We all know about Christmas wishes, but am I allowed to have a Halloween wish? If I could, I know what it would be: that by this time next year, I would be able to read, watch, or listen to anything or go anywhere without being constantly bombarded by images of the living dead – because really, the whole zombie fad of the past half-decade has simply gone on long enough.
Since around the time of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, zombies have become ubiquitous: zombies are the big thing on television with The Walking Dead; “zombie walks” are taking place all over; and conversations about the “zombie apocalypse” are omnipresent in real life and online. Even KX96 has been getting in on the zombie thing recently. So, if you’re someone who finds the whole thing deadly dull, there’s no escape. It’s a nightmare scenario scarier than any zombie movie.
I can understand the appeal of zombies as a Halloween costume – and it’s pretty much the same appeal they have for Hollywood movie producers. They’re just about the cheapest costume you can have without looking too cheap – just throw some fake blood and gore on your face, maybe get some tattered clothes, and voilà. Easy, allows enough room for creative interpretation, and appropriate for the season.
But as a wider cultural phenomenon? Talk about stretching a thin premise way past the breaking point. Zombies are probably the least interesting monster in our greater popular culture – neither a misunderstood beast like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, nor a villainous schemer like Dracula: just a vague threatening presence. With all the cultural specifics of their West African and Caribbean origins long since scrubbed out, as Western civilization is wont to do with traditions coming in from outside Western Europe, zombies are a bore: a blank slate. This is why they were perfect for filmmakers like George Romero to turn into vehicles for social metaphor. They were simply things to project meaning onto, not things with any meaning themselves.
But what meaning do zombies have these days, aside from “zombies are cool”? It seems that most people interested in zombies only really want to see what was already done in Night of the Living Dead, with no new ideas or interpretations. And they want to see it over and over and over again. Familiarity is said to breed contempt, but it can breed complacency as well, something that marketing has taught us well. People know the post-Romero zombie clichés, and they’ve enjoyed them before, so they repeat them in hopes of getting that enjoyment again. Like a drug addiction, however, they will need more and more zombie things in order to attain that high – and the process will continue ad infinitum. And since zombies are a cool thing now, they are given license to go through that process publicly, subjecting the rest of us to the zombie fervour.
So please, Great Spirit of Samhain, make the zombies go away.