Friday, 30 March 2012

GUEST BLOG: Careful What you Wish for - VM Zito

As a genre, horror has often tapped into the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the times, appropriately), resonating with each era's societal fears. In the 50s, with potential nuclear war hanging over our heads like a mushroom cloud, radioactive monsters like Godzilla terrorized the populace. In that same decade, McCarthyism in America inspired alien invasions and pod people in disguise. In the 70s, as younger generations challenged conventions of religion and sexuality, horror assured us that devils existed and that promiscuity was punishable by large slashing knives.

And in 1968, a year notorious for civil turmoil and race riots in major American cities, we watched civilization collapse in one night -- that event known as Night of the Living Dead.

So here we are, over forty years later, enjoying another resurgence of the zombie apocalypse. Zombies are the rage now -- but the appeal feels different this time, less driven by fear, more attributable to something else. Something quite opposite, actually...


We live in an age of perceived powerlessness, in which 99% of us feel paralyzed by our ordinary lives, enslaved by the 1% running the government and the economy. Short of a winning lottery ticket, nothing will change for us. We'll keep punching the clocks at our insipid jobs, following orders. We'll keep depositing our pennies into insufficient retirement funds. We'll keep losing our jobs, while our homes lose value and gas prices climb higher and higher.

Unless the zombies come and save us.

Then it's a chance to start over. Then money and politics and government regulations mean nothing. Then it's survival of the fittest. Heroes will rise; we imagine ourselves as kings of the zombie world, ruling over the new undead lower class. Sure, there will be bloodshed. Yes, you might lose a friend or two. But just think of all those abandoned shopping malls -- free stuff!

Today, it's easy to sit back and watch Night of the Living Dead for its scares, without appreciating the film's societal context, but remember... 1968, race riots, etc. Now consider the hero in Night: a black man named Ben. (The first black hero ever in a horror movie.) Romero anticipated the empowerment that a zombie upheaval could bring to the under-represented amongst us, after the power structure is turned on its head. And modern zombie comedies like Shaun of the Dead often feature bumbling idiots-turned-badasses in the face of Armageddon.

What am I saying? That we, as a society, want a zombie apocalypse? Well, yes. At least in the way that every kid sometimes wishes his parents would disappear, leaving him full run of the house, no rules, no responsibility. Of course it would end badly, with filthy dishes piled in the sink, unpaid bills, empty cupboards, no electricity or heat. And yet it's tempting... very tempting.

Just remember how it worked out for poor Ben. When the zombies come, you might be a hero for the night. But in the morning, you're just another one for the fire.

-- V.M. Zito

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