Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Walking Dead" reminds me what drives me nuts about Zombie fiction on a weekly basis

I like the TV show "The Walking Dead".  Its well acted, the producers treat the subject with respect, the show does its best to use the Zombie Apocalypse as a spring board for observing humans under pressure, the cinematography is okay, and the moral and logistical dilemmas are interesting.  I'm on board.  Mostly.

But, man...  sometimes its hard to buy Zombie Fiction.

I won't go into the logistics of zombie metabolism and how the only Zombie movie I've seen handle the logical endgame of zombies logically was 28 Days Later (organic things gotta eat.  Either the zombies start eating each other, or its a wildfire that will burn itself out).

Nor will I go into how I suspect anything as virulent as Zombie-ism, and that requires a slow death to take effect and renders its carriers nigh-mindless, would likely get quarantined and shut down within two days.

I also won't get into the logistics of the unlikely the spread of anything beyond a localized zombie outbreak would be (do zombies fly on international flights?  If so, the TSA really needs some improvements.).

The one thing I've learned about Us since 9/11 is that if we think a situation is getting slightly outside our comfort zone, we will freak out.  Fear of death (especially of a death that would lead to a wretched, rambling undeath) is an incredibly powerful force.  I mean, it rains a little and traffic gums up for hours.  We think teeter-totters are too dangerous for kids.  Heck, we're currently deciding its not big deal to let perfect strangers take nude pictures of us so we can get to Vegas without having to drive.  And we certainly don't have any problem throwing anyone who is not ourself under the bus in the name of self-preservation.

So when I see a touching scene of a woman still cradling her sister ten seconds after she's gone full zombie and the slightest nip means the same awful fate for her?

1)  We have a pretty good understanding these days of how infection is spread.  If we're willing to stand on the other side of glass in hospitals for newborn babies and send Purell sales sky rocketing when a few people have the flu, I don't see people anybody lovingly cradling their blood-soaked loved ones.  And much like 28 Days Later, if any blood did get on you, you would freak the @#$% out.

2)  I don't know how many people would really sit around and wait for someone infected to slowly die, metabolize, and become a zombie.  Especially while holding or touching that person.  Walking Dead and other shows suggest that we'll all sit through the transformation of our loved ones (or even friendly acquaintances) right up to the point of zombification.  I believe a few people would want to do that, but in any kind of group?  The first rule is going to be "we don't wait".

3)  People are going to let the ones with the least risky plans take the lead.  Given what we now consider completely normal in the name of "national security" and the siege mentality we've agreed to live under in - surprisingly mundane aspects of our lives because its "safer" than if we didn't agree to the changes- suggests we want someone else telling us what to do in high pressure situations.  When you're in the zombie apocalypse and someone suggests "anybody who gets bit gets a bullet in the skull" and you parse it logically, you're going to agree.  And when something bad happens to Uncle Louie, you're going to fall back on the fact that we all agreed, the decision was made when he threw in with your group, and that he's gotta take a bullet.  There not going to be teary scenes as you help guide Uncle Louie to the sweet zombie beyond, and, likely Uncle Louie is going to be onboard with a quick exit.
And I assure you, if you're in my Zombie Apocalypse survival group, anyone who gets so much as a nip is getting a bullet.
And, no, the Zombie Apocalypse scenario is not going to wind up looking too much like a democracy.

4)  There will be safety in numbers, so I don't see people deciding to break off because of philosophical disagreements (unless there's a critical mass willing to give up their safety).  This is going to lead to some bizarre set ups for survivors (which is what I think Walking Dead is sort of trading on as a show, its just not gotten to the tragically pragmatic part quite yet).  

Now, I understand that this stuff (the cradling the zombie-bit sister, carting around a nigh-zombie and leaving him alone with worried looking colleagues) is done for dramatic effect.  Its also done to get the same emotional impact you get when you want to stand up in a theater and tell the co-ed "don't go in the dark room!  The killer is in there!", but...  it always takes me out of the scene.  It just always feels like "hey, somebody here would surely say something."  And, honestly, at this point in my zombie media consumption, I've seen the slow death a dozen times.  I'm more interested in seeing the scene play out where Alpha Leader tells mourning sister "you don't get to stay with her and hold her.  We're not going to let her suffer for hours or days until she turns.  She's laying there until she's passed out, and then we're finishing her and burning her."

As it has appeared in most movies, Zombification isn't a flu.  It isn't even something a lot tougher you can possibly beat with medicine or recover from.  It has 100% chance of killing the carrier and 100% chance of that carrier getting up and rabidly attacking anyone they can reach with their teeth.  I don't even see survivors taking the chance of spreading infection by burying the corpses when the bodies can decompose into the water table, and/ or lie dormant and/ or dig their way out.  I see a lot of pyres happening.

Sure, I've got an Omega Plan in place for Zombie Apocalypse.  Lets just say it doesn't end with sunshine and roses for anyone involved.  And, frankly, I don't really get how and why the nuclear options don't ever appear in zombie movies.  Instead, its almost always scrappy survivors squabbling and trying to figure out what to do with the dead weight victim who will inevitably turn and cause drama.

I do get that part of Zombie fiction is that everyone second guesses the solutions and opinions of those trying to survive.  But at some point, you do sort of get tired of characters doing something because it sounds good in a writing room and not because it seems... true.  Even true to a premise as far-fetched as zombie apocalypse.  Its a concern with a weekly show that it will rely on "dramatic" scenes to keep the juice flowing and get those tears out of the audience.  And I'm not sure how long an audience is going to stick with "Cruelly Pragmatic Survivors of the Apocalypse".   

