Zombies and the People Who Love Them

It’s pretty safe to say that I love zombies. Not the real thing, mind you. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I will hate zombies. But for now, I love reading about them. I love watching zombie movies. I love watching TV shows with zombies (really just Walking Dead, I don’t know what all that other nonsense is). I love discussing zombie plans – never giving mine away, mind you. We’ve had a debate that this generation’s focus on the threat of zombies (and really superbugs in general, as was seen by the Ebola “scare”), takes the place of the last generation’s focus on the threat of some very opinionated men with their fingers hovering over a very destructive button.

At any rate, I realized that I’ve been woefully behind on any sort of zombie reading. I’ve read Warm Bodies, the not-so-scary zombie romance, but nothing that really exemplifies the typical zombie motif. The running, the screaming, the blowing off of undead heads…

So I started reading World War Z by Max Brooks.

After reading what you could call the “first chapter”, I decided that this isn’t a book you read at 3am, in a dark room with only the lighting of your Kindle or your Nook to scare away the big scary monsters in the dark. No. This book is something you read with a light on. At a sensible hour. With a baseball bat next to you. You know, just in case.

Now, I’m not the squeamish or easily scared type. I’ve only really ever been disturbed enough by a scary movie to lose sleep once. But this particular book unnerved more than any zombie movie or plot has – and I saw Night of the Living Dead at a very young age, while living in a house in the middle of nowhere. At first, I couldn’t understand, but as I kept reading I started to realize the difference in this book and a zombie movie. This book is personal.

I think of zombie movies and TV shows as a sort of love letter to the idea of trying to survive a zombie apocalypse – most often finished with a doomsday postscript in which you find out everyone dies horribly anyway. Sure, you may get attached to the idea of a particular character surviving, but you know in the back of your head that it’s probably going to end gruesomely. And we’re in love with that. The Walking Dead has managed to quiet or silence completely that realism, and piss everyone off, by extending our interaction with these characters and forcing us to form attachments to these people who are ultimately doomed. Really, how pissed were you when a character you love died? And it was never a good death. It was always quick and unexpected, or slow and incredibly painful. I think the only character I haven’t really minded dying, besides the villains, is that guy in the very beginning who got bit. You remember that guy? Way back in season one, in the RV. I think they left him on the side of the road with a gun. I don’t even remember that guy’s name. But, you know, RIP. We root for these people, even though we’re 90% certain that they’re doomed. They were boned the minute someone who looked pretty dead bit somebody else.

Even though pretty much everyone who watches Walking Dead or reads Walking Dead is obsessed with Walking Dead, I don’t think we’re really unnerved by it. We still have that detachment, the feeling and sense of autonomy that being the “watcher” affords us. But that feeling is strangely absent while I’m reading World War Z.

If you don’t know the format of World War Z, it’s a compilation of personal narratives collected by this fictitious journalist who has gone around the world, post big zombie war, talking to people of all types. I’m not very far into it, but so far I’ve read entries from doctors, government officials, and a couple of civilians. The one thing these stories have in common is that they’re written in first person, with as little interjection by the journalist himself. This is oral history (as it states in the subtitle of the book) and it sucks you in. It’s realistic and unnerving.

Like I said, I’m not very far into it, but I’m enjoying it immensely so far. Once I’ve finished, I’ll watch the movie and do a blog post on that. And yes, I am very much aware that they are two very different concepts and don’t even deserve to be compared, but I’m going to do it anyway. Just because.

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