Friday, November 18, 2016

How did we get so hooked on zombies?

Two statistics:
Literary rate of the U.S. adult population:  86%
Percentage of U.S. residents who’ve watched zombie movies and TV shows:  95%

Even though I’d stopped watching The Walking Dead a while back, I did get hooked on zombie stories long ago. When video machines came out in the ‘80s, I rented, and later bought, copies of the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. In the first half of the 2000s, I watched whatever came out – 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and Shaun of the Dead come to mind.

Years later, I bought and read the World War Z novel and I couldn’t wait for the early days of The Walking Dead – before several of the cast members I liked were killed off. Since those days, Fear the Walking Dead has come out, World War Z with Brad Pitt, Zombieland (which I would highly recommend), the zombie-loves-human movie Warm Bodies, and the iZombie TV series.

I’d say we officially have a cultural phenomenon with zombies.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what it means and asking others for their opinion.

One quote that I liked came from Robert Kirkman, an American comic book writer best known for creating The Walking Dead. Kirkman said The Walking Dead really is “about us. It’s about how we respond to crisis.”

I saw an interview years ago with George Romero, who made the 1968 film credited with starting all of it, Night of Living Dead. Romero said that he’d tried to make the black and white movie as realistic as possible, like you were watching a documentary on something that really happened; with local TV news coverage that appeared to be reporting something that was taking place.

It made me think of stories about Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater staging alien ships landing in America during a 1938 radio broadcast. It was called “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells novel. People went nuts over it, thinking it was for real.

Romero said that Night of the Living Dead, and later Dawn of the Dead, depicted what Americans were going through viewing TV news with violent footage from the war in Vietnam, riots and burnings in big cities, protests, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. Paranoia was palpitating through the air.

We’ve had a revival in zombie stories lately. I would say that Kirkman and Romero have made a few good points.

Here’s my take on what could be stirring up something close to paranoia, and how we’re responding to crisis and stressful periods of change……
  • ·       The Great Recession that started in 2008
  • ·       Mobile devices becoming tethered to our wrists starting with the iPhone in 2007
  • ·       Full-time jobs with benefit packages versus independent contractors
  • ·       Transforming from print, cable TV, and a laptop – into Netflix, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit, and a revival of Facebook. All of it on a smartphone, tablet, or flat screen wall mounts; and the occasional e-book on Kindle and Nook.
  • ·       Owning a car versus sharing a car ride
  • ·       Fear of infectious disease pandemics taking millions of lives, enough for people to wear surgical masks
  • ·       Donald Trump running for, and getting elected, president. And for everyone else, Hillary Clinton running for, and nearly becoming, president.

Yes, you can survive anything – even during a zombie attack.

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