jmac (prog) wrote,

Why (some) zombie media turns me into a scary jerk

Amy and I were browsing film trailers on the AppleTV when we happened into the one for World War Z, and I started to act squirrelly, biting my knuckle unconsciously. When she stopped the trailer and looked over at me, I angrily snapped at her to bring it back. "No," she said, and shut off the TV. And thus did zombies spoil another evening in our house.

I've been open about my distaste for zombie fiction and its mainstream popularity for some time. I've usually expressed it as boredom at this trope in particular, or disgust at most fantasies about human civilization ending in general. But I have avoided examining the fact that sometimes it makes me furious, zero-to-sixty, like a demonic possession. After this evening's incident, and after the apologies, I resolved to work out where that came from. I came to an answer surprisingly quickly, and I want to get this into writing.

This problem only arises with passive visual media that involve "fast zombies" -- the more athletic, sprinting and snarling variety that have enjoyed prominence since 28 Days Later, versus the lurching, moaning creatures of older pictures like Night of the Living Dead. Twenty-first-century zombies are less like animated corpses and more like living people so completely consumed with rage that all they can do is run around screaming wordlessly, clawing and biting at everything they see.

And the root of the problem is that there is a tiny but undeniable part of me that completely identifies and sympathizes with these zombies. It sees an immediate, realistic depiction of a completely enraged person running down the street, an anger elemental, nothing but screaming and howling and tearing and biting, and it says Yeah, yeah, that's what we want to do, that is EXACTLY what we want to do. Let's do that. Let's do that right now.

I do not do that, because this is such a small, sad part of me, too small to ever get its way. But when it gets aroused, it is loud and sudden with its passion, and these are the times I get confused, and I chew on my knuckle so hard I leave bruises, or I make snarling utterances I immediately regret to nearby loved ones. That's as bad as it gets, and it's bad enough.

It does not happen with video games, because any zombie-themed videogame I've played strongly binds my identity to my player-character, leaving the zombies safely othered. It does not happen with print media, because when I have more control of how I visualize the monsters, I don't make them align so well with my poisonous little homunculus's fantasy. But with film, I am at the complete mercy of the created depiction.

Heretofore, I did not realize that I saw myself in the monsters, and that the intensely negative emotions I experienced watching their rampage was not disgust but sympathy. I wanted to run around as much as I pleased with such total freedom, too! Those people up on the screen had really figured it out, all right. An inspiration.

Amy, who was very kind to sit and listen while I untangled all this out loud, still thinks the whole thing sounds pretty broken. But I'll tell you what I feel a quite a bit demystified and relieved about it all.

(An examination as to the origins of this feeling, and a comparison of my reaction with others', is outside the scope of this blog post.)
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