Friday, April 18, 2014
How did I miss the zombie apocalypse?
A zombie looks for someone to munch on in a scene from AMC's TV show, "The Walking Dead." A crowd of zombies can be relentless, which happens to be the perfect metaphor for tea party Republican politics.
The Associated Press/AMC/Gene Page
I've been kind of busy at work and was focusing pretty heavily on the last election, and now every time I turn on the TV, I see zombies.
Animated corpses are shuffling the streets, arms outstretched. If we're not careful we'll be engulfed and eaten alive, or worse, infected with their disease and forced to join them.
I guess I knew there were zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie comic books, but I'm starting to remember hearing about all the participatory zombie events that have been crowding the newspaper's calendar over the last few months, like zombie dances, zombie kickball and the always-popular Halloween zombie pub crawl.
YouTube and public access TV are crammed with homemade zombie cinema. Somehow I missed last year's zombie Christmas caroling craze, with new lyrics to classic songs in the book "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies!" by Michael P. Spradlin and Jeff Weigel. All this stuff has been going on for years right under my nose.
My zombie awakening has come, like so many other things, through my great good fortune of sharing a house with a teenager. We've started watching AMC's "The Walking Dead" together. (In teenager style, we're streaming it off the Internet and not following the broadcast schedule, so I'm way behind most of you.)
The show tells the story of a small group of survivors who have been forced together as their world has been overrun by a hostile force they don't understand. They're on this kind of extended camping trip, and they have all the same problems that any of us might have regarding relationships, grief and the search for meaning, only for them at any moment a disgusting monster might spring out and try to eat them.
It's a pretty flexible format, and mighty entertaining, but the big question is: Why has this become such a powerful myth for our times?
If "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza!" spoke to Cold War Americans about pioneer values and the need for order in a chaotic world, what's the zombies' message? (Spoiler alert: I'm going to tell you what I think it is.)
It's politics. The classic zombie stories focus not on the zombies themselves but on the survivors. (I'm going to leave aside the emerging zombie-centric subgenre for now.)
The zombies are not just dangerous. They are stupid. They have no will of their own. They are driven by powerful impulse to eat others. One on one, they are no match for the rational-minded survivors, but in a crowd, they are relentless and terrifyingly unstoppable.
As a liberal, I find this the perfect political metaphor for tea party Republican politics. Mindless figures muttering undead ideas about "small government" and "lower taxes," they shuffle forward, blocking our progress. The few sentient still among us want to band together and share resources to protect the health and safety of the group, but we feel them closing in, picking us off, one by one.
Imagine my surprise to find that there's been a lot of zombie political analysis, but most of it comes from the right wing.
The classic in the field is apparently the book "Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation," by Jason Mattera, who provides this analysis of the 2008 presidential election:
"Barack Obama lobotomized a generation. For an entire year, otherwise clear-thinking members of the most affluent, over-educated, information-drenched generation in American history fell prey to the most expensive, hi-tech, laser-focused marketing assault in presidential campaign history. ... The result: an unthinking mass of young voters marched forward to elect the most radical and untested president in U.S. history."
Sounds scary, doesn't it?
A number of cultural authorities are selling the zombie phenomenon as conservative paranoia, but in a country as divided as ours, a myth would have to have to cross partisan lines to penetrate so deeply.
This may be one of those occasions where what we have in common is much stronger than what separates us.
Deep down, we all want to do what's best, but we are under constant threat from mindless ghouls who want to tear us apart with their bare hands and eat us alive if we don't beat them back.
In this season, it's a powerful message of unity.
Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org