Thursday, October 31, 2013

Requiem for the Restless Dead

(Note to regular readers: Some portions of this column for PanamaCity.com and The News Herald were "borrowed" from an earlier blog. Self-cannibalism is my life.)


Little PC Zombie Walkers
PANAMA CITY — Apropos of All Hallows Eve on Thursday and Saturday’s status as Day of the Dead, let’s talk about this whole “zombie” thing.

Now, some of you are thinking, “Here he goes again,” but just take a look around:
 
They’re everywhere.

 AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” based on the long-running comic book created by Robert Kirkman, is the highest rated series on television. (News Herald writer Brad Milner is blogging about each episode weekly at NewsHerald.com.)

 Sundance Channel just kicked off a series called “The Returned,” which is a different take on the recently departed. Sprint even has a TV commercial that uses a zombie to comic effect. And that’s just the drop in the bucket, not even mentioning the glut of movies, video games, novels, ads and comics seizing on the image of deathless humans hungry for living flesh.

I was asked this week why that is. Luckily, I had already asked that same question last week of Crystal Creamer, the Panama City woman who organized a recent Zombie Walk to gather nonperishable food for the Panama City Rescue Mission.

“I think it’s because they are us — but not us any more,” she said. “It’s just terrorizing because it’s something we can’t control.”

My writer friend, Mark Boss, said the fascination could be based on the sense that people find zombies more accessible than vampires, which were another recent cultural fad. (I once heard the Young Adult section of a book store referred to as the “brooding vampire” section; the person who said this was relieved that the witchcraft fad seemed to be fading at the time.)

“Vampires are powerful, immortal and often glamorous,” Mark said. “I don’t think most of us feel like that. However, we see zombies, and that zombie is still wearing her uniform from work, and the zombie over there is wearing a tool belt and hardhat, and we see these reflections of us — ordinary citizens. Somehow, that makes them easier to relate to.”

Crystal Creamer, left, and friend
Maybe the fact that they’re such twisted reflections of our everyday friends and family is what is most frightening and fascinating about them. Like Crystal said, they are us, just with our morals switched off and our hunger turned up to 11.

The stories inevitably focus on a small group of people (which often dwindle to a lone survivor), which also works as a metaphor for our sense of isolation in the modern world. We connect electronically with so many more people than ever before, while at the same time connecting to fewer and fewer in the real world. It’s easy to begin thinking of those around us as faceless, soulless zombies.

As a fiction writer, I’ve found zombies to be fertile territory for storytelling. They make excellent metaphors for just about any massive, mindless groupthink you want to apply (insert your own political joke here), and they’re guaranteed to break any writer’s block.

Hit a wall in your writing? Add a zombie. They’re like literary bacon.
 
Peace.
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