[Today we have a guest post from horror/fantasy author Alan Edwards, who agreed to write a piece regarding the lure of the undead in popular media. If you haven’t sampled Alan’s particular flavor of madness before, you’re missing out, and I’d advise you to check out his blog, “Me and My Shovel“, before something horrible happens to you. I also strongly recommend you pick up his book, “The Curse of Troius“, an exceptional zombie apocalypse horror novel set in a high fantasy world. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, you may not know what awesome is!
Oh, and a WARNING: this post may contain adult language. (Snicker…”May contain”, he says…I’m a riot…]
Imagine, if you will, the body of a woman. In life, she was a nurse and single mother of two sons. But she’s not alive anymore. Blood has soaked through the pants of her green scrubs from thigh to ankle. Her light jacket has been torn, exposing the horrific disemboweling she suffered, the loops and tangles of intestine lying tangled in the straps of her cheap Guchi knockoff purse. Her shirt is black from the freshets of blood that have now dried and crusted. The thin gold chain of the cheap locket her sons pooled their money to buy last Mothers’ Day is embedded in the torn-out remains of her throat. The smile she used to show when she wasn’t exhausted from a hard life is gone, in its place a permanent rictus grin left where her lips used to be. Her eyes are open but unseeing, as if she is gazing upon an enigma unknown to man until he passes through the gates of Death to learn the final mystery.
If she’s lying in a ditch along the route she walked to reach the hospital, surrounded by clicking cameras and fluttering yellow tape, it’s a tragedy, and heartache, a reminder to hug the people you love and let them know that you love them, no matter what happens. Inwardly, we rail against the injustice and ultimate futility of life as our hearts go out to those who must absorb the cruel shocking reality of her death.
On the other hand, if she’s walking around, dragging one leg limp behind her, lifting those once-manicured hands to grasp and tear while a moan rattles from the shredded remnants of her windpipe? That’s just bitchin’. Pass the shotgun, baby! We’re gonna have us a blast!
So what is it? Why does death, so horrible and repugnant and depressing and all that shit, turn into a multimedia blockbuster star, The Star of Stars, showcasing itself every day in TV, movies, books, graphic novels, campfire stories, and every other form of media known to man (except radio, because nostalgia-worshippers aside, no one hears a goddamn compelling thing on radio anymore, let alone something scary). Why do we as living people LOVE the undead, the creepers in the night, those malevolent beings that threaten to make us one of them, trapped forever in parody of life and destroying those we love?
I mean, besides the fact that they’re bitchin’.
I’m not gonna go all historic sociological psychological analysis guy on you. For one, that shit’s boring. For two, I, as current title-holder of the World’s Laziest Researcher, can’t even be bothered to go to Wikipedia and spend 3 minutes scanning the condensed work of someone else. So instead I’m gonna give you what I think, and since I think mostly in four-letter words, be advised.
I think on one obvious level, our obsession with the undead is based on the fact that no one really wants to die, not even the dude with the black nail-polish weeping about the insensitivity of the world and especially his parents who won’t get him the newest iPad until next week. There are plenty of people who don’t want to be alive anymore and take their lives, certainly, but none of them want to be dead, exactly. There’s a fine line there. Smack in the middle of that line is the idea of Undeath. The straddling of worlds between existence and nonexistence.
You could argue that our fear of death gave rise to religions and promises of an afterlife – a hope to grasp onto that somehow and some way the fact that you’ve spent the entire bulk of your life doing shit you don’t want to do for people you really can’t fucking stand in order to shovel money to all the motherfuckers who already have most of it isn’t entirely worthless – and the idea that It’ll All Pay Off Somehow in the End. You could make that argument. In fact, you can make that argument over there, way over there, where I don’t have to listen to it.
So we’ve got the fact that people don’t want to die, that Death can be cheated somehow, or at least dealt with on an abstract level so we can justify spending an entire weekend eating pizza and playing the Xbox instead of going out and helping people and making lives brighter and all that shit without feeling depressed and angsty. I think, though, that there’s so much more to the undead and our love of them, and that different undead fulfill some innate craving we have that peanut butter pie can’t reach. Seriously, there are some things peanut butter pie cannot satisfy. I know. Look, you’ll just have to trust me on this.
The Walkin’ Dead are, of course, near and dear to my heart. I dream about them, I write about them, I simulate shooting them in the face at short range with ridiculously powerful weapons, I read about them, I watch them on TV and in the movies. I fucking love them. So do a shitload of people. But why?
To me, zombies hit the same touchstone that makes people want to riot after their team a) wins a game, or b) loses a game, or c) every time Renly shows his stupid face in the Game of Thrones miniseries. That feeling of “Fuck this, this shit is on” and society’s rules are chucked out the window and anarchy reigns. No more tax forms, long lines at the post office, screaming babies next to you in the movie theater. The job doesn’t matter, the crabgrass doesn’t matter, nothing matters anymore but fucking survival. We’re back in the jungle, and a man only survives because of his wits and his gumption and his luck. Which is why most everybody is dead within 48 hours. We talk a good game, but our society is kinda soft.
