Thursday, October 31, 2013

10/31/13 Halloween, a Philosophical Zombie Post

I've been fascinated for some time at the surge in popularity of two horror fiction staples: the vampire and the zombie. Their rise in pop culture, with the vampire returning to mass appeal only slightly ahead of their brainless counterparts, is especially intriguing.

In both cases, we are dealing with creatures that feed on and eventually consume most of us, leaving only the smartest to survive and fight another day. And in both cases, these supernatural creatures are in a state of un-deadness now, but were once exactly like us, fearful humans who wanted simply to be left alone, and . . . not eaten.

The emphasis of our society on insatiable consumption, the rise of the horrors of obesity (some true, some media driven), the commercialization and depersonalization of human interaction (Facebook, anyone?) all have parts to play in the current appeal of the undead's rise. That undercurrent of disconnection among us actually does feed the desire to see these narratives played out in either the most seductive or the most visceral of ways. We feel doomed. We consume stories of the doomed to make us feel less alone.

Naturally, the fears of death, both in your typical "I don't want to die" / facing of our own individual mortality, common to humankind pretty much since, well, forever, as well as the sneaking suspicion that there might just be worse things, after all play a part as well. We discover that immortality, such as it is currently and popularly imagined, or at least the ability to come back in some form, doesn't have quite the appeal of our childhood conviction that we are simply invincible. As much as we don't want to die, we find that we really would prefer to stay dead rather than shamble around hoping to feed on the living. And, I'm afraid, most of the audience who are consuming these narratives are not consciously aware that their underlying fear is that, in fact, they already are the undead.

The appeal of the vampire, for all its seduction, is that it chooses you, personally, intimately, and often very gracefully. It feasts on your life quietly, having charmed you into submission, and for all the phallic symbolism of the fang and the long, slender vessel of the willing neck, you find yourself drawn into desiring that embrace on some level, even though you know its going to kill you. In most vampire fiction, the option to let go and then die is fairly viable. If you've developed some sort of deeper connection to your seducer, you might enter into an agreement to become immortal with it, but otherwise, it's a one-and-done moment of intercourse.

That's where the division gets interesting. Because, as we all know, with zombies, there's no such option. There is, in fact, no romance with a zombie, at all. They are all interchangeable, and so are you. You aren't special. And the zombies don't care one bit who you are, because all you are is un-rotten flesh. If today's stories are any indication, the more mindless and disgusting and literally gut-wrenching we can make our zombies in fiction/television/films, the more we can't turn away.

Sure, we can outsmart them . . .sometimes . . . but only for awhile.

Because, and here's the real problem and what's most likely at the heart of their appeal: there are always too many of them. The mindless and ravenous undead self-perpetuate at an alarming rate.

Fill in whatever political sentiment there that you'd like.

Deep down, it simply appeals to the fears of an outnumbered us-against-them paranoia that pervades our current thinking: black and white/ good and evil / right and wrong types of arguments, those which allow for zero nuance or ambiguity, leads to zombie pop culture.

Of course, The Walking Dead, for all its zombie terror, usually gets back around to the really interesting question of whether the zombies might not actually be preferable to dealing with living people, who use their minds and limited thinking to commit atrocities against one another, despite being fully capable of using their brains to work together instead of against one another.

Still, did you see that herd in the latest episode? (with CGI, it was 10,000 of them!)

Your Halloween tip for the day: Always choose the zombie traction option!


Post a Comment