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Zombiezzzzzzzz: Putting the genre to rest

A picture of a zombie attack by

Can I say at this point that I am fucking bored of zombies?

Maybe it’s the over-exposure, the endless array of films, comics and games, the zombie runs, the zombie survival courses, the novelty zombie newspaper articles, the apparently serious research papers on what would happen if there really was a zombie apocalypse, zombie parties for kids, zombie pets, zombie porn….

A strangely right wing world

Or maybe it’s the fact that the genre is fundamentally ugly? Leaving aside the few more humanist takes on zombies, like Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies (the novel more than the film) or Romero’s Day of the Dead (where one ghoul rediscovers his humanity), most zombie media is an ugly excursion into a strangely right wing world, a prepper’s wet dream.

Here, society always collapses, institutions are always useless, contrived Hobson’s Choices abound, people can’t be trusted and the only way to deal with the other is shoot it in the head because it is mindless and wants to eat you or – worst of all – strip you of your rugged individualism and make you one of them.

You’ll never get an episode

where everyone spends seven

months locked up in a Costco,

squabbling over toilet paper

while the zombies outside fall

to bits and rot to mulch

The worst offenders are the most conventional of zombie narratives, be they games like Dead Island (leaving aside its critique of third world poverty) or State of Decay, novels like World War Z (which includes one chapter that seems to condone domestic violence) and film upon film upon film upon film upon film.

As a rule, it’s guaranteed that one male protagonist will at one point or another bellow ‘NOW GODDAMMIT!!!”, an uppity woman will be put in her place, and we will be left wondering if the sole black male character will make it through or get splatted. The Walking Dead TV series is, of course, a case in point, with its nudge-nudge-wink-wink nods to the more bonkers end of the survivalist spectrum, its god-bothering and its lionisation of red neck heart-throb Daryl Dixon (probably the only post-apocalyptic ex-white supremacist killing machine with his own hair stylist).

True, it would be total squeeeeeee-time if he and young Clementine (from the computer game) were to meet, team up, stick it to the walker bastards and then swap hair-care tips.

Not that I’m suggesting anything here.

But the fact remains that the show doesn’t half whore itself out to Beltway America, with its stunted horizons and anachronistic attachment to frontier values, long after the frontier got conquered and someone built a strip mall on it. Sometimes you have to wonder if the show thinks everything went wrong not when the dead started walking but when Edison invented the light bulb.

Still, it’s great fun and can be utterly compelling – but it is hobbled by being utterly reliant on a genre that’s as worn out as The Simpsons. You’ll never get an episode where everyone spends seven months locked up in a Costco, squabbling over toilet paper while the zombies outside fall to bits and rot to mulch, even though that’s the most probable way a real zombie apocalypse would turn out.

The British take on the genre has not showered itself in glory either. While zombies never entirely went away in the first place, it was – arguably – Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later that heralded the current never-ending wave of zombie mania. While it starts out well enough with some clever ideas, it soon reverts to being just another zombie movie, its galloping mobs of ‘infected’ simply becoming yet another cliché.

it is the same story being

retold time and again.

(It’s like a marginally bleaker

version of Eastenders.)

Charlie Brooker’s Big Brother pisstake, Dead Set, while at times accomplished and blessed with one of the best, most uncompromising endings in the genre, is blighted by Brooker’s incontinent pessimism and small-c conservatism. Its bite is blunted by it being – ultimately – just a spin off of celebrity culture rather than a rejection of it.

And if the much underrated Doghhouse brought in a subtle but clever satirical angle on gender, the rest of the UK zombie genre post-2002 (indeed, the genre everywhere) has been just more of the same – the world ends, everything falls apart, the survivors start chewing the scenery until the zombies start chewing on them. The end.

And that’s the real problem with the zombie genre. It is so limited that, effectively, it is the same story being retold time and again. (It’s like a marginally bleaker version of Eastenders.) Hordes of undead roaming the streets are one thing, but stagnant and creatively bankrupt popular culture that never goes away is another. It’s time the genre got shot in the head, or – at the very least – we found another huge, clumsy metaphor to obsess over instead.

I suggest Chinese hopping vampires. They have rhythm.

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4 Comments on Zombiezzzzzzzz: Putting the genre to rest

  1. Carl Byron Batson // 14/11/2013 at 12:10 // Reply

    Bored of Zombies? How ridiculous.

    • Alexander Hay // 17/11/2013 at 23:12 // Reply

      Variety is the spice of life, or at least, the lifeblood of popular culture. Instead, it’s all become so unceasingly repetitive and ruthlessly formulaic. In decades to come, they’ll slag this decade off for being obsessed with superheroes and zombies and not spotting the innate irony of either.

  2. Carl Byron Batson // 18/11/2013 at 10:41 // Reply

    Bored of Zombies? How ridiculous….

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