Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Surviving the Blog

One of the things that has struck me as I've embarked on this project is just how many really fun and interesting zombie blogs are no longer active. Sooner or later this will result in a post on the decayed state of blogging. For now, though, I want to focus on my favorite active blog, Surviving the Dead.

This blog is everything a zombie blog should be: movie reviews, survival strategies, and cool shit, updated regularly. Launched in September 2012, by educational designer (children's book author and pretty sweet cartoonist) Mike Kloran, Surviving the Dead offers its followers a perfect little microcosm of all that matters most to zombie fanatics everywhere. In the last month alone, Surviving the Dead gave you the chance to vote on your favorite zombie hunter (I picked Peter from Dawn of the Dead, in a true zombie hipster moment, when Tallahassee from Zombieland is probably the far better answer), reviewed movies ranging from Fulci’s Zombi 2 (Worm Eye!) to the far less impressive Zone of the Dead, and completely ruined your
appetite (oh, and you thought the Zombie Meatloaf Face was gross). Thanks for that, Mike; you have me picking through my spaghetti looking for eyes and teeth. Nothing to see here, Olive Garden. Dissecting my pasta is toooootally normal…

What made me finally decide to do a write up on Surviving the Dead, though, was the most recent post: Too hot for zombies. Basic rundown, though by all means follow the link to check it out, is that Kloran calls into question the widely held zombie survival strategy of heading north. Although Mike

certainly raises some interesting points (in a real zombie apocalypse, the realities of putrification and decay would come into play, right?), I am more interested in the practice in which he is engaging than I am in the particularities of his argument - I’m from Buffalo, so he had me at “sun” and "warm weather." Lake effect snow AND zombies? Oh God, just bite me already and get it over with! 

Although… if you set enough zombies on fire, they might make nice walking bonfires...
Is it just me, or do these marshmallows taste funny?
Where was I? Umm, oh yeah, like I was saying yesterday, a large part of the allure of zombie narratives is their unique ability to draw audiences into a first person understanding of the “realities” these fictions represent. They put you there in ways that other types of storytelling can only aspire to. So much so, that fans of the genre (a very debatable term, here) find time to consider the conventions of the genre separate from any specific story or text. When Mike expands on the pros and cons of various climates in a zombie apocalypse, he isn’t explicitly engaging the sun scorched zombies of The Dead or the thawing Nazis of Dead Snow (aside: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead looks friggin’ awesome. Watch the trailer because I said so);

instead, he is engaging the genre more generally in a way that audiences just don’t seem to for, say, Westerns, Mafia films, or World War 2 movies. Even within the context of horror, we spend more time considering particular incidents of a vampirism (Dracula) or a supernatural serial killers (Michael Myers), than we do the traditions of their form. It is always about this vampire, this monster - localized, specific – as opposed to the indefinite and thus global reach of the possibility of a zombie outbreak.

There are two very important things at play here. First, zombies are not particular. It is never about THE zombie, no matter how interesting or cool Bub or Big Daddy or Fido are. Even these very singular zombie “characters” operate more as manifestations of the realities of their zombie apocalypse than they do as individuated personalities. Indeed, as pointed out by Victor Infante while discussing the zombie’s openness to metaphor, “A zombie by definition has no personality.” 
As such, it is the situation in which we find Bub or Fido, more than Bub or Fido themselves, that interests us. Because we can extrapolate that reality and map it onto our own. In a way, then, our consideration of the zombie figure is both not localized to a particular narrative, but also hyper-localized to our own actualities. Our own settings, our own skillsets, our own loved ones shape our considerations of any given zombie plague, perhaps more so than those provided by the zombie stories we can’t get enough of.

Which brings me to my other point: the zombie audience appears to play an extensive role in shaping the conventions that inform the narratives. For example, Romero never called them zombies in Night of the Living Dead. He called them all kinds of stuff, “ghouls” most prominently, “murder happy characters” my personal favorite, but the name “zombies” seems to have been attributed by fans (unless I’m wrong and no one called them zombies until Peter did in Dawn, but that doesn’t seem to be the case; I'll get back to you on this). Similarly, though Romero’s zombies typically have some semblance of consciousness, that trait has largely been culled from the zombie canon because audiences don’t respond as well to it as they do to mindless eat-machines (I won’t get into it too much here, but my thesis will articulate this trend in terms of the work of Franco Moretti, particularly “The Slaughterhouse of Literature,” which contends that the market, i.e. readers, shapes what literature lasts and becomes canonical).

Which brings me back to Mike Kloran’s decision to head south (it does if I say it does!). Mike is explicitly contradicting a “convention” of the zombie apocalypse that seems to have been entirely manufactured by its “what would you do?” playing audience. Though Max Brooks compellingly illustrates the drive to head north, and its horrific consequences, in World War Z, he is just working off of a scheme that had already been established in hypothetical conversations around the world. As Kloran points out, "Everyone has thought of this." However, where Brooks merely destabilizes the idea – the zombies will freeze, but you might have to eat people to get by – Kloran takes the idea and shoots it in the face, exposing it for what it always was, a malformed corpse of a plan that would never in a million years work. Cold will preserve the zombies.
Any cold cold enough to freeze the zombies will freeze me first because I need my blood to circulate in a way that they (apparently) don’t. The fire I use to keep my blood from forming ice crystals will attract the well-preserved zombies I am trying to avoid. Starving and freezing to death are not exactly conducive to keep me at my zombie fighting and fleeing best. Going north would suck. Sorry if that was your plan. Now, the real question is, if enough people discuss these critiques of heading, and accept their logic, will the Head South strategy gain enough traction to become a new convention that will inform zombie fictions that have yet to be written?

You tell me…

**Cartoons by Mike Kloran

1 comment:

  1. I agree, there is a huge plot hole in the idea of go north, but part of what I would encourage you to do here is to think critically about this idea as its own cultural construct. Part of what I might suggest is that the idea of heading north to outrun danger, death, and even disease is an old one, and it is also a culturally constructed one, particularly in the US. Can we overstate the imperative to head north towards freedom for the enslaved in the generations before the civil war? Can we think of the refugees amassed on our borders today who are attempting to outrun the violence and destruction of their homelands? Can we think of the ways in which the north, due to the difference in climates, has been less prone to certain kinds of tropical diseases thats till kill many--malaria, dengue--and are transmitted by mosquitos (it may be hard for us to adjust to the cold, but we can do it; mosquitos cannot). While I am not disagreeing that the idea of the north is problematic, I am suggesting that the idea to flee north is a culturally, socially, and economically embedded one that is, as you point out, not just the consequence of strategy.