Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dance of the Undead: Why I don't like zombies and why that doesn't matter

The tide, thank Gods, has finally turned. Twice, twice! in the last two days, my twitter feed has revealed to me people disparaging zombies and the zombie genre. It's overdone! Give it a rest! Too mainstream!


I'll be honest with you: I've never had much time for zombies. If we're going to have revenants emerging grisly from their tombs, I prefer them to be incorporeal. If we're going to have monsters ravening for the flesh of the living, I prefer them to be equipped witty conversation and reasonable dress sense. Between friends, I'm a ghost girl, I'm (and I'm sure this will be a surprise to everyone) a vampire girl.

Zombies. I just don't like 'em.

What? You need reasons from me?

Okay. I think my first reason is the type of surface narrative zombies seem to engender: post-apocalyptic worlds, scratching faceless hordes, heroic (or anti-heroic) types marching round the place toting huge-arsed guns. It's food supplies and water filtration and constant, knife-edged danger. That's... well, that's okay, I suppose. It's not really my scene. I don't, in my escapist moments, imagine myself as some kind of tooled up commando, fighting for survival in a ghost world. I am not hard-bitten and taciturn, I am loquacious and somewhat effete.I know that there are vampire narratives like this, and I don't read those much, either.

Then, there's the second reason. Zombies are, actually, that little bit too scary for me. Perhaps it's just paranoia, but the idea of some huge population disaster that leaves us scrabbling around in the ruins of our civilisation seems just a mite too plausible. As, for that matter, does a worldview that sees a significant chunk of the population as faceless, needlessly destructive, and possible to be killed with a clean conscience. This is the kind of world I dread leaving to my children. I have nightmares about zombies. That this counts as a point against zombies troubles me, but it brings us to reason number three.

Zombies just aren't any fun.

Even the worst, most hackneyed vampire narratives are entertaining to me, whereas bad zombie narratives are just dull. Even good zombie stories only serve to make me jumpy, and while maybe that's part of what they are supposed to do, I just don't get off on that, thank you very much.

Thing is, the function of literature, should always be, to some small extent, to give your reader their jollies. Sure, hurt them; don't pull your punches, kick 'em while they're down, give them nightmares so bad they sleep with the light on for weeks*, or make them feel so sick that they can't eat for three days;** but while you're at it, throw them a fucking bone, won't you?

We escape, we fantasise, we fancy dress. We flinch from crucifixes.

Which brings us to four: from the little I've seen, zombie narratives seem to be more about the survivors. You didn't get bit so you acclimatise yourself to grief, to killing the monsters who wear the faces of your loved ones. You survive at all costs and maybe you lose. You try to live with yourself, with others, with terror, with grief. It is humans put in extremis - the zombies are more of an environmental hazard. And, again, this is too much like life. Vampires stories, ghost stories - these are far more concerned with the monster and that is where my interest lies, especially if we're given a ton of that pesky moral grey.

But... but... but... All this is personal taste. I'm convinced there is some brilliant zombie fiction out there, inspired, intelligent, gripping stuff. There is also a lot of enjoyable dross, and reading is something we do for pleasure, right? Zombie fans, go out and enjoy yourself, gorge yourself on the current glut.

Don't mind me, I'll be lurking with a well thumbed copy of Dracula.

So why the "yippie"?

Well, here's the thing: for the past five years I've heard one heck of a lot of "Vampires, oh God, that is so mainstream and overdone... Zombies, now they're hardcore." I've heard Goths (Goths, for Pete's sake) talk about how vampires have become 'stale' and how they are really pushing the envelope with 'zombie chic' (also, actually, zombie chic? WTF?) and been roundly mocked and condemned for my continuing allegiance to the children of the night.

My point is this: zombies, vampires, ghosts - they are all mainstream, they always have been. One comes to prominence for a bit and everyone jumps on the gravy train until the non-core fanbase get fed up and the wheel turns again. Vamps have had their turn, zombies, take a bow and slip back beneath the ground for a bit. It won't be for long.

So why the "yippie"?

Because you notice the third article on that list?

Come on, Montague Rhodes James!

*or too afraid to turn the light on because then they can see it coming for them...
** I'm looking at you, H.P Lovecraft

Incidentally, if you are a zombie fan, even after my reasons as to why you shouldn't be, check out the Science Museum's Zombie Lab: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/Home/visitmuseum/events/festivals/zombies.aspx

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