- by Michael!
Sunday night, Joanie and I went
with several friends to the local drive-in to see World War Z, a zombie movie so
loosely based on the excellent book by the same name that only one character is
shared between them. And that barely.
But it was good, clean,
horrifying-undead-monsters-hurtling-at-screaming-bystanders fun, with
enough truly frightening moments to make it more than worth the money and the
time spent waiting for the sun to go down so that the film could start.
One of the friends who came
with us is older, close to our parents' age, and she asked a question that I
hear a lot from older friends: "What's this fascination with
Well, for one, people like to
be scared. That's not really news - it's like riding a roller-coaster. Safe,
containable terror. And people like to mock what they're afraid of, which is
probably why there are almost as many zombie spoof movies as there are actual
However, there's also the
appeal of the "reset." This isn't necessarily a zombie staple, as the
"end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it" theme has been around for ages.
The idea of starting over, of cutting through the accumulated trash that has
built up alongside the good things in our world, our culture, is a deeply
seductive one, and I think is the real reason that so many people in their
twenties and thirties enjoy stories that trade upon world-ending disasters:
We could start over.
To people crippled with student
loans thanks to university costs that have ballooned outrageously in the last
few decades (coupled with very little, if any, appreciable increase in benefit
to the actual students), people facing dire predictions of economic,
ecological, and social catastrophe on an hourly basis, people who are faced
with a political culture in which dialogue has vanished in exchange for vitriol
in 140 characters or fewer, people who grew up being told that "you can be
anything if you put your mind to it" and are now applying for semi-paid
internships or seasonal positions at the age of 29 because entry-level
full-time jobs that offer poor health insurance and the barest glimmer of hope
for advancement are being snapped up by desperate souls with management
experience and children in middle school...
Can you really blame us for finding the idea of resetting the
whole damned thing to be deeply appealing?
And the specific threat in
question - the zombie - is, I think, also somewhat telling. I'm lucky. I'm
married to my best friend, a beautiful woman who complements me in every way
and with whom I share a ludicrously adventurous life. I have a job that is
mentally and emotionally engaging, working with and for people whose company I
enjoy, with a great balance of responsibility and safety-net built in to my
everyday work life.
But so many people I know - bright people, competent and
creative, with a great deal to offer - can't find work that fulfills them,
can't meet people who connect with them, can't escape the feeling that they are
mindlessly plodding after minuscule goals at once too paltry to be considered
and too dependent upon external circumstance to be realized.
Many of us already feel like the walking dead.
Now, I say all of this with a grain of salt. Every age inherits
its trouble from their predecessors. Just in the last 100 years, we can point
to the follies of dynastic imperialism starting a world war decades after the
fact, the crushing vindictiveness of the Treaty of Versailles igniting the
fuse of the next World War, the arrogance of superpowers creating warfare in
miniature that, in turn, birthed the terrorists of today, and so on.
It’s no more a new phenomenon than people enjoying being
frightened. But it’s new to us, here and now, and – like everybody before us –
we’re finding a way to cope with it, expressing both our frustration with the
world as it is and our deep desire to be heroic, to have something concrete and
immediate for which to be heroic, to be a part of a salvative effort that isn’t
coopted by somebody else’s greed or hatred but that is simply and purely a
matter of survival.
And that way, for some of us, is to enjoy entertainment based on
the idea of surviving in a world full of ravenous and angry abominations. It’s
messy. It’s kinda gross. And sure, it’s more than a little bit silly. (For the
record, people said similar things about the Charleston.) But it’s both
effective and expressive, a familiar set of tropes through which we can
vicariously experience some level of the world-wide catharsis that has not yet
arrived, that is so direly needed.