This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April 8, 2010 - zombies

I have zombies on the brain. I am not alone.

What got my attention was "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," by Seth Grahame-Smith. (This incorporates the full text of Jane Austen's novel with a whole lot of zombie issues.)

Then I saw Will Smith in "I am Legend" (which I actually remembered as a science fiction novel, published the year I was born). I also noticed "The zombie survival guide: complete protection from the living dead," by Max Brooks. And of course, "Zombieland," featuring Woody Harrelson, "Resident Evil," and even video games like "Left 4 Dead."

Here's my thesis: trends say something important about the times.

Now let me say right up front that I get the current interest in another, more fantastic creature: the vampire. Vampires are sexy. They are strong, fast, beautiful, even glamorous.

They are also predators. They seek your bodily fluids. They exude conflict and danger and intimacy. Thus, they are exciting and appealing.

But no one ever says, "Whoah. That zombie is hot!"

On the other hand, not only are zombies all over today's books, and movies, and music (ever since "Thriller," now reputed to be in the works as a Broadway musical) but there's the interesting phenomenon of the "Zombie walk."

Imagine that you wander downtown one day to see maybe 50 people shambling in that arms-out, lurching manner, their faces made-up to show ghastly decay. They surround a laughing bystander, who disappears in their midst. Suddenly, they pull back, and now the victim is like them, made-up, shuffling forward, calling for "Brains!"

This kind of street art, a so-called "flash mob" (a bunch of folks gathered spontaneously for extremely silly purposes) seems to have started in 2001, in Sacramento, California. Since then, it has spread to other English-speaking countries: Canada, Australia, the UK.

The Guinness Book of World Records is tracking zombie walks now. The verified record is 4,026 participants. But crowds of twice that size have been claimed.

So what is going on with zombies? They made their appearance in novels and movies back in the fifties. They're back. People are hooked on them. Why?

I have asked some of the smartest people I know about this important issue. Here are a few of their ideas:

* we're media zombies. We hang out in front of the TV. We are too wired into the Internet. We stare at the screen, passive, stunned and stupid.

* we need safe targets for our aggression. I mean, they're already dead. And they're trying to eat your brains. Grab your chainsaws and shotguns!

* we fear that we are ourselves becoming zombies. Day after day, we are less and less alive. We don't pay attention. We are too slow, too dumb, too physically awkward. In our jobs, in our relationships, we may as well be dead. Yet, we move.

* we're scared, period. There was a surge of zombie literature and art, at least in America, after 9/11. We could, at any moment, suddenly find ourselves the victims of incomprehensible events, larger than us, reducing us to mere shadows of ourselves.

* we're surrounded by the walking dead. In some sense, the zombie scenario is about being overwhelmed by others, by the mindless viciousness of the crowd. The individual lost in the mob.

* we have lost our faith in all human institutions. Maybe that's a twist on "we're surrounded by the walking dead." But a lot of zombie movies feature the total breakdown of society. It's Armageddon, the end times, the collapse of culture into chaos. It's the main message of Fox news.

So take your pick. Zombies might be mindless entertainment. Or they might be the symbol for just what ails our culture.

It's worth thinking about. While you still can.


LaRue's Views are his own.

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