October 24, 2009

Episode 16: The Z Word

Ed: Are there any zombies out there?
Shaun: Don't say that!
Ed: What?
Shaun: That.
Ed: What?
Shaun: That. The 'Z' word. Don't say it.
Ed: Why not?
Shaun: Because it's ridiculous!
Ed: Alright...Are there any out there, though?
Shaun: Don't see any... Maybe it's not as bad as all that. Ohp! Nope, there they are.
Shaun Of The Dead

The apocalypse has a face and its name is zombies. Whatever the cause, the result is always the same. The dead have risen in huge numbers to feed on the living. With each victim they claim, their numbers swell, and no force on Earth can contain them. As society collapses, it's up to the remaining humans to fight their way to safety or keep shooting until things blow over - but they rarely do.

As everyone knows, the word "zombie" has its roots in the Voudun beliefs of the Caribbean, referring to a body "revived" and enslaved by a sorcerer known as a bokor. The culture that created the zombies was born in forced labor, so the horror to these West-Africans wasn't getting eaten by a zombie, but becoming a zombie — a mindless, senseless, unfeeling slave for eternity. Even as the mass media of today focus on the repulsiveness of the living dead's feeding habits, this core concept of the zombie remains to be one of its most relevant aspects - especially in the George A. Romero films.

In fact, George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead is responsible for the wide-spread usage of the word in modern context as well as the layers upon layers of social criticism presently attached to it. As the 1968 cult film was accidentally entered into the public domain due to an error in the end credits, it quickly became the object of imitation and emulation by many other directors. Most zombie invasion stories nowadays follow the same conventions, even as some specific zombie tropes are inspired by the later works of John Russo, Night's co-writer.

The classic "Romero Rules" for zombies include:
  • The effect is pandemic; anyone who dies arises moments later as a zombie, whatever the cause of death, unless they suffer damage to the brain.
  • The bite of a zombie is infectious, and is always a fatal injury, even if it seems a trivial scratch. This results in the victim returning as a zombie, much to the horror of the zombie infectee.
  • Zombies are slow-moving, lumbering, and stupid. Give them a door knob and they will be forever confused.
  • It is generally the case that a single zombie is not a tremendous threat. The threat of zombies generally stems from the fact that they tend to turn up in mobs. This trope is largely symbolic in nature.
  • Zombies can be killed only by destroying their brains, though rendering them immobile is usually taken to be just as good.
  • Zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living.
The "Russo Rules" are similar, but include several specific differences:
  • Zombiism is a virus. Zombiism results only from being bitten by another zombie, though event zero created the first zombie that starts off the chain reaction.
  • A zombie bite results in zombification, though the transition is slow, with the victim becoming progressively more zombie-like. Zombies generally become stupider and less human over time.
  • Zombies are stronger than humans, which is a bit strange given that there bodies are decomposing.
  • Zombies are specifically compelled to eat the brains of living humans. Zombies still possessing the power of speech may begin talking rather obsessively about smelling brains, before their minds deteriorate and leave them saying only, "Brains..." They say "brains" because Russo zombies find being dead very painful, and eating brains is the only thing that eases that perpetual agony. Once they've sated themselves, they can apparently talk and think normally in the interval before the hunger returns.

Of course, zombie flicks have progressed since 1968 so nowadays they are both more dangerous and less attached to the basic zombie concepts and rules. 28 Days Later, for instance, replaces the living dead with abnormally aggressive humans. Regardless of the changes, the basic points of all zombie films are essentially the same: it is never about the zombies as much as it is about the humans trying to deal with the zombie apocalypse. Speaking of which, if you would like to get prepared for the eventual apocalyptic event, check out this zombie survival wiki.

Zombie apocalypse stories usually fall into one of two categories of political allegory. Some zombie films are really a political statement against capitalism and consumerism, with zombies representing the bulk of humanity as unthinking sheep (example: Romero's Dawn of the Dead). On the other hand, zombie horror advocates hardcore individualism and libertarianism, with added emphasis on the heroic "well-prepared" survivalist, and death to anyone who dares show compassion for others or cares about anything other than their own personal survival. Zombies also seem to fit the aliens-as-communists archetype, while the military is never anything but an obstacle at best, and often is directly responsible for the ensuing mayhem.

On to the show that aired on 18 September, and was largely about the music with fair amounts of Goblin and Zombi against firsts such as The Flaming Lips. Before you check out the playlist, remember to visit Television Tropes & Idioms, a grand website that inspired most of what's written here.

>>> Download playlist, Barb!

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