Why Zombies “Bite”

By , February 17, 2014

Lately, I’ve been thinking about an odd inconsistency in my entertainment preferences.

I enjoy horror stories, but I prefer supernatural elements. I don’t like “slashers,” psycho killers or the criminally insane. Maybe this horror is too true to life, while the supernatural is fictitious. Or, at least I think it is. . . (see A True Ghost Story for Halloween).

If this is my preference, why do I want exactly the opposite when it comes to apocalyptic fiction?

When I indulge in apocalyptic speculation (see Read these books . . . BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!) I exclude zombies.

I’ve never watched Night of the Living Dead or any of the many remakes/derivatives. Vampires were about as close as I came to zombies, but while I love (good) vampire fiction, vampire apocalypses, like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and its myriad derivatives, leave me cold.

If one dismisses the Zombie Apocalypse ouevre, and alien invasion (which I won’t touch on here) what’s left but plausible, real life apocalyptic scenarios: nuclear catastrophe, financial or environmental collapse, plague (minus symptoms that mimic zombieism or vampirism, thank you so much) volcanoes, or meteor strikes? If I reject real life danger in horror, why do I prefer it in apocalyptic fiction?

Maybe it’s a matter of preparedness. I’m interested in adverse future events because I think about preparing for them. Preparing for home invasion doesn’t focus narrowly on psychotic personalities.

We believe in disaster preparedness. That only makes sense, living semi-remotely near a “bush” community on the ocean’s edge, on a latticework of fault lines. We try to be prepared for conceivable threats. The Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t qualify.

I’ve recently broken my own “rule” and begun to explore zombie fiction. We’re even trying AMC’s The Walking Dead.

If you’re unaware, the series explores what might happen if people began turning into zombies. The survivors try to adapt; violence, jump shots, gore, and a good deal of soap opera style angst ensues.

It’s okay so far, but I may have found something better. The series Jericho involves trying to survive after a nuclear strike.

I know little about Jericho, but it has several factors in its favor. It lasted only a few seasons, and apparently the story lines were concluded satisfactorily, so it’s short, and has no danger of “jumping the shark.” Our library has the DVDs. It also appears to be everything I had hoped The Walking Dead would be. It’s very likely that I’ll soon give up zombies for the postnuclear scenario yet again.

The Zombie Apocalypse seems to be a major preoccupation these days. Part of that comes from the cultural/entertainment focus on zombies, but I suspect it goes beyond this. I think zombies have become a convenient focus for a lot of today’s survivalist/preppers. It injects a certain lightness into the rhetoric, which often strays into political and religious conviction. One can use the word “zombie” to label one’s particular enemy, real or perceived, without revealing one’s private opinions, prejudices, or paranoia.

This makes me a little bit uncomfortable. Has “zombie” become a code word for whatever “they/them” threatens one’s way of life? This “other” may be perceived as a numerous, implacable, dehumanized threat, just like zombies would be. This hardly promotes community spirit or cooperation, which I see as essential to societal survival.

Further, I believe the zombie connotation allows too many people to trivialize or dismiss the value of genuine disaster preparedness. In a major disaster, these people might well become “walking dead” of a different sort.

2 Responses to “Why Zombies “Bite””

  1. Jessie says:

    I liked Jericho. I was actually kind of sad when it ended. Walking Dead was pretty good, but it started to get pretty predictable.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Jessie, we just finished Jericho last night. I thought it was pretty good! Much better than Walking Dead, which is now our “rebound” series.

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