Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dead Man Walking

Halloween is right around the corner and it’s time to think seriously
about this year’s costume.

Who can I impersonate? Charlie Sheen? Rupert Murdoch? Prince William?
Anthony Weiner? Frank McCourt?

How about an iPhone? A drone? A Chevy Volt?

Personally, I will forgo all these flavor-of-the-month choices and
instead dress as an icon so ingrained in our national culture that it
has at once fascinated and terrified young and old alike.

No, I don’t mean Rush Limbaugh.

I speak of another nightmare-inducing character, the Zombie.
The lurching, brain-eating, flesh-deprived living dead have been
around for a long time, a gift to the world from Haitian voodoo

But they emerged into pop culture status sometime around the end of
the 20th Century.

Many attribute (or blamed) the appearance of zombies in prime time to
George Romero’s classic 1968 cult movie “Night of the Living Dead.”
Made for a scant $114,000 and dismissed by critics as so much trash,
it went on to gross more than $30 million and spawned a number of

That opened the floodgates. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video gave
the zombie community a big boost as did the movies “I Am Legend” and
“28 Days Later.”

In 2006, renown horror novelist Stephen King published “ Cell,”
described as a tale about a young artist on a trek from Boston to
Maine in hopes of saving his family from a worldwide zombie outbreak
created by "The Pulse", a global electromagnetic phenomenon that
turns the world's cellular phone users into bloodthirsty, zombie-like

There’s a storyline that works on so many levels.

A book called “The Zombie Survival Guide” made the New York Times
best seller list recently and today we have two TV series, “Death
Valley” on MTV and “Walking Dead” on AMC, that are g-rated (for
ghoul). There are at least 20 zombie movies reportedly in production
this year.

It’s clearly a great time to be undead.

So why are we so fascinated with zombies? Vampires, at least
recently, are portrayed as darkly handsome, even swashbuckling and

Zombies are basically disgusting, shambling about in various stages
of decay. When I think of zombies I think of people in line at a DMV
office. Or myself before I have coffee in the morning.

One explanation is that many books and films cast zombies as the
unwitting victims of science run amok, a rogue virus or experiment
gone wrong, leading to our destruction. It’s not an unfounded fear.

Then there’s this: “The construct of the zombie — the mindless
stumbling about — feels increasingly like our world,” said Steven
Schlozman, of Harvard Medical School and author of a zombie novel.
“...What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly
disconnected and disembodied. It feels zombie-like.”

That’s all well and good but the fact of the matter is we all love a
good scare and zombies fill the bill.

They come in droves and although they can be killed with a shot to
the head, the fallen are replaced by dozens more, stumbling toward
you, arms outstretched, mindless. How many dead are there? Billions?
I don’t like the odds.

As blogger Ben Croshaw wrote, “ To our ‘us’ they are eternally
‘them.’ No redeeming qualities, no moral ambiguity.”

What makes them particularly scary is that, except for some cosmetic
difficulties, they look much like us. Just a bunch of friends and
neighbors and relatives who want to dine on our brains. Not a
pleasant way to go.

As for me, my time as a zombie will be short-lived. Too many people
take this stuff seriously.

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