THE OBSESSION BEGINS
Zombie films serve as a great lens to examine concerns society has about modern science. Let’s face it, when it comes to horror movies, science has a bad reputation. Blind ambition, experimental serums, and genetic experiments are often blamed for the giant monster terrorizing the city or the reason aliens are taking human prisoners or the cause of the dead rising from the grave to consume living flesh.
Using film, literature, and interviews with experts, this book examines how zombies portray real-world fears such as epidemics, mind control, what may or may not exist in space, the repercussions of playing God, and the science behind the fears.
Science has made it possible for us to live the way we do; it has given us numerous advances in all fields of life from medicine to agriculture to entertainment. Yet, with all of these advantages, there are a multitude of disadvantages that could prove to be detrimental to humans and society. Weapon technology used in wars is one of these major disadvantages, but anything that is beneficial to humanity, including medicine, has the potential to harm us. My goal is to explore how zombies become a metaphor for our fears of science and what could happen if science gets out of hand.
Throughout this book, I examine the fictional world of zombies and the real world of science. Often, I refer to “truths” about zombies, but since they don’t really exist, these are “truths” that exist within the context of zombie films and books.
I was in junior high the first time I ever saw Night of the Living Dead (1968). It was one of several movies my dad had on VHS, and it sat on the shelf in a closet with row upon row of other VHS tapes. I remember being scared, but not cover-my-eyes-I’m-going-to-scream-my-lungs-out scared. I didn’t jump, but there was this uneasiness that settled over me. I was afraid to look out my bedroom window at night for fear that the same lifeless eyes the creatures in the film had would be looking right back at me. I glanced over my shoulder while walking down the street to make sure a slow-moving corpse wasn’t following me. For a while, I avoided cemeteries.
The next night, I had a friend come over to stay the night and I exposed her to the film. Again, it didn’t scare us in the make-you-jump-out-of-your-skin way, but as she sat on the floor tightly hugging a pillow, I knew she had experienced the same creepiness I had the night before. It was a feeling neither of us could put into words. Despite the unease, I enjoyed the feeling and wanted to explore it further.
My next adventure into the zombie world was Return of the Living Dead (1985). In my naiveté, I assumed this was the sequel to the amazing movie I had just watched. I was confused when the same sense of dread didn’t fill me. The film wasn’t creepy at all; it was funny. (At the time, the term “campy” wasn’t in my vocabulary, but it definitely describes this film.) Despite not being the sequel to Night of the Living Dead, I still enjoyed the film, and to this day, I remember laughing at the partial dog corpse that comes alive and falls off the shelf barking—in fact, it was that part specifically that made me watch the film over and over.
After those two films, I don’t remember any from my childhood affecting me in an equally profound way. But they paved the way for my interest in films, books, and TV shows about the undead. They started my obsession with walking corpses that attack and consume the living in gory, horrific fashion. And I’m not the only one. Millions of people share my passion.
Zombies have overrun society. They are in books (some have even invaded the classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; The War of the Worlds, Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies; and Alice in Zombieland), movies, video games, and on TV. The Hartford Marathon Foundation has set up a zombie chase to benefit the Ron Foley Foundation. The Anchorage Running Club held a Zombie Half Marathon and a Kids Zombie 2.5k. (The list goes on and to find an event near you, Google “zombie marathons.”) There are companies that set up “real” zombie hunts to test your skills and your nerves. Anderson Farms in Erie, Colorado, held a zombie paintball hunt as part of their Halloween festivities. Shoot Extreme has developed zombie hunts for exclusive clientele to test their skills in a dark, zombie-infested shoot house. Apparently, you are also required to rescue refugees. Rotting flesh and walking corpses have gathered on the streets to raise awareness and money for charities. There is hardly a facet of life that zombies haven’t permeated.
The popularity of zombies has grown exponentially in the last decade. Novels dealing with the undead have been published in droves, even spurring the creation of independent zombie-specific publishers such as Permuted Press (established 2004). According to TV by the Numbers, weekly ratings ending on March 30, 2014, revealed that The Walking Dead was ranked number one for cable-viewed shows with 15.678 million viewers. World War Z, the zombie film starring Brad Pitt and based on a book with the same title by Max Brooks, grossed $540,007,876 worldwide. People are fascinated with zombies, and so am I. They ask the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human?
This question has always interested me—as it has countless others—as I attempt and struggle to define myself and find meaning in the world. If zombie films have shown me anything in the way of an answer to that question, it’s that zombies are filled with hate, driven by primal instinct, and are ready to consume anything to fulfill their desires. And so are the humans trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic world. The audience watching zombie films is forced to ask: Who is the real monster? The line between zombies and humans is ultra-thin.
I explore these same notions and attempt to answer these questions in my works of fiction, while other authors have explored them in critiques of the zombie genre. There are vast amounts of essays and books that look at how zombies are metaphors for religion, gender, classism, and race, among other social issues. Books such as Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition, edited by Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton; “We’re All Infected”: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human, edited by Dawn Keetley; and “Gospel of the Living Dead”: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth by Kim Paffenroth explore various facets of humanity and how zombies represent our most heinous qualities. And they all make valid points. These are all issues or concerns that plague our society and could be changed to make life better for everyone. I wanted to add my voice and opinion to those fantastic commentaries, but I could never figure out what I wanted to say that hadn’t been discussed before. That idea eluded me for a long time.
Inspiration planted a seed the first time I read The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I was completely awed and amazed at how he legitimized zombies. The book is written in a practical and straight-forward fashion and explains ways to survive and kill zombies, including what types of weapons work best, how to fortify shelter, and ways to find food. The advice could be applied to real-world situations like natural disasters or terrorist invasions. Even though he was dealing with fictitious characters, it felt to me that he had given them a cause—a virus—and concrete explanations for their actions as well as ways to fight them. Most films give an explanation as to how zombies are created, but it seems ancillary to the carnage and destruction or how the survivors are affected by the undead hordes. In The Zombie Survival Guide, the science takes center stage. The virus that creates the undead is explained in detail and in such a way that the symptoms could actually occur in the real world. It makes zombies seem plausible, real, genuine.
Inspiration sprouted further after I watched World War Z—a film based on another book by Max Brooks, which I had also read, it just hadn’t struck the same chord as the film. Again, the scientific approach of finding the cause of zombies intrigued me. In the film, the main character, Gerry, is tasked with finding “Patient Zero,” who is the first person to become infected with the zombie disease, so that science can attempt to understand what caused the dead to rise and perhaps devise a way to destroy it. Along the way, Gerry finds a lot of answers about the undead and eventually helps science develop a way to combat them. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.
I had a professor in college who told me that every film has a message, but if you really want to know what society is afraid of, watch horror. Zombie films portray a lot of social fears, including those mentioned earlier involving religion, gender, classism, and race, but what I wanted to focus on was science. The majority of zombie films I have watched in my life involved science or a scientist in some way—usually in an unflattering role.
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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 30+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!
#SummerofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!