Wednesday, February 20
Why America Loves Zombies
I must admit that I've pondered this particularly bizarre phenomenon a good deal. Like most complex occurrences, I'd argue that the explanations for zombie-mania throughout the United States (and beyond) are multi-faceted and inter-related.
Start by examining the mindless trek we all make in our relentless march toward the unique depersonalization that modernity affords.
Consider your GPS device. Sure it speaks soothingly to you, but it speaks to everyone in that same soothing voice, with the same precise words, and we as individuals matter not a wit to the GPS itself. Add to this the increasing time we spend listening to "muzak" while we wait to talk with a computer help desk, or stuck in traffic with other bedraggled commuters, or, perhaps worst of all, standing in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and it is no wonder that we identify with and perhaps even envy a set of creatures who just don't care.
Zombies don't mind, after all, if you never bother to text them back. As long as zombies have something to eat, they will wait forever – FOREVER – at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. A zombie is never righteously indignant.
Zombies appeal because they represent the excruciating pains of our vanishing sense of being special. Nobody says "it takes a village" for a zombie to be happy. Zombies no like villages. Zombies like food (and they aren't that picky about it).
Think for a moment of that village in a zombie flick. Think of the poor schmos who still cling to humanity as the zombies start to over-run the barricades. None of the humans are particularly special to the zombie. One guy's guts are as good as someone else's.
After years of being told how unique we are by all facets of American culture – by vampires in our movies, by evangelists in our churches, by politicians on our pedestals and advertisements on our computers – perhaps we have grown tired of the disconnect between these messages and the experience that the Registry of Motor Vehicles affords. The zombies help us to confirm our experience.
So, what do we Americans do when we don't feel special? We turn to our own mythology.
Here's how one kid put it to me:
"If there were a zombie apocalypse, man, it'd be SO cool. It'd be like the Old West. We'd square dance every night and hunt for food during the day. As long as we keep our guns trained on the woods we'll be safe and happy."
That's almost word for word what I've heard at every gathering of zombie enthusiasts. It seems to explain the absurdly intricate planning that zombie survivalists embrace.
I'll admit that the unique freedom of a zombie Armageddon is itself strangely appealing. Our lives would be quickly and cleanly simplified in a zombie scenario, and this of course jives with the enduring American mythos that that "the old days were better". In the old days, the story goes, we got by with just a few honest folks. That sentiment is a uniquely American theme.
And here is where I like zombie stories most of all. Ultimately, the zombie tale is a cautionary tale. It is an allegory about what not to do. If there were a zombie outbreak, should we really go shooting every zombie in sight? Not really. We shouldn't arm ourselves with guns. We should arm ourselves with humanity.
Everyone I know in the zombie world uses the human reactions to zombies as examples of how folks can either royally screw up or instead do a whole lot of good. At the end of the day, a good zombie movie, like the best of American values, is about finding a way to get along with each other and move forward. In our vast and polarized nation, it is now more than ever vital that we fully embrace these lessons.
In other words, we love our zombies because they just might bring us together before we go and tear ourselves apart.