors. On a purely visceral level -- and judging by all the gung-ho comments on some recent Walking Dead threads -- that's not completely off the mark. It's not the rotting sickness of conscience some people make it out to be, though, unless someone goes too far with their daydreaming (like Gunkid, that wackjob), and genuinely does hope for a crisis situation, because their own life is such a wreck the breakdown of society would be an improvement.

No, I think it's a harmless bit of fantasy, which is what movies and tv are supposed to encourage, after all. I think it's the everyday movie escapism at work, where we think "what if?" and imagine it was us, instead of them, in the leading role of a film, wondering about our decisions, our readiness, our mindset, or ability. I think the Glocktalkers sniping at Walking Dead don't have any real malice in them over it, but rather they just like the "what if" game, and like to imagine themselves as doing a better -- more efficient, more practical, more ready -- job of surviving than Rick and Shane and the rest of the tv show's crew.

No, I think the fascination with zombies is something a little darker.

Look at a zombie. Well, okay, don't really look at one, because hopefully you don't have one handy, and if you do, you should run (or at least briskly walk) away, instead of staring. Staring's rude.

Ponder a zombie. A few outlying pieces of fiction aside -- with running zombies, and smart zombies, and whatever else they try to throw in to make a film a little "different" -- zombies are, more or less, dead. They're moving, sure, but they're not exactly spry, y'know? They shuffle around. They don't have jobs. They don't have families. They don't do anything productive. They don't think. They normally can't talk or otherwise communicate. They don't even really digest the people they're eating, they're just eating to be eating (and to move a Zombpocalypse movie's plot along).

1) They shamble around aimlessly (sloth), and they consume simply for consumption's sake (gluttony).

Traditional, liberty-minded, red-blood, Right-wingin', gun-totin', Conservative/Libertarian types, particularly those of a more religious bent, are gonna hate and fear zombies are an extension of the things they genuinely hate and fear. Not only do Zombpocalypse stories resonate with those of us with a penchant for survival/preparedness to begin with, and not only do they resonate with those of us who already have a few guns (or more than a few) on-hand...but they're, in a way, the mindless, worthless, worst sorts of society-draining bottom feeders we screech about when we're in bad moods.

They shuffle around, they eat good people, they don't react to anything in a way we can understand, and they do nothing but destroy, never create. They've lost all independent thought, they've lost their capacity to produce or otherwise contribute to society, and they're trying their damnedest to kill those of us who were prepared enough to survive the opening wave.

"You mean like Democrats," Bob Hope says? But wait, there's more!

2) They're mindless, slavering, consumers, in an ultimately unsustainable life-cycle. They can't breed, or make new people to eat, or propagate as a species except through infection, and eventually the people will run out.

Combined with a recent jab at our oil-based economy right there in Walking Dead the other night -- "Our world runs on fossil fuels, how stupid is that?" the scientist said, amidst the drama -- I think there's something of the negative stereotype of a consuming capitalist horde there, too, for the rabid Left-wingers to hate on.

Was it a coincidence that Dawn of the Dead was set in a mall? That the last survivors huddled together in that shining beacon of American consumerism, trying to stay alive in the middle of the suddenly-dangerous suburbs?

Isn't it something of a liberal fantasy -- at least as much as it is a conservative one that we'll get to "play" with our guns in public -- that in a time of crisis, racial barriers will disappear, rich and poor will be stranded together and judged not on their wealth but on their use for survival, and suddenly in the face of an end to all life, we'll sing Kumbayah, live together in harmony with nature, work together without money in the way, and all strive, hand-in-hand, to survive? Isn't racism (and the denial of it) an ongoing theme in many zombie flicks, even Walking Dead's first few episodes on AMC?

Combine those admittedly stereotyped right-wing and left-wing nightmare/fantasy scenarios with the everyman-watching-a-movie effect (that "what if" I mentioned, where we all secretly, just a little bit, want to someday save the day)...and I think there's a reason zombie flicks resonate.

In times of social, economic, or political strife, they serve to tell us it can always be worse. In times of the good life, they serve to tell us watch out, nothing last forever and someday your neighbor will try to eat your brains.

Zombpocalypse movies: mindless popcorn horror movie fun?

Or worth overthinking, with Crit?
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