It may say something about my friends that, while at a wedding a few weeks ago, the topic of Zombie apocalypses came up. We sat and discussed plans and tactics for what we intended to do should there be some form of disaster that involved reanimated corpses marching around the urban landscape.
You know, like we do at most parties…
Of course, being Diabetic, I have some particular concerns with regards to my own personal survival. I’d need to acquire insulin from somewhere and while looting a pharmacy or two will help delay things for the initial few months I’d need fresh supply before too long. This was why I spent time carefully researching the methods used by Banting and Best to make insulin in the first place (they used dogs initially but their method works just as well for other species…) and also why it was useful that I had a job as a Protein Purification Technician a while back and therefore have experience of gene transcription, bacterial growth, extraction of proteins from bacteria and the use of FPLC and ion exchange columns to purify proteins… given access to a university, I reckon I could have bovine or porcine insulin manufactured in a very short space of time and, if I can find a stored sample of the right gene, human insulin at some point…
But that is not what I am here to write about today… The above was just the first thing that popped into my head when I heard the term ‘zombie apocalypse’. What I do want to talk about is the way in which the appeal of zombies differs from the other supernatural creatures.
In that they don’t have any.
Yeah, sure, they’re great as an enemy. Hordes of mindless corpses walking the streets in a slow, ambling but inevitable tide* make a great foe for heroes to battle against and wonderful comedy for films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland**. It’s a combination of the horror at seeing a corpse walk towards you (especially if it is the corpse of someone you know) combined with the knowledge that:
a) The zombies will keep going, no matter how fast you run they will eventually catch you
b) The plague itself is going to overwhelm you, no matter how hard you fight there is a chance you will get bitten or a friend will get bitten and every death on your side is another mindless soldier for the enemy… as discussed by Munz et al, 2009
But the zombie has never made it big. It has never crossed the line that vampires and werewolves crossed over the last few decades to become protagonists. Vampires made it because of the whole sexy vibe thing they have going – even as antagonists, even as far back as Stoker’s Dracula, they always had a way with the ladies which added to their appeal. Werewolves have the whole torn by the two disparate sides of their nature thing going for them. It’s not them that commit the horrible deeds, it is the Wolf within them. Dr Jekyll got away with it, so did Dr Bruce Banner and George from Being Human therefore piggy backs on their success. Even ghosts have got a good PR team they can use. For every angry poltergeist throwing things around the room or being upstaged in the creepiness by a small girl, there’s a sympathetic and heartwarming tale of lost love or unfinished business.
Zombies… well, they’re walking corpses. They have no humanity because they are, well, a walking corpse. Sex appeal? Well, they don’t seem to stop rotting and bits fall off. Important bits that, you know, people might like to have available for any sexual activity. Plus they smell and while girls may go for someone who dresses like a grunge kid who has gone through a leaf shredder they tend to draw the line at the smell of rotten corpse. Not to mention the whole neocrophillia *ew* that even Vampire love stories get sometimes…
Ok there are some exceptions. Being Human (again) had quite an interesting tale of a zombie girl in one of the episodes. That was a sympathetic character but it did not end well and she wasn’t really protagonist material. And Pratchett, who is always looking to subvert cliches, has good old Reginald Shoe (see picture below) who has made it through several Discworld books as something which might approach protagonist status (well, certainly strong supporting character status), not to mention Reaper Man which had a zombie as a hero. There is also Nicky Heath in Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels who is sympathetic (and also paranoid, obsessive and cranky but these are very human traits). However, I would argue that these exceptions don’t add up to a great deal of evidence that Zombies can cut it in the protagonist role save in very exceptional cases and they do demonstrate that zombies need to change significantly before they can be used as such.
All of the above, for example, are articulate and intelligent human beings who became intelligent and articulate zombies. This is important as you cannot get the sympathy vote if all you can say is ‘Braains’. They were also, with the exception of Reg Shoe who always has bits dropping off, largely ‘fresh’ and, in the case of Nicky Heath, keeping himself that way by the use of embalming and other methods with characteristic obsession. Both of these things matter – the closer you are to looking and acting human the more likely you are to get people rooting for you as a hero. Without this, you are no good for anything other than a stumbling enemy looking for a shovel to the head.
So, in conlusion, I would say that there is little room for the standard Romero zombie in the role of a hero. I would also say that the further you take a zombie away from that cliche, the better they become as characters but they still don’t really quite seem good for the role of protagonist. You could probably take them far enough to make them viable but at that point do you really have a ‘zombie protagonist’ at all? Do you not simply end up with a Vampire who does not drink blood?
Of course, I am happy to be proven wrong so feel free to add a comment about your own ideas about Zombie heroes or examples of Zombies in film or literature which may count as ‘heroes’ which I have not mentioned above and discuss what you think makes them a hero and a zombie…
*Unless it is ’28 Days Later’ or a few other movies, in which case only Olympic grade sprinters get to be Zombies.
** And to a lesser extent the rather excellent zombie episode of series 3 of Misfits where a zombified cat proves to be the most difficult foe to defeat to much hilarity.
This is a blog chain post so you must also, by law, read and comment on all the posts in the chain. It’s international law, too, so you get tried at the Hague for breaking it and no one wants to go all the way to Holland so it is best to just do what the law says. Links are all below…
Participants and posts: dclary – www.hardhobbittobreak.com (link to this month’s image) orion_mk3 – http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to this month’s post) randi.lee – http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) Ralph Pines – http://ralfast/wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post) writingismypassion – http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) dclary (again) – http://www.davidwclary.com/ (link to this month’s post) SinisterCola – http://acgatesblog.wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post) PragmaticPimp – http://www.unfoldingmyth.com/ (link to this month’s post) magicmint – http://www.loneswing.com/ (link to this month’s post) SuzanneSeese – http://www.viewofsue.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) J.W.Alden – http://www.authoralden.com/ (link to this month’s post) AFord – http://writeword.blog.com/ (link to this month’s post) Diana_Rajchel – http://blog.dianarajchel.com/ (link to this month’s post) pyrosama – http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) Nissie – http://www.paperheroes.net/ (link to this month’s post) MonkeyQueen – http://www.mylifewithmonkeys.com/ (link to this month’s post) areteus – http://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com/ (link to this month’s post) pangalactic – http://sonofflash365.blogspot.co.uk/ (link to this month’s post) Sweetwheat – http://gomezkarla.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) Penelope – http://poet-slash-writer.blogspot.com/ (link to this month’s post) kimberlycreates – http://kimberlycreates.com/ (link to this month’s post)