Over three years ago a co-worker of mine at ye old coffee shop was playing a game on her iPhone entitled, “Plants vs Zombies“. I was neck deep in my Literature MA at the time, and I thought quit well of myself for having never succumbed to such plebeian banality. Well, let me tell you something: I was wrong. It is now April of 2013, and I have completed “Plants vs Zombies” in its entirety three times. And it was fun.
What I noticed over the past few months is that not only was I playing “P vs Z,” but I was also deeply involved in watching AMC’s “The Walking Dead” every Sunday night. I had watched all the previous seasons via Netflix, and I was very excited to watch Season 3 on a weekly basis. I’ll leave criticism of that show to the professionals (check out The Atlantic‘s weekly series on TWD), and instead I am going to attempt to figure out exactly why I like zombies so much.
These supernatural beings should have some psychological relation and reflection to our own selves, right? Frankenstein is an allegory for capitalism, and as is Dracula, but what’s with zombies? Some are fast. Some are slow. Their origin could be a toxic event, a plague, or more often something unexplainable. But what do they represent for the fan? There is a bit of Biblical references, right? The dead rising from the grave and all that—”Judgment Day” as Ray Stantz so eloquently states in Ghostbusters. And fans of other horror genres, and critics of zombie films, will often argue that zombies are boring due to their horde-like, slow movement. After all, you just keep killing and killing, as though there is no end! But here’s the thing: that is exactly why I like about the zombie genre.
I have to work at ye old coffee shop at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Sunday. When we open—about 6:30 a.m.—they will pour through the doors not saying a word; not a greeting, a hello, a thank you; they will throw their remaining pocket change in the jar, go about their day reading the paper or making conversations with their neighbor about the weather. At 9:30 a.m., the masses will come. They will come after early church, before the later service. They will come in their sweatpants, their suits, their bow ties, or their stocking caps. They will come in SUV’s, on bikes, by foot, or lumber down from their condos right above us. And they’ll play noisy games like zoozit and kazay, a rollerskate type of lacrosse and croquet! … Oh, wait. That’s the Grinch. Sorry, I was on a roll…
Where was I? Oh yes. It is mornings like these when I realize my fascination with the zombie film: the horde. Retail/food service (the number one employer in America) is a special animal. They just keep coming. It is the nature of the business, I suppose; and if I wasn’t there for any other reason than health insurance, it is possible that those folks in their Sunday attire would not be starring in my own version of the zombie apocalypse. But they are. To me they are the walking dead. Sure, there are a few who make an impression, but for the most part I am fighting to stay alive. I am feeding them lattes and brewed coffee so they won’t eat at my flesh. I toss them a 400-calorie donut or two so they won’t tear off my arm and make me one of them. It’s life or death.
So, why Walt Disney? In March of this year, I went to Disney World in Florida (with my daughter, x-wife and my mother. Yeah, I know. That’s a whole ‘nother post.). I did a bit of research and discovered that Mr. Walt himself designed Disney World’s Main Street after his own home town’s Main Street; thus mimicking this 1950s era Americana nostalgia that may or may have not existed for the burgeoning middle class—only with hourly parades and a life size replica of Neuschwanstein Castle at Main Street’s end. Sheesh. I truly think that Walt’s Main Street resembles the Governer’s town of Woodbury in TWD (non-fans, I may lose you here).
Woodbury is modeled after this Disney-esque, Norman Rockwell Americana of some bygone era (pre-zombie apocalypse). It is fortified with large pieces of welded steel, on which a cat-walk is located for snipers to shoot incoming zombies, so that the people on the inside may live their “normal” pre-zombie apocalypse lives—barbeques, picnics, an evening stroll, etc. There is also ammo, food, normalcy, and a low zombie to people ratio. The problem is that both of these spaces rely upon a falsification of reality. No, I’m not taking the fun out of Disney World (it was a blast!), I’m simply interested in why we need to shield ourselves from reality. Why this facade of nostalgia as a precursor to enjoyment? Or, rather, enjoyment in the form of peaceful consumption? (Beyond the obvious not-taking-out-your-wallet-because-a-zombie-may-eat-your-hand reason).
Our narrative is often that these utopians cannot exist without a catch. There is one little, insignificant detail that requires this peace. For Walt it’s that crazy castle bearing down on us, reminding us that his homage to Main Street is just as fatuous as Ludwig II’s efforts to build a castle in honor of Richard Wagner with German public funds. And our concentrated belief in Main Street as representative of some blissful nostalgic love of what we think of as a “simpler time,” without our modern problems. For Woodbury it is, well was, Penny: the Governer’s zombified daughter in whose name he was running experiments on Woodbury’s citizen’s in order to find a “cure” for her. And the fact that none of the citizens faced the reality of the zombie apocalypse, and were thus unprepared for the real world. Yeah, it’s a stretch to make that comparison, but I beg this question: to what lengths will we go to secure normalcy? What will we ignore so that we may consume peacefully? Who will we keep out so that we may keep ourselves in? I for one am arming myself with a Snow Peas plant to slow them down even more, a Wall-nut or two to keep them at bay, and a Potato mine to blow them to smithereens. Trust me, I know my zombies.