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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Hump-Day Harangue: The Truth About the Zombie Apocalypse

This is a post I feel I shouldn’t have to write, and it’s almost embarrassing to address. It’s probably going to make me a tad unpopular with some readers, or perhaps it might make me sound a little arrogant—but so be it. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a while, and it’s time to make up for lost time.

By now, we’ve all been beaten over the head with the stores of “real-life zombies” and all sorts of “zombie-like” attacks being reported in the news. There was the lunatic in Miami who spent 20 minutes chewing someone’s face off. Then there was the other lunatic in New Jersey who ripped his own guts out and threw them at cops who were pursuing him. Plus the media poring through police blotters to dig up anything that sounds like a pattern from the last year, trying to make everyone panic and think that some kind of actual zombie uprising is happening. It’s what they love to do, and they do it well.

Folks, there are two elements to the harangue that I’m diving into today. My first thesis:

If You Really Think a Zombie Apocalypse Is Going to Happen, You’re an Idiot

The so-called "Miami Zombie" (left) and his victim.
 The scariest thing to me about this whole zombie conspiracy thing in the news is not any of the actual stories, but the way some people have really bought into the hysteria hook, line and sinker. Again, it almost embarrasses me to have to address, since I think that 99% of rational people realize that the concept of flesh-eating zombies is fictional and is not possible in the real world. Nevertheless, there is a contingent of mental midgets out there who really do believe that it’s happening. I know; I come across them every day.

I think these are the same people who believe Elvis is still alive, or that people are visited by the Virgin Mary in their bowl of Frosted Flakes. They’re the ones who think the world is going to end this autumn because the Mayans said so. The same Mayans who believed they needed to kill someone every day to make sure the sun would come up in the morning—forgive me if I find their scientific findings suspect. I’m living in Bridgeport these days, and no one said it better than that city’s patron saint P.T. Barnum—There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.

I really think we’re living in a culture in which many people have lost touch with the boundary between entertainment and reality. These are the people who will quote chapter and verse about all the “rules” of zombie biology and behavior, as if they exist in some textbook somewhere, and weren’t merely invented by screenwriters to serve their narrative needs. What person could believe that an impossible supernatural scenario invented for a movie could somehow magically become real? Answer: A whole lot of them.

Not real.
Here’s the bottom line, and I apologize to all those without missing chromosomes who don’t need this explained to them: The modern movie zombie was created in the minds of George Romero and John Russo. It was later embellished by other filmmakers like Dan O’Bannon, Lucio Fulci and Edgar Wright. It is not based on anything that exists in the real world. It is fiction. A serious disconnect in logical thinking--or a lack of understanding of the creative process--has to exist  in the mind of anyone who would actually believe that the creation of someone’s imagination could just come into being—as if seeing it in a movie somehow makes it exist. It startles me how much people will simply decide something is real, just because they really want it to be real, and for no other reason. I think this is how organized religions get started.

If only this were true! Imagine if our favorite film genres could just spontaneously cross over into the real world? I love The Warriors—but I do not believe that New York may be overrun by silly, themed gangs of face-painted thugs just because that movie exists. I love kaiju—but I don’t entertain the notion that Japan will be attacked by giant monsters, simply because some guys made some movies in which it was.

My girl.
Look, if anyone knows about the delusional zombie fixation, it’s me. My girlfriend is a high-profile zombie personality, for crying out loud! Captain Cruella has many fans, most of whom are sane individuals (OK, maybe I’m being a little kind)… But there’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t take note of the fact that there seem to be people out there who really believe she is a zombie. Who ask her legit questions about what it’s like to be one of the undead, without seeming to understand that she is a flesh-and-blood human being playing a character (sorry to blow up your spot, babe!) This is the kind of thinking that we’re dealing with here.

The sad truth? These are not zombies committing these crimes. These are just ordinary, run of the mill, garden variety wackos. And the further truth is that this stuff happens all the time—and that real people are far more terrifying than any fictitious beasties conjured up in the movies. There is nothing more to it than that, despite how ardently some delusional people may believe otherwise. Which brings me to my second point…

If You Think These Stories Are Funny, You’re a Creep

Alexander Kinyua, a Maryland college student
who apparently ate his roommate.
I think this may separate me from a great many of my fellow horror freaks, and that saddens me. I’m disappointed in a lot of you. See, I’ve talked about this before, but I’m not one of those horror fans who thinks that John Wayne Gacy is awesome, and fixates on real-life atrocities with morbid glee. I gravitate toward horror for precisely the opposite reason—to escape the far worse horrors of the real world. I like my horror fun, and these days I try not to take it too seriously. I don’t find real life horrors to be cool or badass.

Call me naïve, but I never imagined things would get so bad that news of murder and mutilation in the news would be met with ironic, amused commentary and downright joyful laughter from intelligent people. I’m all for making fun of things, but I’m a firm believer in the old axiom that comedy=tragedy+time. The key word there is “time”. Our culture has apparently become so desensitized that many people have no qualms about simply jumping on these “zombie” news stories and having a jokey field day.

