S.G. Browne, author of the fantastically funny Breathers, a contemporary dark comedy about life (or undeath!) talks about the rise of the zombie and how he thinks they’ll continue to invade our films, books and TV shows for a very long time …
People are always asking me about zombies:
Have you always loved zombies?
Do you think you’ll survive the zombie apocalypse?
Is it necrophilia if you’re both dead?
In case you’re curious, the answers are:
Yes, no, and probably not.
Truth is, I’m not an authority on zombie sex. However, I do know a lot about sloughage, frothy purge, and cadaver impact testing.
For some reason, this troubles my parents.
But the one question that seems to come up most often is:
Why do you think zombies are so popular right now?
I’m asked this question because I’ve written a dark zombie comedy called Breathers, available now from Piatkus, that was optioned for a film by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Those are my credentials. I’m not a professor of sociology or a student of popular culture or an expert on the living dead. I’m a writer. A published author. Someone who spends hours alone in front of his computer making up imaginary stories about imaginary people.
Or, in this case, about un-people.
So why do I think zombies are so popular right here and right now?
I suppose you could make the argument that zombies are an allegory for the end of the world as we know it. That the current mainstream popularity of zombies is a direct reflection of global fears regarding the economy and terrorism. Horror as catharsis for the fears and anxiety of a society making commentary on itself. You could even argue that zombies are the proletarians of the monster hierarchy and in troubled economic times, they become the poster child for the financial ills of a nation.
A lot of others who are asked about the popularity of zombies agree with this hypothesis. Me? Not so much.
While it makes sense that zombie films can flourish in an economic downturn due to their typical lower financial risk at the box office, I don’t know if I believe that the current surge in zombie popularity is a direct reflection of global fears.
Truth is, I think people have a tendency to apply social context where it doesn't exist.
After all, where was the zombie mania during the Vietnam War? Watergate? The Iranian Hostage Crisis? The Stock Market crash of 1987? The first Persian Gulf War?
Where was it? It didn’t exist. Not on this scale.
I believe the recent surge in zombie popular culture, both in fiction and in film, can be attributed to the fact that zombies have been taken out of their proverbial archetypal box. No longer are they just the shambling, mindless, flesh-eating ghouls we've known and loved for most of the past four decades.
They’re faster. Funnier. Sentient.
In addition to running like Olympic sprinters, making us laugh, and thinking for themselves, today’s zombies write poetry (Zombie Haiku), perform household chores (Fido), and invade classic literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). They can also be found on YouTube going to marriage counseling and on iTunes singing to their former co-workers (Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains”).
In short, they’ve expanded their range, become more versatile. More well-rounded. And who doesn't enjoy a well-rounded zombie? Plus they’re tragically comical, shuffling along, losing their hair and teeth and the occasional appendage. Add the fact that they used to be us, that we could all become them one day, and you can’t help but relate. Which is, ultimately, why I think we find them so compelling.
Werewolves? They’re the jocks of monsters. Full of testosterone, pumped up on steroids, sprouting hair and fangs, howling at the moon, always trying to be the center of attention. I just can’t take them seriously. Plus no one ever worries about a werewolf apocalypse. I mean, come on. That would be ridiculous.
Vampires? They’re like fraternity boys. All pretty and full of themselves and constantly trying to get you into bed. Every move they make, all the posturing they do, is just a smokescreen to lure you in so they can feed on you. Drink your blood. They’re insincere. Hiding their true motives. Scam artists.
Zombies, on the other hand, don’t try to impress you with their good looks or their charms or their ability to burst out of their Lacoste polo shirt every four weeks. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not. They wear their decomposing hearts on their sleeves and aren’t ashamed to say: “I’m a zombie and I want to eat your brains.”
They have an unpretentious veracity. You have to admire that in a monster.
The other question I’m often asked about zombies is:
Do you think zombies are here to stay?
Truth is, zombies never went anywhere. They’ve been starring in low-budget films and mass market paperbacks for most of the past forty years. They’re just finally being appreciated for their diverse talents and given the opportunity to show that they’re more than one-dimensional monsters. Instead of being case in supporting roles, they’ve become the leads, the stars, the marquee attraction. And as long as writers and film makers continue to push the boundaries of the mythology, I think zombies will remains as popular tomorrow as they are today.
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