American Culture

Tales from the Zombie Apocalypse

They’re dead and they’re hungry.

And they’re coming for us. All of us.

Of course, there’s no way to really know when the dead will rise, but many experts (and fruitcakes) think the zombie apocalypse is only a matter of time. I’ve decided I need to prepare—as a matter of good conscience, if nothing else. I’ll want my kids to be safe, after all. Waiting until after the undead swarm has picked the world clean will be a little too late for me to scratch my head and realize, “Huh, the catastrophists were right after all.”

With my 30+ days of creative nonfiction books behind me, it’s time for a new literary challenge.

I’m working this semester with a folklorist who specializes in ‘folklore of the supernatural’ on an independent study project called “Tales from the Zombie Apocalypse.” Over the course of the next four months, I’m going to read a whole lot of books and comics and watch a whole lot of movies about zombies. Night of the Living Dead, here I come!

Because zombies have become so hugely popular in the last decade, the genre is as blood-gorged as, well…a bloated zombie. In order to focus my research a little, I’m going to look specifically at “zombie apocalypse” scenarios instead of zombie tales in general. That doesn’t narrow things down a whole lot, I admit, but at least it’s a start.

The ironic thing is that I don’t like zombie movies much at all. I’m squeamish, and the whole point of zombie movies seems to be to ratchet the gore factor up as high as possible. I don’t have the stomach for oozing, glopping, squishy brain-feasting. Livers can stay inside people, thank you very much.

But when the dead rise, as some people are sure they will, I need to be ready. That means increasing my tolerance for rotting flesh and gouts of blood, I guess—and what better way to do that than to feast on media overexposure, right? Mmmm mmmm, pop culture never tasted so…so….

Well, let’s not think about that, shall we?

Even if the zombie apocalypse doesn’t break out, this should still be really interesting because, bottom line: I can’t shake my amazement with our culture’s fascination with zombies. Yes, zombies themselves are interesting, but the way our culture is ga-ga for them fascinates me way more. I’m like that with Elvis, too. I like some of his music well enough, but I am enthralled with the way people have been enthralled with that man. I not an Elvis fan so much as I’m a fan of Elvis fans.

Watching the Resident Evil tetralogy might be a little harder for me than listening to “Hound Dog,” but I’m gonna buck up and do it. And because I’m so civic-minded, I’m going to share my discoveries so that you, too, can be prepared to survive the coming zombie apocalypse.

While I’ll certainly take my work seriously, I’m not going to pretend that this whole project is anything other than fun. No hoity-toity academic B.S. This is all about fun. (And survival, too, of course.)

Remember, you don’t have to be the fastest survivor out there—you just have to be faster than the slowest person in your group. Knowledge is power. And we’re about to get really smart.

…which is a double-edged sword, if you think about. After all, zombies like nothing more than a good ol’ heapin’ helping of brains…..


8 replies »

  1. I’m not sure you’ll welcome the advice, but just in case it helps really make the sensual aspect of the literature a bit more, um, visceral…should you pass by roadkill whilst driving, stop and be sure to get a good whiff. Better, and only if you can handle the waste of a perfectly good container and a piece of meat (to say nothing of your lunch), put a piece of meat in a sealed container and leave it out(side) for a good while, unrefrigerated, of course. Then open, savor the aroma, and throw away as soon as possible.

    I offer the above only partly in jest! As you noted, the zombie genre ratchets up the gore factor significantly, and not without cause. But the limitation of the creative work is that it’s well-nigh impossible to capture a key element of the horror…the stench. Zombie-genre tales in print occasionally do a passable job of trying to keep this factor in mind, films often miss it entirely, or play it down with the occasional turn up of the nose and quick recovery.

    If my once-upon-a-time mishap with a forgotten cooler (containing hotdogs, no less) isn’t to be a total waste, it should serve as a cautionary tale. A few months of meat sitting and rotting generates far more than just a momentary, “ewwwwww.” It would be a feat of strength to endure the stench up close and personal for more than a few moments, at least until one becomes acclimated.

    I’ll be following your progress on this project with glee! May your experience not be quite so stomach-turning as an awful noseful of offal.

  2. i think you should somehow combine your last series of posts and this one, sort of “zombies at walden pond” or “silent spring, except for the screaming.”

  3. Well then, have a good time–hope you make it back to us in one piece. On your journeys, let me be the first to recommend Stephen Jones’ Zombie Apocalypse. Great fun. Really.

  4. Otherwise, that’s awesome. Imagine classic SF novels, redone in a zombie motif:

    “Second Zombie Foundation” and “Foundation and Zombies” by Isacc Zombimov
    “Rendezvous with Zombies” and “Fountains of Undead” by Arthur Z. Clarke
    “The Zombie Plague” and “Zombie Emperor of Dune” by Frank Zerbert

    And it brings new meaning to “Children of the Mind” by “Orzen” Scott Card.


  5. You’re going to want to swing by and get into the science of zombies. Specifically, you’re going to want to avoid ZOMBIE BLACK HOLES at all costs.

    Just a tip.. and best of luck on your prep.!

    David Madore

  6. Thanks for all the great suggestions from folks. GFW, I’ll definitely be revisiting WWZ. It’s one of my favorite books, so I’m glad to have the chance to look at it again, and with a “critical” eye. David, I have necropology on my list; in fact, I’ll be hitting it up once I finish Matt Mogk’s book. Wuf, I ordered the book on your recommendation.

    I’ll try and post a list of what I’m working with sometime soon.

    Otherwise, your “Silent Spring, Except for the Screaming” made my day. Thanks!