Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Passion for the Undead

So, I don't know if anyone else has been noticing this lately, but there's a fairly consistent trend recently in dwelling upon the undead, whether it's zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, whatever. And it's not like the recurring theme of princesses, unicorns and horses for little girls or even the fascination with soldiers, hunters, cars, trucks, dinosaurs that seems to hit little boys. It's more than that. People just can't seem to get enough of the undead. Everywhere I turn there are books about them, movies about them, video games about them...the only place that it's hard to really incorporate them seems to be music, but I suspect someone will figure out how to do that soon.

What is this fixation all about? Why do we need to vicariously flee/fight/love zombies? I'm not sure but I've been working on some theories. One is that in the growing absence of faith and religion, people have a pathological need to believe in something else that doesn't make sense rationally. Because the attraction to the occult seems to be a part of the phenomenon, and if you're going to turn your back on God then it seems like the next step for most people is to start spending your time thinking about demons, UFO's, and other unexplainable things that may or may not exist. Personally, I know what I'd rather believe in, and it makes it much easier for me to sleep at night, but I suppose we all have to believe in something. It's what makes us human.

The second theory is stolen from my husband. He thinks that in this day when so much is unexplainable and unthinkable, we have to create beings and forces that explain why terrible things can happen with no reason. He says that we cannot always comprehend or understand meaningless destruction and terrorism unless we dehumanize it. Rational people would not strap a bomb to their chest and use it to kill babies unless they were somehow inhuman. A father wouldn't murder his family unless he was not really alive anymore. Hence the zombies and vampires and demons. Somehow if we can suspend our disbelief in fantastic things it makes it easier to cope with the pointless evils of our modern world. That one makes a lot of sense.  It embraces our need to escape such a world too.

For someone like myself with an overactive imagination that has to resolve things while I sleep, I have to be careful how much I let the undead into my consciousness. For the same reasons that I cannot allow myself to always watch the news and the repetitive scenes of destruction, I have to limit my contact with zombies, and the like. Because my subconscious brain can countenance their existence and evil all too easily when I sleep. Even though I do not believe they really exist, I believe evil does exist, and my mind will play very nasty tricks on me.

So, because I have always loved fairy tales and tales of magic and mystery I seem to be hardwired to accept and absorb stories of the undead. I know they are just stories. I know that I will probably die of old age before the zombie apocalypse ever materializes. But that doesn't keep me from having the occasional vivid nightmare that wakes me breathless and unable to rationalize what I've just experienced.

That brings me to the third theory. Vicarious terror. We seem to like being scared. We seem to need to occasionally experience mind-numbing fear. I have no idea if that's even healthy, but the adrenalin rush associated with flight - real or imagined - keeps our society paying for slasher films, murder mysteries, video games, and thousands of books all very much fictional. And zombies are so handy since they were once human but have been consumed by their madness. And I think we all feel somewhat consumed by the madness of our society from time to time. Zombies allow us to take that feeling and box it away into a more distant location so we really don't have to deal with it.

Do I like zombies? Not really. I don't particularly like any of the undead. But I love stories and the lure of escaping into another world that doesn't have to make sense. And that keeps me coming back. But there are times I'd really like to take a break from the current dearth of happier escapism. I kind of miss fairy tales these days.