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Before | After

Out of all the pop culture supernatural creature fads, the only one that ever appealed to me much was zombies. I was scared shitless as a kid by the original Night of the Living Dead, staying up way too late for a 6-year-old to sneak-watch it when my babysitter wasn't paying attention. I didn't see all of it, but what I did see scarred me for life in many ways -- one, I have always been afraid of being out by myself in wide open spaces in the dark; two, nothing ever really effectively scared me after that in movies, and so I've been consistently disappointed by "scary" movies. The most successful ones that have at least given me a hint of heebie-jeebies have all been much like NotLD: low budget, tension-built rather than action or gore reliant, preying on a base fear of being alone and in the dark.

And zombies have always been just a lot of fun to me, their lumbering, shuffling desire for brains and meat, their entrails falling out all over the place, the entire ludicrousness of the zombie concept. I love the variations people come up with for zombie stories, especially ones like in 28 Days Later, where they're so fast and violent, and Shaun of the Dead, where they can become friendly pets you keep in your garden shed. It's easy to manipulate the basic story for fear or funny, and offers a lot of creativity in story handling -- which vampires and werewolves don't really seem to anymore. I'm so, so weary of vampires and have pretty much stopped finding anything sexy or fun in them, although there are still good things coming out with them (though I would argue the stories aren't especially new). Werewolves always devolve into special-effects fests, with endless scenes of someone changing into the wolf with bone-crunching and sinew-tearing and all manner of endless, endless screaming. Yawn. Don't even bother with mummies -- let's face it, they mined it as far as it could go in the Brendan Fraser movies and there's nothing much else to be done with it.

And truthfully, I've always found what people do to other people to be far more horrifying than anything supernatural. Which is partly what's often most effective about zombie stories -- it's what the humans do with, for, and against each other that matters because they're all basically trying to outrun the zombies and not get bitten, or it's the humans who created the mess in the first place. Zombies are of course having their heyday right now, what with The Walking Dead on AMC (not to mention the comics), all the big hit books such as World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Zombieland last year spawning a whole new slew of movies coming out soon.

But alas, even zombie-lover me is growing weary of these guys, too. Partly it's because it is their time, and so they seem to be taking over everything; partly it's because I'm at a point where seeing the dregs of humanity desperately eking out a survival life is not much dramatic fun anymore. Because you know what? Surviving the zombie apocalypse (or the cylon apocalypse, or the superflu in The Stand, or what have you) is just not worth it.

I mean, what do you get? Nothing, that's what. There's no more TV, no more movies, no more music. There's still old existing books (assuming that books don't completely disappear in the next few years thanks to the Kindle and its ilk), but you're going to need batteries and electricity for everything else, which we all know will disappear after a certain amount of time. No more online chat once you're stuck out in the RV in the middle of nowhere, defending your perimeter and hunting for your food. And you won't be reading those books at night, either. You're stuck with yourself and the few people you might have found to hole up with, talking with people you wouldn't otherwise have wanted to even sit next to on the bus in your previous life.

Watching The Walking Dead, I kept thinking, man, I don't believe I'd want to get killed by the geeks and become one, but I wouldn't really want to be a survivor, either. Not with those losers. I'd just hope someone would have the kindness to top me ("the double tap," as they emphasized in Zombieland) so I'd be unable to come back to shambling undeadness once the walkers had snacked on my remains. Because imagine living with Daryl and Merle for the rest of your miserable, unclean, hungry, boring days (and you know Merle's still out there -- what's worse, him or a zombie?). And the wife-beater. And Shane. How likely is it you'll end up with a group of people like you--fan girls and boys you can at least play D&D and recount dialog from Star Trek with while you count down the remaining days of your certainly short and miserably deprived life?

I'm reading Feed right now, a book that takes place after a zombie apocalypse but where there are actually fairly organized and technologically self-sufficient survivors living in smaller cities, with food, tech, communications, and some ability to move around. But it's still deprived to a large degree, and every activity in the outside, because the zombification is predicated on an airborne virus that replicates in certain-sized beings, means elaborate sterilization procedures and convoluted control systems. Now, that's fun. It's not enough to go to work outside your clean area, say, and come home and take off your shoes and tie or pantyhose and bra first thing to make yourself comfy, you have to go through multiple procedures just to get in the house, get to your room, change your clothes (ALL the clothes), and then take a hot bleach shower. Fun!

All those things we take for granted but that make life worth living -- our pets, a good wine or delicious cheese, bacon, the smell of new electronics out of the box, cozy socks -- are all gone, poof! Feed is unusual in that people are living in enclaves with some of the mod-cons still available, but 90 percent of the post-zombie worlds of various media don't even have flush toilets anymore. No, you're going to have to dig holes for your waste, and pretty soon, you're going to run out of toilet paper. Most of you won't even be lucky enough to have an outhouse. And if that's not going to bring the zombies to you, what else will? Well, let me tell you.

