John L. Campbell, author of Ship of the Dead, joins SciFiChick.com today to talk about the popularity of zombies…
UNDEAD ROCK STARS
by John L. Campbell
I was in line at a deli the other day, and the young man behind the counter made a comment about zombies. Always on the lookout for a chance to promote my work, I asked, “Do you like zombies?” He looked at me as if I was slow-witted and said, “It’s 2014, man.”
He’s right. In recent years, zombies have become such an integral part of our culture that the question isn’t, are you into zombies, but, how deep are you into zombies? They have shambled their way into mainstream advertising, video games, film and television, apparel, special edition weaponry and products, and of course, books and graphic novels. These days you can’t throw a stick in the air without it landing on a zombie, or someone who loves them. It’s gone beyond trend and into the realm of phenomena.
As a zombie and horror author, how exciting is it to be in the center of this cultural whirlwind? Zombies have been cool for a long time, and Mr. Romero has sat at the head of the table since he dragged their dead flesh in front of a camera so many decades ago, but they’ve never been as hot as they are now. Why are we seeing such a resurgence in the zombie tale? And why are fans devouring them like never before? Authors tend to be opinionated, so I’ll share some of my own thoughts on the matter.
The attraction to the genre exists on several levels, and appeals to people for different reasons. Some of it is what I call the Video Game Mentality (and that’s not a negative…I love video games, though my system has been disconnected for over a year, since no one is paying me to play Xbox, and for me, it’s a huge distraction from writing.) This attraction involves the ability to kill without consequence or moral question. Who is going to challenge you about destroying mindless predators trying to eat your family?
The next level of appeal is the Everyman Factor. A great deal of zombie fiction, my own included, involves characters who are not super soldiers or trained survivors; they’re everyday folks hurled into extreme situations, and this connects with readers. Perhaps more than any other genre, zombie apocalypse stories compel the question, “What would I do if…?” When I read a Jason Bourne story, I know he’s a highly-trained, professional killer, so when he’s put in peril, I’m confident he can handle it. But what happens when Kyle, the kid who can’t decide if he should stay in college or keep working at the gas station, is suddenly faced with the terrors of surviving ravenous hordes of the undead? Is he smart enough? Fast enough? Will he try to help others, go it alone, or simply give up? This brings a new level of suspense. Also, this is where the reader says to himself, “He was stupid, I wouldn’t have done that.” That’s true engagement.
Freedom rings a bell with readers, and by that I mean the freedom that comes with a zombie apocalypse. No more job or annoying boss, no more commute or worrying about bills, no more longing for the things you cannot have. You can simply take them…if you’re quick enough. It’s about surviving, and we all like to think we’re smart enough to pull it off. (Most of us, myself included, would be wrong, and thus the growing ranks of the undead.)
Finally, there’s the Reset Philosophy. We’re steadily growing disconnected and faceless in our society, becoming drawn into the Horde by technology that makes it no longer necessary to connect with people in person. The velocity of life in general is accelerating, and many people are finding it difficult to keep up, to remain relevant, to have a voice. Confidence in government and corporations is low, fear of foreign and domestic threats is high, and we see aspects of our lives and culture spinning out of control (random violence, hate crimes, economic instability and fears that maybe we’re not getting an honest accounting from the people we’ve elected to positions of responsibility.) An apocalypse hits the stop button, and the survivors are the reset. Will they make the world a better place this time around? Maybe. First they’ll have to avoid being eaten. The central and perhaps most attractive element here is hope, and who doesn’t want that?
No matter how you explain it, there’s no arguing that zombies are back, dominating popular culture, and show no sign of going anywhere. Will they hang in for the long run? Have vampires? Glittering and angst-ridden bloodsuckers aside, they’re still pretty popular.
But zombies are much cooler.