Ahhh…the fall season is almost here. Temperatures are cooling off, the kids are back in school, pumpkin spice-flavored everything is right around the corner, football fans are getting their jerseys out of mothballs…and zombies. Yep, it’s that time of year again when the zombies come home to roost and feast on our brains.
The modern staple of zombie season is The Walking Dead, the series that just won’t die (heh heh). A cheap-looking knock-off on the SyFy Channel called Z Nation apparently received healthy enough ratings to merit a second season, and this year, we’re treated to some early preseason action in The Walking Dead prequel, the not-very-well-named Fear the Walking Dead. I watched the pilot episode this past weekend and I wasn’t terribly impressed. I’m not a big zombie fan to begin with, but I have been following The Walking Dead since the beginning and it’s held my attention through the years. Fear the Walking Dead, on the other hand, seems over-engineered and badly acted, at least as far as the first episode goes. It’s still too early to tell how the show will fare, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
Zombies have stuck around after the vampire craze died down (can I get an “Amen!”) and even that wave has crested on the big screen. The Walking Dead has carried the torch, becoming one of TV’s biggest shows and keeping the public enthralled with the undead. Zombie runs and survivalist obstacle courses are bigger than ever, and with Halloween being only a couple of months away, millions of people are starting to brush up on their prosthetic and makeup skills.
I’ve read a few zombie novels of varying quality, but what often strikes me is how wildly fanciful and cathartic the stories are. Average people, thrown together by a world descending into chaos, become butt-kicking warriors of the apocalypse, mowing down their re-animated neighbors while the weaklings get feasted upon. (Simple truth: unless you’re law enforcement, the military, a sportsman, or a hoarding survivalist, you’re dead meat in a zombie apocalypse). I see this with fans as well: there are a lot of people that actually WANT a zombie invasion to sweep the land, to cleanse the world of credit card debt, mortgage payments, humdrum jobs, and general malaise, and make each day an adventure pregnant with purpose. Bear in mind that these people are usually living relatively comfortable lives in developed countries; ask someone who actually lives in a stricken land if fighting for your life every day is exciting and fun.
I’m currently working on a book set in medieval Europe during the Black Death plague. From the historical accounts that I’ve read, that period was as close to an actual apocalypse as we’ve gotten, minus the zombies. Populations were decimated, cities and villages left in ruins, the worst of human nature was laid bare, and even the land itself was gripped by misery and decay. People were running for their lives from an enemy they couldn’t see or understand, and civilization crumbled.
There have been some fairly realistic cinematic portrayals of pestilence (Outbreak, Contagion) but simply fighting a disease is no fun. Slaughtering sick people is odious but slaughtering walking corpses is not only acceptable; it’s good sport. You can have the thrill of the kill without the moral guilt. In fact, you’d be doing the living world a favor by exterminating the pests. It’s all just in the realms of imagination of course, but the eagerness with which many people yearn for this sort of worldwide clean slate speaks to the unfortunate fact that society seems to have just thrown in the towel.
Science fiction hasn’t been very optimistic for decades but it’s pretty weird to see people actually craving an apocalypse. The obvious question is: what comes next? In the zombie stories that I’ve read, if there is actually an end to the plague, the world that remains is brutal, tribal, and barbaric, and that seems hardly like a better alternative to what we have today. The book of Revelation informs us that a devastating apocalypse is indeed coming, but there is hope for redemption during and after the chaos and madness.
This sentiment is strong among Christians as well, especially as the world seems to be falling deeper and deeper into a downward spiral. To just throw up our hands and say, “You know what? I’m done with all this crap!” is a petty and immature way to view our lost and dying world. A zombie apocalypse, or any apocalypse for that matter, can be fun and even cathartic on the page and on screen, but it should never be taken too seriously. As believers, we are here to be a light in this world, not pray for fire and brimstone.