Call a Zombie a Zombie
Note: I am attempting to blog once a day (weekdays only, let’s not go crazy) for the next month about issues I think are incredibly important. This is my fifth post.
May 2012 was the peak of the bath salts hysteria. A man in Miami, Florida, attacked a homeless man, knocked him unconscious and proceeded to eat some of his face. The attacker was ultimately shot and killed by the police, and in the immediate aftermath, the authorities speculated that bath salts, a stimulant, were to blame for the attackers unusual behavior.
The media really ran with that one. Bath salts, for a minute, became the new national drug scare. “These drugs can make you a cannibal!” was the sensationalistic take, the subtext of many headlines.
Take, “Face-Eating Cannibal Attack May Be Latest ‘Bath Salts’ Incident,” published by ABC News, for example. Of course, ultimately, no bath salts were found in the man’s system, but by then nobody cared. We’d already moved on to the next thing.
As soon as this news broke, however, people made the natural connection. The top comment in this ABC article nicely sums it up: “zombie apocalypse — heading towards zombie land.”
This is what has stuck with me. Well, this and the horrifying details of the news story that sparked this whole thing in the first place (side note: when I searched for this news story, one of the top search term autofill’s added in the word “image.” Why do you want to see a picture of this, you monsters!?).
But anyway, my main takeaway: people are really, really quick to jump to using the term “Zombie.”
Anecdotally, I remember a lot of zombie mentions and some lighthearted discussion about a forthcoming “zombie apocalypse” online. To verify this, I did a quick look up of Google search history, and my oh my, will you look what I saw.
That really big peak you see there happened when this news broke.
Which all makes sense. Zombies, especially after the success of The Walking Dead, are a part of the cultural mainstream. The term itself is a part of everyday life. Feel sick? Appear a little under the weather? You’ll likely refer to yourself as a zombie, or someone will helpfully point out that you look like a dead corpse come back to life. Nice!
So, if this is such a popular term, why does our media mostly refuse to label zombies as zombies? This drives me crazy. So many zombie films have “the infected” or some other similar term. The Walking Dead, probably the most popular piece of zombie media ever, refers to them as “Walkers.”
How lame is that? Walkers? How does that differentiate them from the non-zombie cast, who’s main method of getting around involves… walking? It’s not even the most descriptive way to describe them. Their most identifiable aspect isn’t that they walk, it’s that they’re dead and really like to eat people.
It just seems to me if you had the advantage of the built-in myth of zombies, you’d use that term. I know, for me, whenever I consume some zombie content that REFUSES to call a zombie a zombie, I’m immediately taken out of the story. Half the time I get the impression that the characters just legit do not know the term, almost like these stories are happening in a world where the concept of zombies doesn’t exist. Which if true… why? Seems like a nonsensical decision.
Does the concept of being reborn after death just not exist? I get that there can be different factors for what makes a “true zombie,” but for me it’s simple:
· Died, or infected by a disease that at some point stopped the heart
· Eat people
· Animalistic in nature
· Cursed, though zombies mainly seem to be disease-derived these days
If your “infected” fall into any of these buckets, I’m sorry, but you’re a zombie. Please update your label accordingly.
The other half of the time this term is not used, however, I get the impression that the characters in the narrative are just extremely hesitant to actually say “zombie” and choose to tip toe around it instead. As though using the word will make it more real, like they’re bringing a horror movie to life. Which makes sense, I guess, if most of the population were deathly afraid of horror movies and could imagine nothing worse than living in one. Which, based on the information above, seems to be anything but the truth.
Even Shaun of the Dead, probably my favorite zombie film, does something similar, as seen in this transcript:
Ed: Are there any zombies out there?
Shaun: Don’t say that!
Shaun: That. The Z word. Don’t say it.
Ed: Why not?
Shaun: Because it’s ridiculous!
Ed: All right… Are there any out there, though?
People are all too willing to attach “zombie” to any zombie-like behavior. The same thing goes for behavior that reminds us of vampires and other popular creatures. If someone was brought back to life using organ parts from other humans, you bet your ass “Frankenstein” would start trending.
Of course, zombies are inherently ridiculous. This likely makes filmmakers, writers and so on want to add a dose of realism to their work by just ignoring the word. What this does, however, is make the work even more unrealistic. It’s just human nature to jump to conclusions and see monsters where there likely aren’t any. We all just lived through the 2016 election. If it’s not clear to you now that we ARE NOT rational thinkers at our core, then it never will be.
Good horror has to have a firm understanding of human behavior. Of how we’d react to certain situations. People would be tweeting about zombies, lock it in.
So just call a zombie a zombie already. Though, with all this being said, at least “the infected” is loads better than the awfulness that is the vampire stand-in of “night walkers.”
Cause vampires hang out at night, you see? Yuck.
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