Think about the women of childbearing age. Not only are you going to have to deal with the survivalist contingent who will try to turn women into breeding cattle to repopulate the world (come on, how many books have you read with that as a theme? Or movies -- remember 28 Days Later?), but if you menstruate, you're likely to be sending a signal out to the zombies that'll ping their blood radar something fierce. You're one big piece of bleeding meat. And after a time, no more tampons! If you have sexual relations, will the hormones and pheromones draw zombies? What happens to you if you're a survivor but you have some kind of minor medical problem like an overactive bladder, or something more serious like irritable bowel syndrome? Because let's face it, if you're in cancer treatment or something, we know from zombie-media experience that the hospital is going to leave you there as food collateral. How likely is it that you'll meet up with the sweet vatos of Walking Dead for your insulin shots?

We have this great belief in science and technology and the military to somehow contain the situation, find a cure, but of course, that only happens in about 50-60 percent of the zombie media I've surveyed. For the most part, the military is overrun, and science can't find a way to solve it. No, it's always up to a ragtag band of survivors, who have to meet up with another ragtag band of survivors, who inevitably have to band together to create a small society of deprivation and hardship and continue on because by gum, the human race must survive. Unless you were in the most comfortable of climates, you'd be horribly hot in summer, frozen cold in winter, with no power grid to help you out. Without a critical mass of survivors, you wouldn't have enough people to re-create some of the most important services of life. In 28 Weeks Later, the military ends up doing that, but as they let more and more individual survivors come back to London, that's when the trouble starts. That movie ends with an incredibly chilling image of the rage-virus infected overrunning France, meaning it's spread beyond the formerly contained British Isles to the rest of the world, all because one man and his kids couldn't let go.

Which brings me to the most salient fact of zombie-apocalpysedom: People suck. And it's not just the fact that you'll have to band together with crappy people to survive -- the simple fact is you will never be able to trust that someone isn't going to screw you over in some way and endanger your survivorhood. Even if they don't do something with malice, the merest accident could result in you being gnawed on by a rotten-fleshed walking corpse, and there's nothing you can do about it. Sooner or later you're going to run out of bullets to pilfer from the sporting goods store (assuming you're in the States; those of you in reasonable, gun-controlled countries are going to have to learn how to make crossbows and arrows pretty damn fast) and there's a limited supply of Break-Free and other gun cleaning materials out there, as well. If you can't resupply on your own, you'll have to rely even more on others, and that's just not something you should have to do, because people suck.

Your pets would likely have to go unless it could be definitely proven that they wouldn't get zombified (in Feed, they posit that the virus is affected by weight/size, so smaller animals are safe, but this is a rare story in that respect). You couldn't really ever just take the dog for a walk, so exercise-dependent animals like dogs would be a liability in many cases; they'd bark, get antsy and whiny, etc. If they tried to protect you, they could bite a geek, therefore making themselves a zombie-dog and then hello, it's Old Yeller time. You'd have enough trouble feeding yourself, so imagine how hard it would be to feed your kitties (who are obligate carnivores and can't survive on the kind of crappy packaged food we probably could, for instance). Like a lot of people, I don't really like other people nearly as much as I like animals, so having to spend the rest of my days struggling to survive with a bunch of people I wouldn't eat lunch with at work without my pets is just too horrible to contemplate.

No, I'm with Dr. Jenner and the woman who stayed with him in the CDC on the Walking Dead finale--what's the point? You're just going to end up like your wife/husband/child/parent/sibling who got chomped on and turned into a zombie, and who wants that? Better to go out in a fast, relatively painless way, and let the world fall back to the way it was. If I can't have my iPod and freshly laundered jersey sheets and triple-cream aged cheese and kitty-cat snuggles, I don't want to survive. No matter how effectively they rebuild, it's still not going to be the same, and even if the zombies got me, at least I wouldn't have to think about it anymore and consider everything I'd lost. If the zombie apocalypse comes, please, please, aim for my head.

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Dec. 9th, 2010 06:49 am (UTC)
You know, the way you describe it, the zombie apocalypse sounds sort of like living out in the country a couple of hundred years ago (I mean, except for the zombies) - no electricity, no internet, no AC, no flush toilets, no modern medicine - and you're stuck with whatever assholes happen to wind up there with you. I WOULD FUCKING HATE IT!
Dec. 9th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC)
I can kind of deal with having to living a back in the 1800s existence. I've lived in rural areas without a lot of amenities, and I also grew up in camping family from hell (camping, in this case, didn't mean cars and RVs, it meant packing in everything on your back for 12 miles and having only what you packed in). But I never liked it much.

THe thing is, you have to do that with ZOMBIES. It's a neverending threat, so it's not like you can just sit there and take it easy and get used to the quiet life! You will never have a good night's sleep again!!!
Dec. 9th, 2010 07:17 am (UTC)
1) I completely agree with all your points regarding how surviving a zombie apocalypse wouldn't be worth it

2) I have also seen Night of the Living Dead (brr, scary!) but the only other zombie movie I've seen has been Shaun of the Dead. And nothing in-between, separated by about 25 years... no book, no comics, no TV shows, no fanfics, nothing zombie-related

3) I suspect I draw a slightly different conclusion from yours though, because I think that any survival scenario in a post-apocalyptic future would be horrible (grim, dirty, not worth it).

