Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Last night I watched the first disk of the AMC series The Walking Dead.  I'm realizing that zombies are probably just not the right fit for me, monster-wise.  Vampires, yeah, because they're sexy.  Werewolves, definitely, because they cut loose every four weeks.  No doubt about giant apes because, you know, they are giant frigging apes!  But zombies?  Too close to my reality.

I am enjoying the fact that the series is set in Atlanta, a city I lived in for a year and a half in the 1970s and have visited frequently since then.  It's a modern city, with malls, sprawl, gated communities, and every fast-food chain known to man, encircled but hardly contained by a gigantic highway (285).  I love the city, but it strikes me as a perfect setting for a TV show about zombies.

The scariest part of The Walking Dead, so far, is the scene in the first episode when three human characters are bunkered in a house, windows covered to escape the undead's attention, characters only whispering so as not to be heard, knowing full well that zombies are swarming around the neighborhood after dark, including one who used to be the wife of one of the characters and the mother of another.  Just the whole situation of being vital and alive, yet forced into immobility and silence, just strikes me as eery and nightmarish, especially since people without pulses control the new social order--as I said, too close to my reality.  Especially creepy is a shot of the front doorknob twisting as the former lady of the house, with masklike lack of affect, except for her constantly moving jaw, tries to reenter what used to be her life.

I suspect American conservatives and liberals view zombie movies contrastingly.  Perhaps one reason for these movies' popularity right now is that different audiences can understand them to mean different things.  The human characters in these movies must strike conservatives as prototypical survivalists--good decent "real" Americans who hunt and fish and pray, who, when the times get apocalyptic, are tough enough to do what it takes to thrive--which basically means looking out just for yourself and your own (family, race, etc.) first of all and steering clear of the freaks (me and people like me).  It must also be fun for them to imagine a world without taxes or zoning laws.

For liberals and leftists, the unavoidable analogy (or it seems unavoidable to me) is that the constantly craving, never satiated zombies are prototypical consumer capitalists.  Indeed, George A. Romero, father of the modern concept of zombification, which he uprooted from its voodoo context and spliced with 1950s sci-fi invaders, suggested as much in 1978's Dawn of the Dead, when the undead gather at the local shopping mall ("This was an important place in their lives").

Unlike other kinds of horror movies that invoke the supernatural, it is really unnecessary to "set a mood" for a zombie movie.  Zombies fit into ordinary reality effortlessly--unlike vampires or ghosts or giant apes.  No need for dark shadows, cobwebs, theremin music, dry ice, and medieval iconography.  A Pizza Hut is as good as a castle in a zombie movie.

One thing you never see zombies doing in a zombie movie is drive cars.  This is an oversight, in my opinion.  I never feel so dead and so out of touch with my environment as when I'm behind the wheel of a car ... in traffic.  And when I make the effort to look through the windshields (assuming they're not tinted to prevent such an invasion of privacy ... er, in public places) at the other drivers and their passengers, I am always struck by the occupants' glazed, expressionless faces--even when (and this is creepy) the people are swaying and nodding and hopping to the beat of music.  It's not so much the fact that I can't hear the music they're quasi-dancing to, it's the fact that their faces so often look crematorium-ready even while their shoulders rock and jiggle back and forth.  A couple of years ago my car broke down on a busy interstate highway, and my long walk along the shoulder of that constantly roaring road (yet curiously lifeless--witness all the dead animals I had to step over) has changed my perception of postmodern reality forever.

Besides wandering the mall and driving cars, zombies should do more things that would enhance the movies' realism--stand in line, for one.  Long slow lines, preferably.  Watch television.  Go to church.  Text.  Lurch toward familiar brand names.  Sit in desks and stare straight ahead while their teachers lecture.  Stand, blank-faced, with phones glued to their ears, waiting for the next available representative.  Take their shoes off before shuffling through security checks.  Have blogs.  Yeah, zombies most definitely would blog.

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