Posts Tagged ‘zombies’

A virtual convention had lots to offer. I got to be on panels and chat with friends, even if it was in the form of a 3″ x 4″ image on a screen and their voices held a hint of audio buzz. Because I was physically at home, I was able to drop in and out, and still finish a few routine chores. Also, it was interesting to see the attendees come together and develop a few customs on the fly. For instance, everyone but the panelists having their microphones muted and cameras off, but all the while typing questions and quips into the chat room associated with the panel.

As usual, a couple of ideas stuck with me. One of these was about zombies. Which are not my favorite critter, I think I’ve mentioned before. A friend said that zombies are a reflection of the Black experience of slavery. Being chained so tightly that you can’t run, only shuffle. Being robbed of your voice until you can only moan. I said it’s particularly cruel that zombies are often blamed on Voodoo, a folk religion based partly on traditional African faiths.

But I also mentioned that zombies not only reflect the suffering of the enslaved, but the guilt of the slavers. They know they are part of a great evil. No matter that they control the whip and chains. No matter that the law and their own religion tell them their actions are acceptable. In their hearts, they know the truth. The slow and relentless zombie is the nightmare they can never awaken from.

Considering the widespread denial of how systemic racism still shapes American life, I’m afraid that the specter of zombies will be with us for some time to come.

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In my last two posts, I rambled on about dystopian fiction and how it plays a developmental role for young readers as they move toward adulthood. I also mentioned the different types of dystopian fiction directed to adults, which involves zombies, conspiracies, and other material that reflects adult concerns. Finally, I get to my point! Which is my theory is that dragons used to be what zombies are now. Stick with me while I talk this through.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher at the school where I work, about a Fouth Grade boy who wrote a story where a hero shoots zombies. The teacher was dismayed by the violent and inappropriate content of the boy’s story. I said to her, “Look how common zombies are in entertainment right now. Books, comics, movies, TV, video games — they all include zombies. This boy is probably writing what his parents were watching on Walking Deadthe night before.” “Could be, but it’s still inappropriate.”

Believe it or not, this is what got me thinking and comparing between dragons and zombies. In every era, there are fictional villains everyone loves to hate and who are considered appropriate targets for violence. You know them — bandits, goblins, wolves. Criminals have broken the law, so it’s okay for superheroes to beat them up. Wolves are dangerous, so it’s okay for hunters to kill them. And, yes, dragons are a menace, so it’s okay for knights to cut their heads off. Currently, zombies are both dangerous and (depending on the story) contagious, so it’s okay for video gamers to shoot them.

So, similarities between zombies and dragons. 1) Hideously ugly. Zombies are bloody and maimed, maybe with a few parts falling off. The greatest dragons were also awful to behold, like Hydra with her nine heads. 2) Horribly powerful. Dragons have breath weapons and zombies can overwhelm almost any defense, given time. They both are really hard to kill. 3) Not very smart. Modern readers are accustomed to super-smart dragons, but the classic dragons, like Fafnir, were creatures of instinct rather than intellect. And, as we all know, zombies are constantly searching for brains because they don’t have their own.

Dissimilarities? Sure. Dragons are much, much bigger. Zombies don’t fly, unless they’ve snuck onto an airplane. People mostly run away from them, whereas they actually look for dragons due to the lure of rich hoards.

Long ago, dragons were the ultimate monster. People who were safe at home told heroic stories about dragons and brave knights. They passed stories around like comic books, and talked about them the way we talk about zombie movies. What dragons were then, zombies are now — the ultimate monster everyone is afraid of.

Well, what do you think? Are zombies the new dragons?

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My next thought on dystopian/apocalyptic fiction may seem a bit cynical, but here it is: many readers enjoy such material simply because we are bored and these scenarios are the opposite of our real lives. Yes, there are people in the world who live in crime-ridden areas, even in war zones, and I would never dismiss the anguish of that, but those aren’t the people I’m talking about. Actual refugees and crime victims don’t buy apocalyptic novels. They don’t have to.

The people buying apocalyptic and dystopian novels are comfortable residents of developed nations. We read about struggle and starvation while surrounded by peace and plenty. We shudder at some horde of filthy zombies while ensconced in our tidy gated communities. Essentially, we want to read/watch dangerous and challenging conditions because there is so little real challenge or danger around us.

When our lives frustrate and disappoint us, we can invent conspiracies to explain it away. Failing school? It couldn’t be because you stayed up all night playing video games and slept through classes. No, it’s the teachers conspiring against you. (I’ve had this conversation with one of my kids, can you tell?)

Or maybe you took over an isolated wildlife refuge and expected the whole U. S. population to rise up in revolt against the evil government, but then nobody showed. It can’t be because your conspiracy was all in your heads! No, the American public have become sheeple.

This is just mental masturbation. It’s manufacturing an adrenaline rush because our daily lives are so totally without adrenaline. Remember how I said the teen heroes in dystopian novels act to change their worlds? You don’t see that so much in apocalyptic and conspiracy stories. Once there’s an apocalypse, it’s too late to change anything, so why try? And a great conspiracy can never be put to rest. There will always be some new factor to weave into the scheme.

Tons of people enjoy these stories, and I’m sure you all think I’m just a cranky old broad who’s panning what she doesn’t understand. But I do wish that some of those who dwell in apocalyptic dreams would occasionally wake up and spend a little time in the actual, physical world. It’s a pretty cool place, too.

Now, am I done rambling? Heck no! See you on Tuesday.

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