For instance, consider living in the universe of Stephen King's The Stand or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale: I may find it interesting to read about, but I'd far rather die than live in such a world... In fact, I cannot think of a single post apocalyptic future I've ever read about (science fiction is full of such scenarios when you stop to think about it, and I read mostly SF) that I would like to live in.

All of them include the destruction of our civilization and though I will be the first in line to criticize it, I do not think I would like to live in a world where all our technological advantages would have disappeared. And it's not just because I would miss some gadgets or because I would be out of a job - high tech person here! No: it's because the loss of our current level of technology can only result in a loss of hard-earned societal privileges such as the slow decrease in gender and racial discrimination we have seen over the past century.

Our society/culture/civilization may not be perfect, but it's far better than any such dystopian future.

4) zombie apocalypses never seem to be realistic futures we should project ourselves in, so much as an artificial environment in which to reveal extremes of human reactions, which is also the point of most sf stories: well-written SF is not about gadgets, as much as about what they reveal about human nature... but I do not need to say this to a fanfiction writer, certainly not one as good as you

5) your point may be a different one though, about how more recent TV shows expect viewers to empathize with unsympathetic characters? Indeed, there is a fine line between having three-dimensional, flawed, interesting heroes and complete losers/jerks, a line which TV and movie writers seem to be incapable of seeing. Just like they seem incapable of seeing the difference between writing a strong female character and a bitch *coughSGAcoughElizabethWeircough*

If this is what you were talking about, I agree that this is indeed a worrying trend, not just because we lose interest in these shows, but also because such shows or movies end up glorifying despicable characters instead of emphasizing human virtues, such as courage, sacrifice, loyalty... whatever.

6) have you felt lately like writing more fanfiction? I do enjoy your vids, but I am not a very visual person and I really miss your stories, especially your M7 stories!
Dec. 11th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
I wish I knew who I was talking to...

I actually like most post-apocalypse stories. It's just that with zombies comes an entirely new set of problems that can't be solved by living quietly off in some deserted cabin in the woods. In The Stand, at least, assuming you chose to ignore the dreams telling you to go to Boulder, you could live a nice life, the way what's his name, the older guy Stu meets first, was doing, with the dog.
Dec. 9th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
Yep, I am so with you. People in those movies always seem to prioritize survival over anything else, and I just don't function that way. Maybe if I had kids to protect, but even then - what kind of life am I trying to guarantee for them?
Dec. 11th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I wonder how I'd feel if I had a kid that was alive... but I don't know, I'd be pretty tempted to sit us both in the car and turn on the engine, with the garage doors closed. What a horrid decision, though, to have to make!
Dec. 9th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
I remember a long-ago discussion with my mother about post-nuclear survival, and she came to much the same conclusion: that was a world she didn't want to live in.

That future was much more real to me than zombies, back then.
Dec. 11th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I remember that feeling. I actually like post-apocalypse stuff, and have written it, too. It's just the zombie equation that makes me not want to survive it all.
Dec. 9th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
I loved FEED. It was a great book, and I can't wait for the second in the series to come out.

I hate Merle and Daryl (although I love the actor who plays Daryll, mmm, Boondock saints!), and I hate that Merle is still alive. The was one disatisfyingly unresolved plot point :(

Overall, I don't know if I want to survive. I think that if I had kids I would either kill them when it got too bad, or fight to survive with them.
Dec. 11th, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I figure they're saving Merle for a huge arc next season, even though they didn't know if they'd have a next season when they made this one. Kids make the whole decision a lot harder. I think Rick was supposed to be the embodiment of hope in the series, but I doubt I could hold out much of that if I had to spend every moment trying to keep my kid alive but in a constant state of fear.
Dec. 9th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
I really think this is one of those situations where it would be impossible to predict how one would react until it actually happens. I like to think I would fight to the end, but maybe when faced with the reality of it all I would feel more like you do. I guess I put a lot of stock in people's ability to adapt - as individuals and as a society. After all, humans lived and survived for thousands of years without our modern technology and conveniences. It's kind of hard to believe (and a bit worrying honestly) that everyone would fall apart without having any, say, computer networks, which have only existed for a few decades to begin with. Maybe all this modern convenience has made us soft. ;) (But then again, maybe it hasn't! The survival instinct can be a pretty powerful thing, as zombie stories have a way of showing us.)
Dec. 11th, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
I think we're definitely soft. ;-) But that's part of what I like about life! I've lived in rural areas where we didn't have much in the way of amenities, and grew up in a family that backpacked into remote wilderness with nothing but the stuff we carried in, for days and days. And I never ever want to have to live like that. I think most people are just plain unprepared. Not that zombies will ever be real, but of course, most threats are a bit more serious. ;-)
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