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Amy and I were browsing film trailers on the AppleTV when we happened into the one for World War Z, and I started to act squirrelly, biting my knuckle unconsciously. When she stopped the trailer and looked over at me, I angrily snapped at her to bring it back. "No," she said, and shut off the TV. And thus did zombies spoil another evening in our house.

I've been open about my distaste for zombie fiction and its mainstream popularity for some time. I've usually expressed it as boredom at this trope in particular, or disgust at most fantasies about human civilization ending in general. But I have avoided examining the fact that sometimes it makes me furious, zero-to-sixty, like a demonic possession. After this evening's incident, and after the apologies, I resolved to work out where that came from. I came to an answer surprisingly quickly, and I want to get this into writing.

This problem only arises with passive visual media that involve "fast zombies" -- the more athletic, sprinting and snarling variety that have enjoyed prominence since 28 Days Later, versus the lurching, moaning creatures of older pictures like Night of the Living Dead. Twenty-first-century zombies are less like animated corpses and more like living people so completely consumed with rage that all they can do is run around screaming wordlessly, clawing and biting at everything they see.

And the root of the problem is that there is a tiny but undeniable part of me that completely identifies and sympathizes with these zombies. It sees an immediate, realistic depiction of a completely enraged person running down the street, an anger elemental, nothing but screaming and howling and tearing and biting, and it says Yeah, yeah, that's what we want to do, that is EXACTLY what we want to do. Let's do that. Let's do that right now.

I do not do that, because this is such a small, sad part of me, too small to ever get its way. But when it gets aroused, it is loud and sudden with its passion, and these are the times I get confused, and I chew on my knuckle so hard I leave bruises, or I make snarling utterances I immediately regret to nearby loved ones. That's as bad as it gets, and it's bad enough.

It does not happen with video games, because any zombie-themed videogame I've played strongly binds my identity to my player-character, leaving the zombies safely othered. It does not happen with print media, because when I have more control of how I visualize the monsters, I don't make them align so well with my poisonous little homunculus's fantasy. But with film, I am at the complete mercy of the created depiction.

Heretofore, I did not realize that I saw myself in the monsters, and that the intensely negative emotions I experienced watching their rampage was not disgust but sympathy. I wanted to run around as much as I pleased with such total freedom, too! Those people up on the screen had really figured it out, all right. An inspiration.

Amy, who was very kind to sit and listen while I untangled all this out loud, still thinks the whole thing sounds pretty broken. But I'll tell you what I feel a quite a bit demystified and relieved about it all.

(An examination as to the origins of this feeling, and a comparison of my reaction with others', is outside the scope of this blog post.)

Date: 2012-11-19 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This reminds me a little of what my daughter does when she sees something on TV or in a movie that scares her (like, say, the bear scenes in Brave). She doesn't start crying or asking for comfort; she gets angry and starts yelling at or (more when she was younger) hitting people in her vicinity. It seems to be more or less indiscriminate lashing-out. She won't admit that she's scared, at least not immediately.

I haven't tried to unpack in detail what feelings she's having. Part of it might be the desire to identify with the aggressor.

Date: 2012-11-20 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your last sentence is mean. I had thoughts because what you said was interesting, and it sounds like you don't want to discuss? You should just block comments if you don't want people to discuss reactions, no?

Date: 2012-11-20 10:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No meanness intended. It was my way of explaining why I myself wasn't going to dive into any deeper reasons for this. I see the tone is snippy in retrospect, borne of the late hour and my own feeling agitated at having worked this through and looking directly at an unlikeable part of myself. I apologize for that.

Please do share thoughts if you have some (here or else channel).

Date: 2012-11-20 10:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I meant mean in a mostly teasing and good-natured way, though I did feel somewhat thwarted. :)

I found it interesting that you associate zombies with rage, as I have never really seen them that way. I see insatiable, mindless hunger in zombies. It's my understanding that in a Joseph-Campbell-Jungian-philosophy way, monsters often represent not external fears but internal fears- parts of ourselves that we fear or haven't accepted as parts of ourselves. We project our own self-fears onto monsters, as a way to make them other-separate from ourselves. (This happens at a cultural level as well. There was an interesting piece around Halloween on Radio Boston about Dracula that spoke a little to that:

This view of monsters feels intuitively correct to me. And if it's correct, it makes a lot of sense that you would see zombies as rage-filled whereas I would see them as insatiably hungry. Not that I don't also sometimes want to tear down the world, but mostly I just want to binge on brains.

Date: 2012-12-07 07:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was just today thinking about the opening scene in"28 Days Later" where the guy tells the terrorist not to open the cage, because the monkeys have "Rage!"

I've never identified with zombies in the way you describe, but once upon a time I would have. I just wasn't watching zombie movies back then.

Your account makes perfect sense to me, to the point where I can recall precisely the first time I realized--much to my shock--that I wasn't identifying with the monster: Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet", during Hamlet's rant to Ophilia: "I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us..." It was a real surprise to realize that once upon a time I would have seen myself mirrored in that, and not a small part of me either.

Today, I see zombie movies as more about deontology: they tend to pose moral dilemmas for the characters where actions are only loosely connected to consequences. Under those circumstances, deontological, principle-based morals dominate. This is quite unlike ordinary life, where actions and consequences are very tightly coupled and therefore consequentialist morals are the most important thing. "The Walking Dead" is fairly good at posing these problems (unfortunately, the characters are fairly bad at solving them... or maybe fortunately, as I guess that makes for better drama.)

Why it is specifically zombie movies that do this, I'm not sure, but they seem like the kind of horror trope that is used most effectively this way.

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