Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Butchering the Zomboy


One of the crimes I must plead guilty to is the act of sometimes writing zombie fiction, especially for the benefit of sites like the Home Page Of The Dead. Or, perhaps, it’s probably more accurate to say I used to write zombie fiction; the last one I wrote was simply titled Probably the Last Zombie Story I Shall Write.

Of course I haven’t mentioned the other component of the writing I do, to this day, in this genre: satirical parodies like On the Care and Feeding of Zombies, for example. They are, actually, a fairly accurate depiction of my real feelings towards the zombie genre: a mix of frustration and bloody-mindedness.

Why, yes, I do get bloody-minded sometimes. And in my usual convoluted way, let me attempt to explain why.

I’m – as you all know – a multi-genre writer, and mostly I write material in genres I enjoy reading. I write a lot of SF, but I’ve been an SF fan from my early teens. I write horror, but I’ve been a horror fan from approximately the same time. I write general fiction, and I’ve never hidden my appreciation for a good general fiction story. By and large I like fantasy, except for the Conan the Barbarian heroic genre, but that’s mocked and parodied so often that I don’t know if there’s anyone who takes it seriously anymore. And then there are the zombies.

Recently, on another site where we horror writers gather to chew the gristle, somebody was complaining that the zombie genre seems to be dying off, and began a discussion of why. The thread, to which I came late, tiptoed round the subject, discussing every reason but the real one: that the genre is dying off because of the brain-dead nature of the typical zombie fan.

And here I must make my second confession: I wrote zombie fiction not because I liked to, but because my contempt for zombie fandom allowed me no other recourse.

Yeah, the thing about the zombie genre that infuriates me is the fanboy brigade. Unlike the fans of other genres, vampires or science fiction or whatever, the zombie genre fanboy set is probably the most brain-dead group of individuals on the surface of the planet today; certainly as brain-dead as the zombies they despise, if not more.

Believe it or not – many of these people are actually preparing for a real-life zombie apocalypse. They’re as serious about it as vampire or werewolf fans aren’t serious about werewolves or vampires. As in, they’ve got internet fora and groupings specifically dedicated to cater to their survival on the day the living dead rise from their graves and stalk the earth.

No, I do not mean the CRapture. I mean the other kind of living dead.

In order to get a full picture of just how daft the idea is, consider the modern “zombie.” (I’ll take a minute to express my sympathies to the true meaning of the term – the Haitian allegedly made a mindless slave by the use of voodoo and probably a good dose of brain-burning poisons. Rest in peace, Haitian voodoo zombie.)

Anyway, the modern “zombie”, as depicted in film and story, is an animated corpse which shambles through the cities, biting living folk and apparently out to snack on their brains. Anyone, apparently, who gets bitten or scratched by one becomes a zombie in turn, unless of course it’s the hero, for whom the rules are a little different.If he's scratched, the zombie nails don't penetrate his clothes. If he's bitten, the zombie is a toothless retiree. And so on.

It’s very, very important, by the way, that they happen to be reanimated dead. They can’t, for the true fanboy, simply be living people infected by rabies-like neuroviruses that make them aggressive and infectious, like the “zombies” of the film 28 Days Later. That, I’m told, is merely an “infection film”. It cannot be called a “zombie film”. 

      
                                                                Baron Samedi wept.

Anyway, so these zombies are animated corpses, slow, mindless and – to any rational individual – as threatening as a shambling mass of putrefying carrion could possibly be. I won’t allude to the stink for the moment except to say that the lack of an olfactory sense would be an asset to any survivor of the Zombocalypse. I will however say that the simple process of decay, which apparently continues to affect these corpses, should lead to them falling apart at an early stage of events. Even an undead muscle fibre can’t contract when the actin and myosin fibrils fall apart due to bacterial action and maggot mouths, can it?

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the Zombocalypse struck tomorrow. In a very, very large part of the world, where most people are cremated, the consequences would be mostly nonexistent. A few cadavers might reanimate in morgues, but except for biting a person or two, would be pretty easy to subdue, especially if they’re deep-frozen. In the countries where most people are still buried, the average reanimated corpse would either be a set of bones, unable to move because the ligaments holding them together have fallen apart, or else mostly older people, badly decomposed, who might fall apart from the simple process of digging their way out of coffin and earth. Exactly how much of a real danger would these things be, to you and yours?

Answer: in all probability, the danger from a Zombocalypse-load of these things would be considerably less than that of being run over by a car driven by a drunken teenager receiving a blow-job from his crack-head girlfriend. I suppose you might be able to give yourself blood-poisoning if you punch or kick one of those legions of undead and cut yourself on one of its bones, but that’s about it. But then I’m trying to be rational here. The zombie genre fans, whom I’ll call “zomboys” henceforth, aren’t.

You know what at least 90% of the zomboys are like, from my own experience of encountering them on the zombie fan fora? Immature males with a great love of guns, yet in all probability an almost zero actual experience of firearms; moreover, with a love of mindless gorefests with a maximum of crudity and a minimum of plot structure and sense.

I repeat – these are people who actually believe the Zombocalypse is coming, and also believe that it’s coming in a very, very specific form. You can’t have infected, living zombies. You can’t have “fast zombies” – that’s blasphemy, as any zomboy can tell you. Zombies, apparently, just “aren’t that way.”

So this is how the typical zombie story (and I’ve come across websites advising you how to write successful, i.e. popular, zombie stories) goes:

The walking dead rise from their graves and shamble over the earth, against all logic successfully subduing the (living) human race and depopulating the cities.

