Why We Write About Zombies

I was playing The Walking Dead when I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized why we have the zombie genre. This should have been obvious in the show of the same name. It isn’t obvious in many end of the world movies, games, or books. It was very apparent in the book World War Z, but I fear the movie may stray from that. Zombies have become the monsters we can kill with little emotional trauma. It’s an action flick waiting to be written a few hundred times. But action flicks written for entertainment purposes alone rarely survive. They’re eaten alive by time and left on the wayside for some scholar looking into incredibly obscure works. So what is this epiphany?

The apocalypse, not just zombies, are the great equalizers. Americans in most cases do not understand loss, poverty, life-or-death decisions, and a vast array of other dangers faced in a third world country each and every day. We create our drama. Our poverty isn’t even real poverty. Over 60% of poverty families have an HD TV. Find someone in poverty. Is their stomach distended? Are they eating dirt? Are rats or any other moving creature always on the menu, unless it can create other forms of food such as cows and chickens? Chances are no. The homeless are homeless, it is a tragedy, but it’s rare that they’re starving. Truly starving, not just they haven’t eaten three square meals, but that those three meals are generally dirt and water.

Now toss in some zombies. Throw in aliens which rape the earth for resources and do all they can to hunt down humans for experimentation. Rip down the power grid. Have looters take everything of worth and break most of it. Let the supposedly hungry rapidly consume the few nonperishable meals out there. Take away our guns and ammo. Leave us along with our wits, a few other people, and a lot of things that want us dead or probed. We are now no different than any third world country. But why does it matter? Who cares that we are on equal grounds with Uganda?

People make dark decisions. Even in a country of plenty, look at your corporate ladder. Look at the news stories of bankers, CEOs, and other individuals and what laws they broke to get where they are. Those are the only stories which make it to the news. There are legal, but unethical, decisions made every day. People want that extra ten grand, even though they can comfortably live on what they have. A white lie never hurt anyone. Throw in some slander that couldn’t be traced back to you. Maybe a little libel that you have enough information to give yourself deniability. These decisions happen every day, but they’re not life and death and because of that most of these people sleep just fine at night. But that other guy might have needed the raise. He may have needed the spare ten grand. Heck, people have been cheated for a few hundred which could be the difference of paying rent. But that’s fine, because ultimately that person will be okay. This is why we throw in zombies: now the decisions are life or death.

In third world countries, killing a man could be the difference between your life or his. In some cases it might not even matter. If you stick to your code, they shoot you then him. When zombies are put in the mix, people have to make these choices. Do you allow the kid to eat or do you give it to an adult in need of energy? Do you go across the street to save the woman being attacked, or do you remain holed up? Perhaps you even use her as a distraction. Maybe you even tripped her. What decision will you make when your very life is on the line? How far will you cross into the darkness and how many bodies are you willing to pile up as long as you aren’t one of them? These are the questions of the apocalypse.

When using the apocalypse, really use it to reveal who people are. Will they slit their friend’s throat in a second, or would they die first? Does a father have as tenuous a bond with his teenage daughter as she thinks, since he’s always working, or does he love her more than she ever could know and shows it when he holds off zombies? The apocalypse is a question of if you were in that third world country, would you make the right decisions, and are there even right decisions?

Video games amplify this. Watching the show The Walking Dead, it’s easy to tell the characters they’re doing it wrong. It’s so simple from my couch to tell them the truth will set them free. When playing the game, you have a questionable past. I told people nothing. I created a story in my head as to what the truth was and stuck to it. I rationalized when things settled I could tell them the truth, but for now we didn’t have time for my past to be out in the open. I had to hide it. It was for the good of the team. I allowed a girl to kill herself because she was bitten and wanted to. I saved a child who was believed bitten, but it wasn’t sure. If it had been sure, I would have ended him. In real life would I? I have no idea. I haven’t had to take someone’s life. But when the zombie apocalypse comes around, when we watch these shows and play these games, it reveals what a human could be capable of. It shows us decisions currently being made halfway across the world that we will likely never have to make. It taught me that I will save a cute girl over a useful tech geek any day of the week.

2 Comments on “Why We Write About Zombies

  1. I’ve always preferred zombie horrors because zombies are something tangible that can be defeated. They are a situation that does reveal a lot of character because unlike a plague or something, you do get to decide what you do, you’re fate is not left to chance or genetics but to YOU.

  2. Life or death situations definitely show one’s true colours. When everyone is equally fodder for the antagonist, one’s nobility or villainy will come to the fore, in between primal survival instincts kicking in.

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