So we have this element of catharsis as society’s sometimes oppressive nature is lifted from us, where the stresses of everyday life no longer matter and we can escape from the invisible but powerful bonds of socioeconomic class and pressures and delve into a world of equality. We also get the powerful binding force of An Enemy. Think Russians during the Cold War, except in the face of this mindless ravenous horde even those pinko Trotskyists become reasonable allies. All of the things that drive us apart are stripped away, and people can band together in the face of something bent on their utter destruction, and Human can stand with Human in a feeling of Siblinghood and Righteousness against the Other. At least until that motherfucker eats the last can of fruit cocktail even though you claimed it and traded canned peaches for it and the douchecock doesn’t even eat the goddamn cherries in it which are totally the best part and I’M GONNA TO EAT YOU ALIVE. But until then, it’s all fraternity and equality and all that shit.
Oh, and this is a big plus, zombies satisfy the deep-down desire we all have to shoot people in the head over and over again.
I’ve said a few things about vampires lately on my own blog, which I’m not gonna rehash here because that would make me think of Twilight and Anne Rice and I’d daydream about shotguns and shooting people in the face and we’d get nowhere. So I’ll cut back to the essence of vampirehood instead.
The allure of vampires is easy. People are vain. We are. I’m a vain motherfucker. You are too, which is why you’re self-conscious, because you’re worried that somehow people won’t see how friggin’ awesome you are by mistake. We don’t want to grow old, get crow’s feet, have our backs curve and guts pooch and tits sag and hair fall out and reappear in the most disgusting places possible. No one wants that. So instead we have a creature. Immortal. Beautiful. Seductive. Deadly. It’s like being Archer with fangs. Anyone who tells you they’d pass that shit up is a liar. In fact, I’m more than willing to say that if there are any vampires reading this, you have my permission to make me one. I’ll even follow whatever dumb-ass rules you guys have. Just email me a video clip of you getting shot multiple times, stabbed to no avail, surrounded by hot people of whatever gender you prefer, and otherwise demonstrating your shit. If you’re in a basement alone and listening to some shitty goth metal band, don’t bother.
And if you prefer your vampires more inhuman and ugly and nasty and death-machiney, that’s cool too. The same idea of Banding Against the Other from the zombie section still applies. (But seriously, even then, drop me an email. I’d rule over some herd of terrified people just fine. Email me.)
But the pretty vampires – they represent the Bad Girl or Boy your mom always warned you about, because she was bitter that she ended up settling down with your old man instead of traveling to India via motorcycle with that group of cultists. They’re so bad for us, but they have that allure of saying Fuck You to social convention and Hello Baby to a hedonistic orgy of blood and fear and lust. And that’s enduring, plus pretty goddamn cool.
Unless you live within shambling distance of a pyramid, you don’t give a shit about mummies. It’s a solitary zombie that doesn’t spread. Wrapped up like a dude at a bridal shower. Seriously, no one gives a fuck. Although I do have to admit I enjoyed the first of the Brendan Fraser movies. We all have embarrassing secrets.
Ghosts are at least comforting with the idea that you can be dead and still watch TV and fuck around with people. About the only positive thing about being killed in such a tragic and shocking manner would be the idea that you’d get to haunt the shit out of other people. It’d be like being an immortal 12-year-old, fucking with people for no reason other than it’s fun for you and you can’t drive and there’s nothing better to do. Ghosts reassure us that there is Something Past Death, and anything that reminds us of this is comforting in its way. It helps us believe that Aunt Martha and her cats really are looking down on us from Heaven, watching us live our lives, along with spying on us showering, sneaking that cookie, awkwardly dancing at weddings, flipping off the cop behind his back, scratching ourselves, and all the rest of the shit we’d worry about if we really thought that there was a few billion people whose only entertainment was watching us fart around.
Ghosts lend an easy supernatural layer to mundane random shit. MY GOD, I THOUGHT I LEFT THAT PENCIL ON THE TABLE BUT HERE IT IS ON THE FLOOR. We must be buried on ancient Indian burial grounds! (why is it always Indians, anyway? The Old Amish Burial Ground just doesn’t pack the same oomph, I guess). Me, I find it a shitload more comforting when I assume that every random noise I hear in the night is some dumb shit that I can only hear because it’s so goddamn quiet rather than the possible manifestation of a restless and possibly vengeful spirit. But hey, each their own and all that.
So what is it about the undead that make you want to listen or watch or write or read about them? What is the allure for you? Tell us.
And seriously. Vampires. Email me. I can be discreet as a motherfucker. Word.