Friday, December 2, 2011

On Zombie Movies

I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!

Such are the words spoken by the goddess Ishtar, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian poem, and one of the earliest works of literature in human history. The idea of the zombie, being a walking corpse hungry for human flesh, is indeed as ancient as civilization itself. In recent years, there has been a vampire craze in popular culture, but this is about to be overshadowed by the zombie craze. Vampires, in folklore, used to be possessed cadavers that would leave their grave at night, cast evil spells on women and children, and return to their graves before dawn, from which they would remotely drain their victims from their life-force. Those were stories meant to scare the bejeezus out of simple-minded folk who also believed in witches and werewolves. 

However, with the advent of cinematography and modern book publishing, beginning with Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula and Murnau's 1922 classic Nosferatu (full movie at the link), vampires became part of modern popular culture and this paved the way for a modern transformation of the myth. Nowadays, the vampire is no longer a horrible walking corpse, but a suave romantic don juan ready to sweep teenage girls off their feet and offer them hope of immortality and preternatural powers, and a promise of a new beginning. Indeed, the myth has evolved to the point of ridiculous Hollywood cliché, that is no say, not scary at all.

We humans love to be afraid. Fear gives us a chance to reconnect with our ancestral past and put the bill-paying-cubicle-dwelling concerns that plague our modern lives into perspective. So we are seeing a resurgence of interest in the visceral, un-romantic, scary-as-hell stories of the undead. It is no wonder that in recent years there has been a steady explosion of zombie movies and television shows. The appeal is curious, but understandable. In zombie stories, there is complete anarchy, a full collapse of governments and social structures. The lucky uninfected protagonists are free to loot and scavenge for supplies. No longer do they have to pay the cable bill, no longer to they have to mail their rent check or file their tax return. Now they are free to carry a shotgun and a machete and kill any undead creatures they encounter. Perhaps it is a desire to escape from the mental trappings of our mind-numbing reality that makes this an attractive proposition. Now the viewer is brought into an apocalyptic world where his greatest concern is not to figure out how to finish 12 projects before the contractual deadline, but to avoid being eaten alive by flesh-hungry necrotic freaks.

Perhaps we are the zombies, the braindead/brainwashed masses, toiling away incessantly, with no hope and no future. Or perhaps we are the survivors, faster, smarter, more agile, hoping to get away.

In any case, I recommend watching the Walking Dead, season 1 is now available in the US on Netflix. I also recommend The Zombie Survival Guide for your survival library. While this book is intended as humor, it does contain good survival tips, with the benefit of being thoroughly entertaining.

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