Horror fans in particular are guilty of this. Is it the way we glut ourselves with uber-violent entertainment that enables us to no longer register pity or revulsion at these stories? I’m not advocating censoring or curtailing anyone’s entertainment, as I partake in much of it myself. But I think some of us need to sit down and realize that these are real human beings whose tragedies we are deriving so much entertainment from. These are not characters in a Friday the 13th movie, getting sliced and diced by Jason as we cheer him on. These are real people—could be someone’s parent, child, sibling, whatever. Could be you.

Do you think Ronald Poppo, the homeless man lying in a hospital bed in Miami right now, will find it funny or ironic when he awakes to discover that much of his face has been torn off? He will have to live with that for the rest of his life. Is the news of a man hurling his own internal organs at the police a “cool story” because it sounds like something that would happen in a horror movie—or is it rather something that we should find profoundly disturbing? In a humane society, stories of people attacking babies should not provoke snarky chortles. No matter how much these things may resemble scenes from horror movies, let’s not get so immersed in our entertainment culture that we forget the difference.

In short, Vault dwellers--flesh-eating undead zombies are not real. Never have been, never will be. What is real, however, is the fact that some people have suffered and witnessed some unspeakable violence. Let’s try to focus on reality, remember our humanity, and save our horror fantasies for the movies, where nobody really gets hurt.


carol said...

Nice piece, Mr. Solomon. There's always been gallows humor around the internet--and before--to help deal with these kind of things. But for me the real difference this time was the participation of the media and the strong sense of fannish role-playing. At least with Elvis, what people were pretending (or believed) was something more akin to Santa or the Easter Bunny. Elvis is eating in diners! Elvis is saving people's lives and giving out pink cadillacs.

But with this, real life suffering and cruelty is subsumed in order to power the (escapist?) fantasy of a zombie apocalypse. And the media participated and almost everyone played along. And that is disturbing.

(And I say this as someone who made jokes about this, in part, because it's hard to know where the hell to put such terrible, terrible things).

fallon said...

This is why the internet has missed your voice b-sol. I also feel you about the separation from other horror fans. I get links messaged to me constantly about stuff like this from people who don't know me well, but just know "Oh! She likes HORROR!" and think I'm so easily manipulated and cardboard that anything with the word "zombie" in it will make me giggle.

Jezebel posted a good article about this the other day too, but I had a hard time taking it seriously from them since their network sites like Gawker are part of the group of websites who cash in on stories like this with SNAPPY HEADLINES.

B-Sol said...

Thanks so much for reading what I had to say, ladies.

Carol, I definitely get gallows humor, and I understand the need to lighten up dark situations. However, I agree with you that this is different. In this case, it just seems to be that people really don't care. And the media is totally complicit, which is really terrifying and depressing.

Fallon, it certainly sounds like we're kindred spirits on this one. Being a horror fan does not automatically make one a sadist. And by the way--I'd love to write for that magazine of yours one of these days, let's make it happen!

Unknown said...

Nice piece. I agree with what you say about people trivialising real life violence. Just because I'm a horror fan, people often assume that I would like to watch such things as real life executions etc. What has got to do with horror? I don't want to see anyone die for real.People are stupid and ignorant.

Marc L said...

First of all, welcome back B-Sol. 4 posts in the last week.... you must be making up for lost time.

Second, you're rant about people that think the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, I agree with you completely. This is the sole reason I hate Max Brooks. Every interview I see with the guy, he's talking about zombies and their biology like it's a fact in a textbook, and it just annoys me so much. I know a lot of horror fans like him, but he just rubs me the wrong way. Got a little off topic there, but man, I hate that guy.

Anyway, welcome back B-Sol, and the Vault of Horror is going back into my daily website check circulation!

Kev D. said...

Well put. People that think a zombie outbreak would be cool are even dumber than the people that think it's possible.

People that think it's both possible AND cool should probably be sent to the moon.

John W. Morehead said...

At the same time, as I noted in my Examiner.com essay on this over the weekend, I find it fascinating that the zombie trope, and in particular, the idea of zombie apocalypse, is so well entrenched in American consciousness that the CDC delivered a statement denouncing the idea to The Huffington Post. This was not just the entity drawing upon pop culture in a marketing strategy as they did earlier to promote disaster preparedness via zombies. Although it may be related, this was a government agency issuing a statement related to a fictionally-inspired idea from horror in pop culture. Fascinating.

Jenny Krueger said...

Great post, B-Sol! It's sad to know that there are actually people out there who really DO believe.

It was a topic that needed to be discussed and I think you hit the nail on it.

For me, I think it's fun pretending the Zombie Apocalypse is among us even though I know it's far, far fetched. :D

B-Sol said...

Niina, that happens to me ALL the time. People seem to assume that just because you enjoy horror films it somehow means you revel in real-life atrocities...

Marc, I am indeed making up for lost time! How am I doing so far?

Kev, I'm all for your moon solution. Let's get started on the rocketship.

John, it is fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Almost some kind of weird Jungian absorption into the zietgeist of pop culture. You should post a link of your Examiner piece, I'd love to have a look.

Jenny, as always, thank you for your comments and support. I really do feel that this stuff needed to be said, by someone.

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