GOD, PUT DOWN YOUR GUN – CAN’T YOU SEE WE’RE DEAD?Posted: October 30, 2012
I’m a firm believer in the school of thought that monsters in popular media are externalized representations of our collective fears. Vampires (slutty hickey-lovers in lacy underthings who slip through your window and leave you wet and sticky) are about our discomfort with sex. Godzilla (city-sized harbinger of radioactive devastation, Shiva in a rubber suit, protector and destroyer) is about our simultaneous fear of and fascination with the existential destruction of nuclear war. Mummies are about… well that’s a whole other topic. But anyway: I think it’s worth taking a look, on this spooky, scary Halloween, at one of the most popular monsters to plague our collective nightmares in recent years, and what its ubiquity might say about us.
Can you remember the first time you visited New York? Because I can. I remember, in fifth grade, having something like a panic attack in the middle of Times Square, overwhelmed by the repulsive seething mass of humanity. Everywhere people, people selling, people buying, people begging, people eating and getting drunk, panhandlers rotting on the sidewalk and fat tourists strutting by totally heedless. I remember seeing a puddle of dried blood, cracked like hard candy, outside a strip club.
I was a little misanthropic, even as a kid, and I was unnerved. I could try to articulate my thoughts but I think good old Agent Smith said it best:
Who hasn’t felt that? Revulsion at the faceless hordes? Here I’m standing, a lone conscious individual, amid the teeming legions. Millions of mumbling American consumers, fat and mindless, slow but ruthless and insatiable.
Is it such a stretch to imagine them turning around and consuming you instead?
There’s a particular American flavor to the zombie survivalist fantasy: something that speaks to our love/hate relationship with capitalism and our uncompromising, pathological individualism. The zombie film is Randian; forget World War Z, as great as it is, because Atlas Shrugged is the greatest zombie novel of our age and certainly the one most critical to understanding our social and political climate. We thrill to imagine that we’re the last sane man alive, that it’s up to us to save society with just a baseball bat and a shotgun.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying zombie fiction, the same way there’s nothing wrong with a teen girl reading Twilight as an escapist romantic fantasy. But if that teenage girl assumes Twilight is actually a realistic representation of human relationships, and that she just needs to find her own abusive wife-bruising virginal vampire prince to be happy forever, then she’s in real trouble. She’s mistaken a silly fantasy for something instructive about the real world. And in the same way, if we take zombie fiction seriously, we uncritically accept a pretty messed-up picture of our place in society.
Everyone likes to believe that he’s the survivor, that he’s the uninfected intelligence in a viral world – but every one of us, to everyone else, looks like just another shambler in the zombie army that is “not-I.” You see me in a crowd and I am your zombie, tall and sad-faced and stumbling with the dead weight of my messenger bag. And you are my zombie. Neither of us is special to a stranger. You and I are just two more anonymous slack-jaws.
I guess I’m saying that maybe, instead of fantasizing about distributing free six-gauge lobotomies, we should have a little sympathy for the shambling, brain-eating masses? Because at the end of the day, when there’s no more room in hell: we are the living dead.
That’s the way it is.
That’s the way it’s always been.