I’ve been thinking a lot about zombies lately. I mean more than usual for me. I’d been dwelling on the idea of zombie society before George Romero passed away.
Right after he passed away, I thought I wanted to write something about how enjoyable I find his films. He’s influenced my writing with his stories outside the horror genre as well as with Night of the Living Dead. I started digging for a little Romero on Romero, trying to understand better how he thought about his work as a creator and the father of the zombie film. I found some interesting articles where he talks about his own influences, including I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, which I recall reading some time ago.
I also found this quote of Romero’s.
It’s been worse ever since I found that quote. The zombie society thoughts, I mean.
I know he intended it to mean that he doesn’t want to deal with the idea that zombies might have a society. Having just re-read I Am Legend, I can understand the desire to stay away from the topic. If the monsters are too human, they cease to be monsters. It leaves the hard question: If they’re not the monster, who is.
Robert Neville, Richard Matheson’s protagonist, had one answer to that question.
Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew that he did not belong to them: he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed.
Whether Romero thought that was the ultimate answer or not is uncertain. Either way, he didn’t want to ask the question or attempt to explain it. It is the question I keep coming back to, though. When we recognize the ‘other’ has become human, and we understand that, but keep treating them as if they were monsters, who is the real monster then?
When we accept the ‘other’ as no different than ourselves but keep treating them as something else, worthy of destruction only, have we become the monster? Or were we always the monster, but have awoken with the self-awareness of what our actions make us? Or is it just as Walt Kelly said,”We have met the enemy, and he is us?”
The question seems significant. If we accept the idea that zombies represent consumerism in its most indifferent form, then everything that flows from consumerism is as much our fault as a collective of mass consumers as it is the fault of the people who encourage consumerism. From the destruction of natural resources and exploitation of workers to pollution and the erosion of the middle class, we helped shape the world we live in for the worse.
Having awoken to the problems that arise from mass consumption, the siren call of minimalism beckons, and that brings a new set of problems. Firstly, there’s the issue of shaming everyone for the problems caused of mindless consumerism, which tends to assume all consumption is mindless and that shame is a good technique for affecting social change. The second is straight out classist politics surrounding minimalism. As I’ve commented before, it’s easy to say it’s a point of pride to have fewer things when you can afford just go out and buy what you need when you need it. The working poor can’t do that. I couldn’t do that until a few years ago.
Besides, we all still need to eat. There’s no getting around it.
The minimalist might well be the general standing against a zombie horde. What if that horde is mindful consumers who buy what they need on sale? What if they find joy in the security of knowing, for example, the tools required to fix their car when it breaks down are right in their trunk? What if they only have time to go to the laundromat once every two weeks and require enough clothing to go that long between trips?
If zombies are consumers, how do you tell the story of the mindless consumer that’s respectful of the mindful consumer? Where is the intersection of zombie and human society that isn’t Romeo and Juliet with the dead? I mean, I loved Warm Bodies, (though I preferred the book,) and that story has been told. It was about warmth and human connection, not consumption.
I still have thinking to do on this, but I’m getting closer.