8:10 AM – First day at home but not first day of summer. Stack of papers to grade. Crunch of data to download. Library books to renew. This morning I brewed fresh coffee in a new Mr. Coffee maker. My vision clouds so with perceived obsolescence I doubted my Mr. Coffee pour would make it to my cup, then to my mouth, finally to my slumbering neuro-corpses. I require mental reanimation. It’s a perfect day to write about the dead.
“The dead walk among us.” – Max Brooks, from the introduction to The Zombie Survival Guide
My super-grand friend Seth Haines recently wrote a hyper-fun flash piece based on Galatians 6:18 that featured cannibalistic animal-like men devouring one another in the streets. Seth’s story worked on multiple levels (because he’s such a damn good writer), but I was mostly drawn to the fact that, while Seth’s story looked like an addition to the growing canon of zombie literature, his story did not feature a single “zombie”. And I read the story knowing that Seth knew exactly what he was doing (because he’s such a damn good reader). Seth’s story – “Biters” – dealt with another type of flesh-eater, and one that I find far more interesting and important than the socially trending walking dead.
Seth’s flesh-eating creatures in “Biters” could be mistaken easily for zombies because zombies, for some un-Godly reason, have clawed their way part and parcel into our daily parlance. I partly blame the Pegg-Frost duo for their comedic masterpiece Shaun of the Dead (2004), as well as Emma Stone’s glorious eyeballs in Zombieland (2009) for being so awesomely apocalyptic to any appreciation we once had for Zooey Deschanel’s peepers. The mass market success of these films inspired the television premiere of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, bringing to (reanimated) life his 2003 comic of the same title. Because of Kirkman’s primetime series even the sweetest Young Life girls arrive to my classes Monday morning talking excitedly about decapitation and sword skills.
But I attribute the primary fault for the proliferation of zombies in our modern culture with the publication of Max Brooks’ essential Zombie Survival Guide in (2003) followed by his soon-to-be Brad Pitt-ed epic World War Z (2006), both of which went viral off paperback-shelves and got this whole decapitated head rolling in the first place. In the wake of Brooks’ bestseller, bookshelves became littered with all manner of zombie fiction knock-offs and zombie-laden products, finally inspiring a mash-up of classic and cultural literacy in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009): a titled which sealed the coffin on zombie proliferation in the mainstream.
Such titles removed zombies from the Romero-O’Bannon-Fulci-Craven crypt of gruesomely fearsome undead dread and made zombies, instead, comical and marketably kitschy. In response, the tolerance of our viewership evolved, expanding our appetites to stomach a bit more blood and a tad more FX make-up. Even our right-wing political hysterics amplified promises / threats of an angry Jesus on horseback so profusely that The End was no longer a hushed Sunday morning meditation. The prophecies of Isaiah and the Revelations of John became fodder for dinner table banter and Hot Topic t-shirts. God have mercy before the ground regurgitates us one and all.
Here’s the deal: if my mother knows about zombies then zombies have become far too common. And such proliferation also means that zombies may be too easily mistaken and wrongly identified. On a cultural level this is neither hip nor square. But on a literary, and even spiritual level such mistaken identity could rob readers and viewers (and survivors) of the very question that zombies and their counterparts pose. It’s my goal to devote Kiki Mornings this week to this great zombie dilemma.
Tomorrow: What is a “zombie”? What questions do they pose culturally, politically, and spiritually? Who is George Romero – better yet, who is Dan O’Bannon? What does Haiti have to do with it? And where does AMC’s The Walking Dead fit into things?
Thursday: What is the zombie-counterpart? What questions do those flesh-eaters pose? What is Captain Tripp? When did zombification become contagious? Why do most modern zombie-counterpart films pass themselves off as zombie films?
Friday: Kiki’s essential “zombie” library – complete with reviews and links!