Why zombies?

So 10 out of 10 people agree, zombies are awesome. They are in effect the ultimate enemy – but why? Why zombies?

Zombies are a guilt-free foe – Consider all the great “enemies” throughout the worlds of fiction – the Nazis, terrorists and aliens. They may all be evil but ultimately they’re human(ish) and have understandable, if not agreeable, agendas. They’re either following orders, brainwashed or seeking revenge. We can, to a degree, sympathise with them. “What about the killer robots?” I hear you cry – well they may be evil and emotionless but that’s only because someone built them that way and the chances are that person was human and was trying to improve humanity or didn’t fully understand what they were doing. Again, even if not immediately, we have an enemy that we can understand and possibly even feel sorry for. Enter zombies. Zombies don’t have an agenda – they’re doing just what that virus pulsing through their veins is telling them to do. At no point will we ever have to feel guilty about splattering a zombie’s brains out with a shotgun or 9 Iron. They’re not even trying to kill in order to eat or defend their territory like animals do – they’re just trying to kill us because that’s what they do.

Zombies are the people around us – One of the most unsettling things about zombies is that they aren’t from outerspace (well not always) or another dimension. They are/were businessmen, nurses, construction workers, bikers. People like you and me who, not that long ago, were just walking the streets, nipping into Starbucks and going about their lives. This is what makes them so terrifying. Nothing gives us humans more fear than those people living around us. What if they carry disease? What if they rob me or push me in front of a bus? Hell, what if they ask me for directions and I don’t know the answer! Even the people we know and love fill us with dread because sooner or later they’ll hurt us emotionally or we’ll hurt them or things will get complicated. These things are terrifying because they’re real but if these people were zombies then our fears would at least feel a little more rational (and could be solved with cold lead).

Zombie apocalypse = a clean slate – Okay so most of the population has been wiped out including your husband/wife/long-term partner and society has effectively been returned to the dark ages, but look on the bright side – once the infection has died out we’re going to have a completely fresh page. We can start rebuilding society from scratch, working to avoid all the mistakes we made last time. Global warming? Well the fact we can’t run cars or factories anymore will certainly help. Crime? We’ll just feed them to the zombies, this is the New Dark Ages after all. The sky is empty of planes, the air filled with only the tweeting of birds and the hammering of nails as we start afresh.

Terror in numbers – I believe it was Joseph Stalin who said “one zombie is a tragedy, a million is an epidemic”. Sheer numbers is what truly defines the zombie genre from any other. There’s so damn many of them, possibly the entire planet has been infected and survivors are now in the minority. With odds like that, we are left – genuinely – with no idea whether our heroes are actually going to survive or how they are going to reach their goal, if at all. A zombie movie or story feels like one never-ending cliffhanger, pumped with adrenaline and blind panic from beginning till end. And that is also the undead achilles heel – there’s just no way of satisfyingly ending a zombie story. Either the zombies win which isn’t something none of us want to see – or we’re given a sudden conclusion that feels unsatisfying and out of place with everything that has gone before. The army turns up – why didn’t get there sooner, at the beginning of the infection perhaps? A cure is found – and what, like flicking a switch suddenly everything gets better? The main character walks off down a road alone – GTF.

Title image courtesy dhollister

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 8:33 PM  Comments (14)  
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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You know, I’ve never paid any attention to Zombies, but your second point has completely changed my perspective. Who would have thought?

    You managed to terrify me and make me think all at once. I may have to give them a look.

    • I’m glad to have brought another mind to the infection Cathryn! If you’re looking for a good starting point in the zombie genre I can’t recommend World War Z by Max Brooks highly enough.

  2. I rather thought one of the best reasons zombies are such a great enemy is that you don’t have to worry about killing a zombie: by definition, they’re already dead, and it’s only the dark arts, raging viruses, or the unholy powers of science that keep them shambling about in a horrific semblance of unlife. Killing a zombie is bringing peace to that tortured soul.

    • Amen to that Stephen – do your part today, blast a zombie.

  3. I’ve actually been working on some zombie stories, although I detest zombies and avoid reading/watching horror (I scare easily, and then have nightmares for months).

    Have you read Melanie Edmonds’ free (complete) online serial The Apocalypse Blog? What I read of it, I enjoyed, until I became too frightened by the zombies and had to abort.

    • It’s funny that – I hate horror as well but zombies for some reason are okay in my eyes. I have seen that serial before so I’ll definitely check it out – thanks!

  4. Ah, zombies. Yeah, they are awesome in that terrifying oh ma GAH! sort of way. I like how you point out that there is no satisfying ending of any zombie story – that is definitely true. It’s just one long walk to the very bloody end..

    • Thanks – the only zombie tale I’ve encountered which has a satisfying resolution is World War Z but that’s told over a number of years, on a global scale so can afford to construct a believable “turning of the tide” rather than things just suddenly fixing themselves.

      • Actually, The Apocalypse Blog that Anna mention is amazing. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s also exciting and deep and now that I think on that, it DOES have a pretty satisfying ending. I was addicted and I read the whole thing over a couple of months (she posted every day for a year) and it was great. Melanie’s Apocalypse Blog is what inspired me to write VZFS as a journal instead of a first person narrative. I can’t recommend it more highly!

      • It’s certainly an interesting idea that – of using modern mediums to tell a story. I’d toyed awhile back with doing a story told via a blog about a zombie outbreak – but not just a story posted on a blog, the idea was that this was the fictional’s characters blog so would start of with just random stuff and slowly have mentions of strange news story and then become fully commited to his quest to try and find his fiancee (using the blog to ask for help) – comments would be added by other characters in the story and there was going to links to external sites and so on. Still sounds like an incredible idea but would require serious planning and commitment to execute properly!

      • That’s certainly an ambitious concept, but far more difficult to achieve (and probably more satisfying to experience) than just doing it in blog form.

  5. In that case, you would probably be interested in Living with the Dead another zombie blog I read. It’s nearly exactly what you described!

    • Oh wow so it is – there’s video and everything going on there! Will definitely give that a look.

      • And of course there’s MY new zombie serial, Vampire Zombies From Space! (wink wink, nudge nudge) that just began last week – third ep. will be posted tonight at 10!!

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