Friday, July 22, 2011

On the wane, oversaturated, or on the rise?

The zombie popularity dilemma and the under appreciation of the undead

Q: “How many Vietnam veterans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”
A joke in poor taste, but if you chuckled a little, you’re my kind of person.
If you love the zombies, you probably have a bit of wit about you.
I can look back now on the scattered wastelands of the past 10 years and nod with a smirk, “F-ing A, my zombies had their day.”
From Romero coming back into the game, to one of the stars of “Zombieland” starring in an Oscar-winning film, to countless books, low- and big-budget films and remakes of classics suddenly becoming en vogue, one would think I am a happy camper who thinks, “Finally, the shamblers get their due.”
To a point, I am.
As I approach the meh age of 34, I look back at my childhood far more than I should. I wax nostalgic for a lot of media I once loved only to see it ruined, either by a lot of meddling (George Lucas), retreading (how many post-apocalyptic movies can we take?), and “gritty reboots” or “gritty remakes” (making something more gory is not always better, Hollywood).
Now that a pack of those who are about 10 to 15 years younger than I are clamoring for the recognition of discovering the undead hordes as their Holy Grail, I find myself more often annoyed than proud.
Call me a curmudgeon all you like, but I think it really is a matter of appreciating the groundwork that was laid prior to the discovery of something grand.
No one visits Egypt without the intention of visiting the pyramids. Yet, one truly has a far greater appreciation for them once they understand how much back-breaking work, scores of people, and limited technology of the time made those things rise from the sand and withstand time. Yeah, they are cool to look at and watch Michael Bay blow up, but, really, understanding that there is a structure, thousands of years old, settled in the middle of a desert, withstanding the test of time, weather, and human curiosity. That, considering mankind’s ability to find more efficient ways to destroy than to create, is beyond amazing.
That is a far-fetched metaphor, to be sure. Simple gut-muncher films are in no way on par with the creation of one the world’s greatest wonders.
But, as I see more and more zombie (and often sort-of) related zombie lore come out, I get upset when my zombies get tweaked, played with, or underappreciated. I’ve addressed the greatest debate before. I’ve tossed Romero’s salad shamelessly here over and over again.
Yet, I know more people who have seen the latest “Dawn of the Dead” and never knew it was a remake than those who actually knew it was.
I’ve met others who find shamblers boring and unthreatening.
I’ve met those who think zombies are kind of like vampires, but just dumb.
And I’ve met people who think “Twilight” needed to add zombies to make it even cooler. Why not? That series fucked the vampire and werewolf mythos in the eyesockets. Why not just go ahead and screw up zombies as well? (And, if Stephanie Meyer did fuck with zombies, don’t tell me. I just don’t want to know).
So, what is my point, you ask?
Have zombies had too good of a run as of late? They seem to be literal rock stars.
That is of which I am afraid. I grew up with these suckers. I’ve attempted several times through this blog to convert the new, to train their eyes on the old, to appreciate the pyramids built by Romero and Fulci, which have been assaulted or accented by modern sandstorms of idiocy or brilliance, and sprinkled with chaotic spice throughout the past 50 years.
Yet, I find myself digging my heels in, falling on deaf ears, and arguing with those who “weren’t there” when zombies really hit the scene. Hey, do the math: neither was I. But, like most people set in the ways of what they like, I “was there, man.” I grew up in the initial thick of it.
Lately, it appears there is an author, a director, a screenwriter, or a hack by any other name who seems to have the very basic idea of zombies in their head. Zombies suddenly blew up in the mid-2000s and have proceeded to “atomic bomb” the world with the success of “The Walking Dead” and others such as “28 Days Later.”
Yeah, I should be happy. I almost feel indifferent.
I guess I should be glad I am not a Bram Stoker turbo-fan. If I were, some snotty, hack, Mormon writer would be swinging from a tree right now.
Do yourself a favor if you enjoy modern zombies: explore their history. I have found myself immersed in a tome of zombie-lore recently, “Zombies: Encounters with the Living Dead,” by John Skipp, exploring the works of writers I love (Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman) and those I have never heard of (Leonid Andreyev, W.B. Seabrook) and I am loving it. Even this curmudgeon is enjoying old works featuring zombies. And if I can go back and find new pyramids, so can you.
Not everything new shines with the brilliance of found gold. But when you do find that nugget…
Oh, and speaking of new, follow this blog on twitter @zom_blog. I welcome friendly/aggressive banter/debate. And, should you be bored and need a recommendation for a good/awful zombie flick, tweet me there.
— Rob Perry

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