By Michelle Rafferty
The announcement of another zombie tv show, exhibits our intensifying zombie love, but why do we dig this monster so much? He’s everywhere: in our novels, on television, and even the stage, but why? I decided to investigate and narrowed it down to the following:
1.) Monsters are now highbrow.
Steve Asma, author of On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears, told me over e-mail:
High culture aficionados have always looked down their noses at the genre – in part because kids (who generally have no taste whatsoever) are so enviably thrilled by monster stories. And also, truth be told, there have been so many bad monster stories, movies, and television shows, that intellectual and critical dismissal is almost justifiable.
Good monster stories, however, are proliferating of late. Zombie stories, for example, have taken on a whole new level of sophistication – and not just because they’re suddenly cropping up in Jane Austen novels. Good monster stories are only partly about exotic and frightening creatures. Successful monster stories are, of course, about us. They explore aspects of the human condition that cannot be seen or examined straight on, but must be glimpsed obliquely. Lust, fear, rage, vulnerability, craving, alienation, regret; these are the emotional territories that monster stories can explore beautifully.
2.) Zombies are less scary than our own families.
Soho Press just announced it will publish J. Ross Angelella’s Zombie, the story of a 14-year-old boy who deals with all-boys Catholic school and father issues through both women’s magazines and zombie movies.
I asked Justin Hargett, Director of Publicity at Soho Press, why this book is so special. He said:
In the end – this has always been true of good fiction that deals with monsters – it’s got to be about the human characters, as well as offering some window onto society. In the case of Zombie, the kid’s obsession with Zombie movies offers him life lessons and strategies for coping with his family situation, which can be confusing and alienating to a kid.
3.) Zombies make good prime-time after school specials.
On a special Sunday Glee, Coach Beiste and Mr. Schuester cooked up a scheme to bring together McKinley’s divided football team right before their championship game: Zombie camp! After hours of lurch training and zombie make-up sessions the football players really did begin to understand what glee is all about. Brittany put it best:
Zombie camp was funner than I expected. And the glee club together with the football team, it’s like a double rainbow. A zombie double rainbow.
A slushie run-in with the hockey team nearly ended the glee/jock alliance, but the football players come through for the Thriller/Heads Will Roll mash-up half time performance. And then. The team won the big game by staying in zombie costume and growling “brraaaaaaiiiinssss” at the opposing team.
It makes sense the zombie was behind this momentary peace at McKinley High. According to Asma’s On Monsters, zombies classify as liminal (from the Latin word limen meaning “threshold”) because they are neither living or dead. They are difficult to define (like other “monsters” in history including hermaphrodites, the Minotaur, and Frankenstein’s creature), but Asma argues, so are we all:
Of course, the extraordinary and the ordinary are often just different by degree rather than kind. So the extent to which everyone is a little hard to categorize is the extent to which we are all liminal.
I imagine a sage Puck voice-over: Everyone, even the Puckster, is kind of weird. Who better than the monster to help us embrace that fact?