So zombies seem to be making a comeback … from the dead. Cue canned laughter. With texts like TV’s The Walking Dead, films such as I Am Legend and 28 Days / 28 Days Later, and zombie takes on classic literature in recent years, the recurring question in various parts of the media seems to be: are zombies the new vampires? Have we moved on from those endless vampires in books and movies to something new(ish)?
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald last year on Alan Ball, zombies might just be the new vampires. Ball is quoted as saying ” ‘We have a line in the last episode of True Blood this season where it’s Halloween and they’re all dressed up, and somebody goes, ‘I’m a zombie. Don’t you know zombies are the new vampires?’ I’ve heard zombies, I’ve heard angels. I don’t know. That’s one of the great things about it all, nobody knows. It’s just going to be one person who does something from a place of pure passion and that’s going to catch attention.”
Perhaps the oddest zombie infiltrations in recent times have been into classic literature. Ie, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! It really wasn’t a truth universally acknowledged that an Austen novel in possession of Darcy and Elizabeth must be in want of zombies, however tempting it is to chalk up Lydia’s brainlessness to zombie influence.
But monsters spawn monsters, so to speak, and post PPZ, we have an enormous array of monster mashups that see zombies, vampires and other monsters join the cast of classic novels:
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Alice in Zombieland
Little Women and Werewolves
and … well, you get the picture.
Rachel Hyland and Kate Nagy have listed and rated 30 examples, which helps to sort out some of the hits from the misses.
But people have been posing this question in numerous ways for years. Are werewolves the new vampires? Are vampires the new zombies? Are angels the new werewolves? Are zombies the new … And so on.
It seems reasonably obvious that we’re just seeing cycles of fashion and trends. Vampires have been the focus lately what with Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, but then for a while it was all fallen angels on the covers of YA literature, witches were also popular, and of course, rather obviously, we here at this blog are interested in the werewolves who seem to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts.
But zombies are a bit different to the other monsters. They’re never going to be as mainstream as vamps or wolves simply because they don’t measure up to the romantic hero stereotype. To put it in more scholarly terms, they’re not hot enough. I don’t know how many girls would sigh over a zombie male lead like they would over an Edward Cullen or Jacob Black. Vampires provoke interest because of the themes of redemption and love; werewolves get attention because of their torment and dual identities; fallen angels draw out ideas about eternity and salvation.
Zombies kind of don’t do much except, well, eat brains and stagger about like drunks. They’re not exactly the stuff of romance, unlike those current clichés of sparkly-beautiful-vampires or sexy-muscled-werewolves. Their eyes are bloodshot, their mouths are bloody (well, so are vampires), their bodies are damaged, and their brains are gone.
This is not to say we can’t have fun with zombies, as Shaun of the Dead proved.
I’ll let someone else do an in-depth explanation of the zombie phenomenon (stay tuned), but suffice to say that explanations for their popularity usually centre around the idea that they are potent symbols of particular ills in society: capitalism or consumerism (sucking the life out of everything), terrorism, viruses, war, unemployment, and … you name it.
So what is the appeal of zombies? Can zombies mainstream it as heroes after all? Or, as others argue, should we just forget about any kind of “meaning” and let zombies be zombies?