Hello everyone and welcome to a special crossover post! It’s been a while since a “Horror Hoedown Showdown” appeared; if you read my last update, then you know I’m having some difficulties at the moment so bear with me. And yes I know HHS is supposed to run on Fridays, but today is Halloween, so it’s a special occasion. So what’s the topic for today? Zombies. Or rather, why I love zombies. In fact, this might encompass why a large number of people love zombies. I’ve been wanting to write about this topic ever since I read an editorial on IGN which discussed the reasons we love zombies. Also, I really wanted to do something to show that Highschool of the Dead (see my review here) wasn’t that bad of a show. However, I got busy and forgot about it for a while. What finally jolted me into writing this was a talk I had with an everyday anime fan I met at the Anime Network panel at NYCC/NYAF. She (!!!) loved Highschool of the Dead along with her daughter (bigger !!!). And even two of the Anime Network employees loved Highschool of the Dead too! So let’s get started!
In IGN’s article, they listed three things that make zombies appealing: you can kill them without consequence (validating murder), they’re funny, and the whole experience is fun. Validating murder gets a little too philosophical for me. In the Walking Dead, there are incidents where the cast have trouble killing zombies because of the idea of murder. But if something is dead already, it’s not murder in my opinion. If someone or something is trying to kill me, then I’m going to defend myself. Of course this is all hypothetical. Zombies are fiction, and if you’ve been following my writing you would know that you cannot truly say you would do something with 100% certainty until you are actually placed in that situation.
However, there are numerous incidents in zombie media where killing a zombie becomes a moral dilemma not because it’s “murder,” but because the zombie in question used to be a loved one. Now this is interesting. I can name a few examples off the top of my head. The first is in the film Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg (see my meeting with him here). Near the end of the film, Shaun’s mother, who he spent half the film on trying to save, reveals that she has been bitten and thus will turn into a zombie upon death. Shaun has an extremely difficult time coming to grips with the fact that he will have to kill his mother to save himself and the rest of the group. Ultimately, he does kill his zombified mother, with tears streaming down his face. This was probably the most emotional part of the film for me. I do NOT want to imagine having to kill a zombified version of my mother; although I would pull the trigger, it’s as I said before–I wouldn’t really know unless I was placed in that situation.
The second example that comes to mind is in the beginning of the manga and anime Highschool of the Dead. The protagonist Takashi is forced to kill childhood friend Rei’s zombified boyfriend Hisashi. This event causes a chain of reactions which plays out over the rest of the series. Rei only dated Hisashi because Takashi was too indecisive. Even though she was dating Hisashi, she still had feelings for Takashi. In order to cope with the stress of a zombie apocalypse, she continues to hold Hisashi’s death against Takashi. However, after he threatens to leave, she breaks down and apologizes, admitting that she is just really scared. Although I found Rei to be extremely annoying, I sympathized somewhat with her situation.
Moving on to the second point in the IGN article–zombies can indeed be funny; just take a look at Plants vs. Zombies. The zombies in that game are presented in a less menacing, comedic tone. But even regular ole zombies can be funny. For the most part, they are portrayed as mindless, emotionless drones who can do some pretty stupid and ridiculous things. Watching them run around and toy with the environment can be a hilarious experience.
Now we come to what I believe is the quintessential reason why I and others love zombies: they’re fun. That’s a pretty ambiguous though. If someone asked you why you love zombies, and you said, “they’re fun,” that would be pretty unsatisfying. Why are they fun? I think the answer is not necessarily because of the zombies themselves but because of the element of survival (I mentioned this briefly in my Highschool of the Dead review). That’s partly why I love Highschool of the Dead. Many are quick to dismiss the show for its gratuitous amounts of fanservice (which doesn’t bother me :3), but if you can look past that, then you would be able to see a good survival story being played out. The dark, solemn atmosphere in zombie media is what really makes it appealing; you really get a sense of hopelessness. The scarcity of supplies like food, water, and ammunition helps add to this atmosphere. Watching a rag tag group of survivors with radically different personalities band together and work through their differences is very enjoyable. (Or in video games, playing a character and guiding them to safety is enjoyable.) It’s all about the drama, the tension, the things people on the edge of death will do to survive.
Fighting a horde of mindless and emotionless zombies also adds to the thrill, especially when that horde has you on the run, with seemingly no way to escape. It brings out the most basic human instinct of self-preservation, which gamers feel as an adrenaline rush if you will (believe me, every time a horde comes in Left 4 Dead 2, I get that rush because I know I’m outnumbered, and I have to fight like a madman to survive). Like I said, it’s not the zombies that make zombie media fun, it’s the element of survival. You could replace the zombies with any other enemy for all I care. It may seem that this whole article is pointless seeing as I don’t really find zombies enjoyable. But wait! I’m not done! Sure zombies in and of themselves are boring, but they are the best representation of a mindless, emotionless enemy. In fact, I believe that zombies have come the closest to transcending fiction and into reality. Many zombie stories are cliche, but at the same time many are believable. They are able to tap into many people’s fear of facing the living dead in a hellish world without rules or reason. What’s the best way to craft a survival horror story? Add some zombies. So while I don’t find zombies themselves interesting, it doesn’t mean I don’t give them a little love. Until next time people…
EDIT 11/3: Jim Emerson, a member of the Chicago Sun-Times and the founding editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, ran a great editorial on his blog on why we love zombies too. Go check it out!