While I am very much enjoying this season of The Walking Dead, I'm beginning to remember why I quit reading the comic book series upon which the show is based after the second volume.  At some point, I just quit buying some of the story.  I haven't watched the season finale yet, but did watch the 2nd to last episode this evening.   Looking forward to the finale, and I have high hopes that the show is going to last long enough that we'll see all kinds of variations and reactions to Zombie Apocalypse.


J.S. said...

You need to read World War Z by Max Brooks (yes, he's actually the son of Mel Brooks). It poses answers to most, if not all, of the issues that you present in terms of the spread of infection and lack of food sources and the ongoing preservation of walking corpses, etc.. Walking Dead is still in its early stages. I'd be surprised if they don't take a crack at answering some of these questions themselves.
If you're really stuck on the question of why people would have a hard time putting a bullet in the heads of loved ones or nuking an infected city, though, I'm not sure you're ever really going to find yourself among the true fans zombie fiction. The agony, horror, and sadness involved in being forced to make those sorts of decisions is a big part of what draws zombie fiction fans to the genre in the first place, I think. Zombie fiction fans are sort of fascinated by the drama that occurs when people are forced into situations which may have logical solutions, but solutions which nonetheless run counter to some of their most basic human instincts. (Even in Night of the Living Dead we had the little girl in the basement who was slowly turning into a zombie. We all knew where that was headed, but at the same time, we knew it was pretty unlikely that the other survivors were gonna shoot that kid in the head.)
Like you said, zombie fiction is all about the humans, really, and seeing how they react to stress. But how inhuman do you have to act if you want to come out on top in the zombie apocalypse?

JMD said...

Oh, my goodness. I read the first few paragraphs of this post, and thought, "Ryan needs to read World War Z by Max Brooks," and then I scroll down, and see that Steanso has beat me to that recommendation. That book, I think takes zombie fiction to the next level in a way that The Walking Dead does not. If Danny Boyle reinvented zombie horror with "28 Days Later," then Brooks is the next evolution of it. Read it ASAP.

Paul Toohey said...

World War Z is currently being developed as a film, which could be a good thing, or a bad thing. (I have a copy if you'd like to borrow it).

I think I liked Walking Dead more at the beginning, but have kind of fallen off. It really isn't doing anything that hasn't been done before. They characters are alright, but it just seems that they stretched a film out over 6 hours rather then really did something good with those 6 hours. I will continue to watch, because I really am a fan of the sub-genre, but feel I will be disappointed more and more.

The League said...

I should have cited "World War Z" because, two years ago upon your recommendations, I listened to the audio book. The audio book is absolutely great, with all kinds of actors involved telling the different stories (my favorites were the blind guy and the downed pilot).

I do understand that in weeks 1 - 3, you would likely still have a populace of people believing in basic burial rites and traditional modes of letting people die. And so I've been fairly patient, although I do agree with Paul that this basically hasn't brought too much new to the genre that I hadn't seen in other zombie fiction.

I've believed the title "The Walking Dead" referred more to our survivors than to the actual "walkers".

But... most zombie fiction takes place within a small time frame or small geographic area. "Walking Dead" is planning to take us over multiple seasons, and into uncharted territory that, as far as I know, only World War Z has considered.

I'm frankly looking forward to when the show can head into that new territory. The story point where our survivors came face to face with who we believed were yet another roving gang of post-apocalyptic thugs, only to learn they were health care providers for the elderly? Brilliant.

I have always known zombie fiction is about those emotions that come out during a crisis, but I think its odd that the movies and TV shows never have anyone just shoot the girl in the basement. That's as legitimate a reaction to portray as any, and it might at least be novel.

The League said...

also, I did not literally mean "the nuclear option", except where I did.

I was referring to turning to the previously unthinkable in order to prevent an even more devastating thing from occurring.

Yes, I do not know what it looks like and who comes out on top in a zombie apocalypse. Niceties of civilization sort of require that other beings aren't a threat just by existing, so I suppose I am kind of interested in what happens once you start viewing your fellow meat bags as time bombs.

As I said: I have an Omega Plan, and Jamie has been debriefed. Jeff the Cat is being trained to use a detonator even as I speak.

Paul Toohey said...

I hope that when the Zombie Plague happens, I am one of the Healthcare Workers who takes over a hospital and protects people...

(Possible spoilers)

One problem I have with the show, was that Grimes saw the people in the Hospital, and the fact that they seemed pretty safe/protected, yet didn't bother to really tell the group, or take the group to the Hospital...seems like a bit of a plot hole to me. I would think that he would have recognized that the hospital was pretty fortified and safe, not to mention that there is always powers in numbers...just sayin...

The League said...

yeah, it seems like the first thing you'd want to do in case of Zombie Invasion is find walls. Putting yourself in the woods with no protection seems like the last thing you'd think was a good idea (at least they appear to be on a hilltop).

People do funny things, though. In the aftermath of our active shooter experiecne at UT, it was weird to hear some of what people thought were great ideas.

Paul Toohey said...

I think their thinking was to get away form the hordes of walking dead in Atlanta. But I would do my best to get to a more fortified position. I have some pre-writing I did that was sort of a pseudo-zombie started out in the woods.

I can only imagine what some people would think are good scenarios in a situation like that.

The League said...

Starting in the woods isn't a problem. Staying there is a little more iffy. I'm no military strategist, but you're going to want (a) a source of water, (b) a clear field of view to see them coming before they arrive - hills are even better because then they have to come up to you and that takes effort, (c) something between you and them that's more substantive than a tent that will collapse on you and act, essentially, like a net.

And you would never, ever, ever do anything in less than pairs- including "powdering your nose".

Paul Toohey said...

My script wasn't really a zombie script, but had a similar beginning, it probably would have been rubbish.

Here's a pretty good flowchart of what happens during the zombie outbreak

I hope to always be able to "powder my nose" alone...or at the very most with a good magazine.