Remember George A. Romero’s classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead”? Prior to this film, zombies (like those in movies of the 1930’s) took a much different form than the zombie as we know of today. These creatures were actually people under the influence of Haitian Voodoo. They were slaves to their creator, who controlled their every action.
It wasn’t until the 60’s that zombies become associated with the gory flesh-eating monsters of today. But even then, the zombies of the popular Hammer films of that decade were controlled by some sort of mastermind. It was Romero that took away the zombie master, and turned zombies into today’s mindless swarm of undead bent on nothing but consumption.
So why am I talking about zombies now, especially this close to the holidays? While my blogging cohort discusses “A Christmas Story” , why have I chosen to discuss the walking dead? Well, anyone who has gone Black Friday shopping knows just how zombielike a consumer can become the day after Thanksgiving. My family and I has done Black Friday shopping the last six years, and each year we’ve braved the coldness of the Wisconsin winter in order to find “the ultimate door buster”. We are the zombie consumers that wonder the streets outside the stores, the shopping malls, and the coffee shops during this real-life Night of the Living Dead.
The zombie hunger that we see in films and video games certainly reflects our society’s unquenchable appetite for consumption. But instead of craving flesh, we desire a delectable bargain. We brave subzero temperatures for a free plush bear or $200 off the cost of a large screen HDTV as if unaffected by the climate. We mob the outside of retail buildings before the doors open and swarm the checkout aisles after they do, when normally we would never even tolerate standing still for more than 20 minutes.
It reminds me of the scene in Romero’s sequel “Dawn of the Dead” where Francine Parker asks Stephen why the zombies came to the mall that the survivors were hiding at. He replied, “Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.” If we were to actually become zombies, how many of us would end up going to the mall? How many would end up at our museums, libraries, or theaters. For some reason, I suspect most of you would find me at work.
Though never called a zombie in the film, the undead creatures of Romero’s original classic certainly affected my notion of what a zombie was at the time. In Night of the Living Dead, the walking corpses were pretty slow moving. Like the first tanks that were introduced in World War I, these beasts were clunky, but relentless, and nearly unstoppable. With possibly two specific exceptions, my first experience with the hordes of consumers during Black Friday was very much like that as well. We moved in large groups from station to station, picking up what we wanted and moving on to the next station if everything was picked through that “victim”.
In more recent Black Fridays, however, I found that we needed to be faster, more aggressive, or more coordinated. We had to race to the door busters this time, if we wanted to get what we desired, or someone else would get it first. We can see this in most zombie movies too, as year after year, the victims had become scarcer and scarcer as zombies diminish the survivor population. The survivors therefore start to space themselves out further apart in small isolated pockets throughout, just like the door busters in the stores had to do. And as a result, some consumer needed to adapt to this. We had to become more aggressive or faster consumers like the zombies in modern films and graphic novels such as “28 Day’s Later”, “Zombieland”, or “Steve Nile’s Remains”. Or we did what the zombies in Romero’s “Land of Dead” did…get coordinated.
Zombie horror has always been a reflection of society. In some ways, zombies are about our need to consume and our relentless drive to achieve what we are after. Surprisingly, zombies have adapted and changed over the years, as has the modern consuming public. As the zombies have change, so have the survivors. They too need to adjust to the changes in zombie tactics. Maybe the more we understand the workings of fictional zombies, the better equipped we are at tackling the next consumer night of the living dead.