December 18, 2008

The "Zed Word"

The living dead.

Ghouls. The infected. Automatons. Stenchers. Gut-munchers. Slack jaws. The "zed word."

Call them what you will, but there is one thing you can't deny: Zombies are awesome.

For more than 70 years, zombies have haunted the graveyards and cities of our imaginations in our folklore, films, literature, and art. From the voodoo zombies of White Zombie to the flesh-eating corpses of George A. Romero's Dead series, not to mention the recent outbreak of marathon-ready infected in the style of 28 Days Later, zombies have evolved into a perfect monster for the world of the 21st Century. Zombies mirror our fear of globalized pandemics, ecological disaster, over-consumption, anarchy, failed governments and social systems, loss of self within a social mass and the simultaneous fear of isolation. As actor Simon Pegg put it in his article for The Guardian, ". . . the zombie [also] trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable." Plus, it is really fun to watch zombies pull out a guy's guts ("Choke on 'em!")

Captain Rhodes regretted ordering the full body massage

In fact, the zombie has dethroned the vampire as the monstre du jour. Like the zombie corpse, the vampire rose out of 19th and 20th Century European anxieties related to the nature of death, decomposition, and contagion, as well as xenophobia and class oppression. The vampire, however, has since morphed into a romantic figure of power and sexual wish-fulfillment. For example, shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and films like Twilight present vampires as charismatic, brooding, and misunderstood love interests -- wounded Romeos with pale complexions. Also, post-Matrix film franchises like Blade and Underworld give us vampires that are slick action stars; becoming a vampire apparently gives you bullet-time reflexes and the power of wire-fu! Vampires are so romanticized and super-powered that there are actual people out there in the world who seriously want to become vampires or seriously believe they are vampires.

No one seriously wants to be a zombie. Sure, we like to play zombie. Zombie Walks have sprung up all over the world, zombies make for popular Halloween costumes, and independent, low-budget film makers are in love with the zombie genre. Also like their vampire brothers, zombies have also been revitalized in a slick, flashy style. Thanks to the influence of 28 Days Later and Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, zombies are shown as super-fast killing machines. Still, few would seriously wish to be come a mindless, flesh-eating corpse. We use the zombie as satire and a figure of fun as well as horror and sympathy, but you won't see the zombie on a cereal box hawking chocolaty sugar goodness or going home with the girl at the end of The Dating Game. Yet, there is something timely, untamed, and disturbing about the concept of zombie that the vampire has since lost.

I have started this blog to share my thoughts about zombies and profile zombies in the news and media. Ever since I saw George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) one Halloween night as a kid, my life has never been the same. I look at the world differently now (and not just thinking up survival strategies of the Zombpocalypse were to happen). For me, and Western culture as a whole if the current popularity of zombies is any indication, the "zed word" still has some bite.


Pegg, Simon. "The dead and the quick." The Guardian.