Friday, November 25, 2011

Zombies: A Love Story

I love zombies.

Well, not literally. Figuratively. I don't have a zombie blow-up doll or anything.But zombie movies, games, t-shirts, songs about zombies? Yeah, I'm all over that. Again, NOT literally.

I currently have three shirts featuring zombies, play two games about them, own seven movies based around the zombie apocalypse (no, not the crappy Resident Evil ones, or the "Return of the Living Dead" ripoffs), watch The Walking Dead religiously, and so on.

Of course, this raises the question: Why? What is it about zombies that so fascinates me that I would immerse myself in the culture? And no, I'm not jumping on any bandwagon. At the risk of sounding hipster-ish, I was into zombies long before they became culturally relevant. When I first caught Night of the Living Dead on late-night TV I was 17, and I was hooked. I'm 41 now; do the math (I don't want to).

Again, why? I'm not normally into gruesome stuff. I don't have a weak stomach. I can watch a gory horror movie, or a medical procedure being performed. Hell, My Love watches those true crime stories like Forensic Files and fictional ones such as CSI, and I watch right along with her. But I'm not a gore fanatic. I avoid crap like the Saw movies and Hostel. I'm not into torture porn for a cheap thrill.

There's something else about the zombie genre that appeals to me. It took me years to realize what it is: I'm afraid of it.

Most people, I think, enjoy horror movies because they represent something they fear. Whether it be vampires, werewolves, zombies, alien invaders, ghosts, or what have you, people like to face up to those irrational terrors. I'm not sure exactly why this is; I'm no psychologist. It's a need of some sort. That's good enough for me. Other movie monsters don't give me that thrill/chill like zombies.

It's deeper than that, though (bear with me here). The nightmares I've had regarding the walking dead don't revolve around being chased by them. It's always a fear of becoming one of them. That, I feel, is what makes the zombie such a gruesome and formidable enemy in the horror genre. Sure, in most tales, a vampire or werewolf's bite can make you one of them, but not always. Besides, being a vampire means still being you, essentially, and a werewolf only need fear the moon three nights a month.

Zombies are forever.

To me, the fear of losing one's self, one's humanity, is what makes the idea so appalling. Zombies were once ordinary people, like you or me, who now shamble about, rotting, filthy, devouring their own kind, mindless. And there it is: mindless. The thought of losing who I am, my identity, individuality, personality, memories, hopes, dreams, loves, LIFE, frightens the hell out of me.

Some zombie purists (what the hell does that even mean?) complain that movies such as 28 Days Later (one of my favorites) are not really 'zombie' movies. "No," they sniff, "they are Infected, not zombies!" Well lah-de-freakin'-dah! To me, the Borg from Star Trek are a classic example of the zombie mythos. Infected, Borg, zombie... it all boils down to stripping one's humanity away. And that scares the hell out of me.

I'm about to go off on a tangent here. Just hang in there. It relates, trust me.

I don't use drugs, nor do I drink alcohol. No, I'm not going to start preaching here. To each his own. Now I've never smoked pot or taken anything stronger than a prescription painkiller, and that was only in extreme conditions. Normally, I'd rather bear up under the pain if I can. As for alcohol, I beat that particular demon years ago. I've been sober for over 20 years, and the world is a better place for it. What I learned from my drinking days was this: That's not me. I lose my temper when drunk, want to fight anyone and everyone (and everything, including walls, cabinet doors, mannequins, etc.).

I lose control when I'm drunk. Motor control, emotional control, mental control, all gone. And that loss of control scares the hell out of me. I can't imagine getting high, especially on a powerful amphetamine or hallucinogen, and not being me. Not that I'm any treat sober. But, I'm a control freak, at least when it comes to my own life. Relinquishing that control to something or someone else is unconscionable to me.

By the same token, I fear diseases of the mind. Alzheimer's, dementia, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), all of them steal your memories. I avoid stories about Alzheimer's because the concept frightens me. Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost sympathy for victims of these terrible diseases. I can read the stories of cancer victims and feel empathy and compassion. But I can't face the possibility of my mind being robbed from me. I know that makes me weak.

Hence, the fear of zombies. The fear of a simple scratch on the arm stealing away who I am and leaving a mindless beast in it's place. Compared to that, becoming a vampire or werewolf sounds almost pristine in comparison. Unless it's one of those sparkly vampires or shirtless man-child werewolves. In that case, I'm terrified of losing my masculinity, not humanity.

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