Last year I was working in a high school, as an English and Media Studies ‘learning advisor’. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and like many writers – I’ve had a lot of jobs. This one was different every single day, and I got to work with some incredibly amazing students and other learning advisors.
I taught a media studies senior paper on zombies. In the first five weeks, we learned all about George A Romero‘s films, how he used film techniques, for what purpose he used them and how they suited the subgenre of horror – the zombie film.
In the second part of the course, we looked into making our own short zombie films and movie trailers. I have never had so much fun in my life. The course was such a success and the students really got involved! It was so exciting for me to see people truly engage with my class. We had make up artists who weren’t class members come in on their free time to help us with make up. The above photo is credit to some amazing young people whose talents in make up and stage effects just blew me away.
I don’t believe in teaching and not taking part. Besides, who hasn’t wanted to be a zombie? You have to lead by example, and this was perhaps the most fun day I had at work, ever. Of course, I forgot to take anything to remove my make-up with, and it just so happened that that particular day was also a staff meeting day. Good times.
A lot of people don’t understand why I have such an attraction to zombies. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I did a course on Supernatural literature and film last year. Fantastic subject to study by the way!
A good ten odd years ago, Ollie introduced me to the zombie film by way of 28 Days Later. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in the past. I didn’t want to watch it, because zombies seemed like a stupid monster to me. But I got hooked. They’ve become increasingly popular over the past few years – and especially moreso with the introduction of The Walking Dead, adapted from the comic book series by Robert Kirkman.
So what is it, I like about zombies so much?
I think it’s that the zombie is still fully human. They don’t transform into anything like werewolves and vampires do. They remain essentially human. Just dead. Unlike a lot of people, I’m not into zombie films and books for the killing or the violence. I know that sounds pretty contradictory, since the entire essence of a zombie comes about through death. But it’s more than that. If you’ve seen George A Romero’s films, you’ll know that the zombies portrayed in his film take on a personality of their own. They become the symbol of the masses. Confused, dumbed down crowds of humans intent on one thing, consumption.
By the end of his storyline, you feel sorry for the zombie. You’re forced to see the living as the real monsters. I guess you could say, I’m a zombie sympathiser. I like the zombie – much like I like all other monsters of myth and fairytale. The creatures who are misunderstood and hunted for being different. But in zombie films, you also have a small group of survivors. A group of people who fight for their lives and their choices and the right to be different from the rest of the population. The people who don’t want to end up mindless eating machines. The people who can still think, feel and act for themselves. The people who are not just fighting to stay human, but who also end up having to fight other humans in order to keep their humanity. Something you see them struggle with internally as different groups each try to form their own new civilisations – governments who end up warring against one another until only the strongest and ‘best’ survive.
Nothing symbolises the decline of human nature and the base destruction of resources better than the zombie apocalypse. Nothing shows humanity in quite the same way as a human being stripped of both consciousness and life itself, only to be brought back as a cannibalistic, disease spreading eating machine. The great thing about zombies is that they are a relatively new monster. There isn’t a folkloric history outside of the Voudon practice. Unlike other monster mythology which traversed cultures, the zombie came straight from Africa to the Americas and has been shaped into the symbol of the human fall from grace. Our not so distant dystopian future if we continue to be mindless about how we treat each other, and the world around us.
It’s not the carnage and killing that appeals to me. It’s the fact that the zombie represents that human in all of us. The consumeristic, world defiling, destroyer of life. I have empathy towards the zombie because in them, I see all of us, and I’m very interested in the reactions that people have towards the genre itself. The violence they think up, the way that they simply choose to ignore the fact that it all comes down to a brutal, mindless violence. That they don’t see past the zombie make-up and pick up the underlying messages.
Teaching that course gave me a huge insight into the workings of young people’s minds. Some of them truly got it, they understood what it meant, and loved the films for both the shock factor, the horror and the uncanniness. The ‘what if’ factor. “What if this happened?” “What’s your zombie apocalypse plan?” “What would you do?” “Would YOU survive?” Their ability to creatively think and rationalise their own humanity and how to live in a world like that was pretty fascinating. I learned as much from them, as they learned from me.
What is survival anyway? And who are the real survivors?