A small group of heroic survivors raid gun shops, which are inexplicably abandoned by their owners instead of being defended tooth and nail, and go around on a zombie-destroying mission (zombies can be destroyed only by shooting their brains out, duh, even though they’re dead and mindless) while finding an unending supply of food in malls and warehouses. For obvious reasons, zombie stories are almost always set in one particular nation, which is awash with privately owned guns, gun stores, and something called the Second Amendment. I’m yet to read one set in, say, Malaysia.

Anyway, our gallant heroes will call the zombies “ghouls” (which they are not), “fiends” (which they also are not), “dead fuckers” or any other term they can think of, and go out of their way to spill zombie blood, which somehow still flows liquid through zombie veins but doesn’t infect the heroes when it splashes all over them, even though nail scratches are lethal. Every drop of zombie blood spilled has to be described in excruciating detail, because the zomboy is incapable of using any imagination, and absolutely hates having to use imagination. Oh well.

These heroic survivors will include the requisite Tough Guy, the Beautiful Woman who Needs To Be Protected, the Bumbling Idiot Who Endangers Everyone, and inevitably have at least one slot open for the Everyman, the reader/viewer who’s supposed to be empathised with, the one who was nobody in the real world but turns out to be the True Hero when the Zombocalypse gets going. Zomboys are as insistent on the exact, cliché-ridden formula as a kid is on the exact, word-for-word. repetition of a familiar fairy story.

You know, I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Immature young men who are childishly hung up on the exact, clichéd rendition of the story, and  of whom many actually believe that this accurately depicts the shape of things to come; and films and books on this ridiculous premise finding a ready and reliable market...can it be that the Zombocalypse is a religion with these people, and filmmakers like George Romero are the prophets? Can it be that the Zombocalypse is the Day of Judgement, and the survivors (among whom the zomboys, of course, count themselves) are the Zombie Rapturists?

Answer: you bet your boots it can. In fact, it bloody well is.

Once you realise that this is a religion, of course, the whole thing falls into place. And that’s why the writer who was groaning about the dying genre shouldn’t have been surprised. The zomboys are killing the genre, because they won’t tolerate any but the same story, told over and over again, with nary a deviation allowed from the formula. Any author who’s attempted innovation has discovered that, and has either quit the genre altogether or succumbed and turned out the same pre-digested, preordained pap.

And now you know why I’m bloody-minded? After all, just about all of you who are reading this know what my response is to a religious ritual: screw that. And it’s out of this bloody-mindedness that I write mocking send-ups of the genre like Dead Camp or Graah. It gives me a great deal of pleasure when some zomboy idiot sends me semiliterate, furious feedback telling me how much they hate my writing. At least they had to read the damn thing first in order to hate it. Right?

Sometimes I wish there was a bloody Zombocalypse, just so I could watch the zomboys try to act out their fantasies. I wish I could watch them try and raid the gun stores and the malls, and form their little militias, while the world just went on its own way and a shambling corpse quietly rotted on the street – until the zomboys went to destroy it.

I wish there was a Zombocalypse so I could sit at my window with a tub of popcorn and listen to them screaming.

7 comments:

  1. Frankly, the only person who ever got zombies right was Terry Pratchett. Reg Slant makes the consummate lawyer, as he's been around long enough to remember when most of the legal code was written; Reg Shoe is a fine policeman who balances his idealism with being a police officer. He keeps his crypt nicely.

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  2. I'm not especially into that genre, although I did recently read "The Reapers are the Angels," which I enjoyed. (I believe that it's being made into a film.) I also read "Dust," a variation of the usual zombie novel in which the zombies are fully able to think and to non-verbally communicate with one another.

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  3. this flick is a hoot!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457572/

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  4. Bill, I've a confession.

    I don't like zombie stories. "Night of the Living Dead" bored the hell out of me - even the original.

    Plus, zombies and werewolves were what destroyed the publishing market for fiction - because publishers won't touch anything that's not about either zombies or werewolves.

    So there.

    Just sayin'....

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  5. I agree entirely with you about zombies, Will; they're boring. However, my response is rather to mock them than to avoid them. Let the zomboys stew.About werewolves, though, I think you mean vampires; except for the Twitlight, er, Twilight series, werewolves are vanishingly rare these days.

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  6. I dont like zombies stories either..
    they are so fuckin bland..
    And you get emails telling you they hate your writing?????

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  7. Wow,
    While I often experiences aggravated flashes of irritation/frustration at the downward spiral of ALL sub-types of (Let's call it Survival Horror), my response has basically been a weary rejection of 98.5% of the Romero-clone works, and a sifting (when I can even be bothered) of the remaining small percentage for the few gems that exist IMHO solely as the exceptions which prove the rules you've outlined.

    Of COURSE the majority of fans are to blame. The vast majority of individuals have NO DESIRE to think for themselves, and the money-men in Hollywood and the major publishers damn well know it. If it wasn't so, the majority of films wouldn't be even more awful sequels of awful sequels, remakes of older successful works, and conversions of the Hot New Thing from across the various entertainment mediums.

    Will it ever change? NOT A CHANCE IN HELL. Think it's only books and movies being ruined? Look at the videogame industry's trend of "Making games more accessible to mainstream users" (Read: Dumb them down to a non-existent learning curve so the morons who can't be troubled to read a 10 page instruction pamphlet can be like some sort of uber-gamer five minutes after completing the install.)

    EVERY creative medium is under relentless attack by the forces of Stupidity, Sloth, Ignorance and Greed. The only thing that could possibly change that is about as likely as an actual Romero-style reanimation of the dead. To whit, the majority of people would have to reject the regurgitated remakes and dumbed-down products to eliminate the incentive to produce such products.

    Unfortunately, those of us SICK TO DEATH OF IT can do NOTHING without a majority consensus. Otherwise, so long as SCRE4M turns a profit, you can bet your ass there will be a Scream 5...and 6, at least.

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