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The Web and the Undead

Jim Willis Published: May 11, 2013

I was talking to my college students a couple weeks ago about their favorite TV shows.

Turns out that most  don’t actually watch TV but, among those who do, The Walking Dead emerged as a must-see show. And this from a couple of the brightest kids in the room.

Curious, I thought. What is there about the undead that young people today find so inviting and mesmerizing? Is it a leftover fascination spawned from reading Twilight  books in middle school and  high school? Is it a feeling that all zombies look like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson? Is it disillusionment with the real world? Or is something else going on?

Students Shara Evans, of West Bloomfield, Mich., left, and Maia Frieser, of New York, act during a "zombie apocalypse" exercise, which included students dressing up as the undead, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tuesday April 23, 2013. The exercise was designed to get School of Public Health students thinking about what the appropriate response should be during a disaster. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Students Shara Evans, of West Bloomfield, Mich., left, and Maia Frieser, of New York, act during a "zombie apocalypse" exercise, which included students dressing up as the undead, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Tuesday April 23, 2013. The exercise was designed to get School of Public Health students thinking about what the appropriate response should be during a disaster. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Zombie sites

In the online world you can commune with lovers of the undead all you want. There are even index sites which take you to the Web’s best vampire sites. Of course some of these indices take you to only their affiliated sites, but that’s another matter. On one index I found, the site  garnering the most votes seems to be from Transylvania (why not?), but there are plenty of ones in English. For example:

* Adrian’s Undead Diary

* Diary of a Runner

* Zombz

* Todd the Zombie

* Zombie Day 

And the list goes on and on.

Here’s what Adrian’s Undead Diary says about itself:

“Welcome to Adrian’s Undead Diary. Adrian Ring is our intrepid hero here, having just barely survived a world consuming apocalypse of the undead.  Adrian’s Diary chronicles his battles with the zombie hordes and his ongoing struggle with survival.  Read and understand exactly how he completed his hero’s journey, avoiding starvation, zombies, injuries, fellow survivors, and sickness, as well as sharing in his humor and his horror.

“We are not only attempting to share some high quality zombie, undead and horror genre fiction, but also to build a friendly community of like minded folks!”

Next follows a standard online disclaimer that the site contains cussing and crude stories, always guaranteed to lure in the under-18 crowd who is “warned” stay away.

Comeback kids

However batty it seems, zombies have made a pretty good comeback over the decades. Not surprising for the undead, though, right?

When I was a kid growing up in Midwest City, there was a late-night Saturday program called Shock Theater, and it often featured Bela Lugosi as Dracula, the best-known (before Pattinson and Stewart) zombie. Our neighborhood gang loved it, and we would hold “Shock Parties” in each other’s homes to watch the human bats suck the marrow from life. Not exactly what Robin Williams had in mind in The Dead Poet’s Society, but it worked for us.

A few years later came the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, and the bats were on the wing again.

Then the bat caves turned silent for a long time, unless you count the Batman phenomenon but, again, that’s another story. A few years ago, however, the stirrings of the undead arose once again as the Twilight saga hit the big screens after a sizeable audience of teens had been primed for it through the series of book

People dressed and made up as Zombies     during the annual Zombie march in Madrid, Saturday Feb. 27, 2010. The zombie march is in homage by fans to the Zombie film genre and to U.S. director George A. Romero, famous for his Zombie horror movies. (AP Photo/Paul White)
People dressed and made up as Zombies during the annual Zombie march in Madrid, Saturday Feb. 27, 2010. The zombie march is in homage by fans to the Zombie film genre and to U.S. director George A. Romero, famous for his Zombie horror movies. (AP Photo/Paul White)

.

TV finds the undead

And then AMC unleashed The Walking Dead and it found a huge audience. All of a sudden, parents were wondering what was happening to their kids and grandkids, forgetting (as grown-ups usually do) that they were fascinated by the same vampire genre when they were kids.

Actor Brad Pitt will bring even more attention to the zombie craze in the upcoming World War Z as he races to save the world from a zombie apocalypse.

Recently, Terry Mattingly who writes a religion column for Scripps-Howard News Service, took a look at the current zombie craze among young people. He quoted the editor of Good News, a Methodist magazine, as saying the following:

“It may take five minutes or it may take as long as 10, but sooner or later you’re going to run into some kind of zombie comment,” said Steve Beard. “Someone will say something like, ‘When the zombie apocalypse occurs, we need to make sure we’re all at so-and-so’s house so we can stick together.’ It’s all a wink and a nod kind of deal, but the point is that this whole zombie thing has become a part of the language of our time.”

Something deeper?

Beard believes that the fascination is not actually about zombies at all, however, but actually points to something deeper.

“Truth is, The Walking Dead is not about zombies,” he says. “It’s a show about people who are trying to figure out the difference between mere survival and truly living. How do you decide what is right and what is wrong? How do you stay sane in a world that has gone crazy?”

So, if I’m following this logic correctly, young people may be feeling that zombies have found a way to do what many in my generation did when they decided to turn out to LSD and drop out of the establishment for awhile. Joining hands with the undead may be a way to live in the world, yet not be a part of the world. It’s another attempt at human-made spiritualism, and its results will probably be as predictable as that which came from LSD.

Hmmm…

Or, Beard’s framing aside, perhaps the zombie craze is just another way of featuring buckets of blood and violence on the screen without having to believe real people are being hurt in the process.

Or, back to my earlier speculation, there is something to be said for feeling as if you look like Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart …

Virtual virtuality

Tossing technology into the mix, what makes the current fascination with the undead different from previous eras, is that now young people cannot only commune with other lovers of the undead, but they can do it in the unliving world of the Web. It’s another way of living with fantasy in a place of fantasy.

Good escapism maybe, but one wonders if that’s really  what the world needs more of today.