I Was a Teenage Zombie Fighter
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I was a teenage zombie fighter.

Of course, when I tell people this, they automatically get this image of me running around cemeteries, wearing leather pants, toting a shotgun, and blasting the living dead as they rise from their graves—which wasn't really the case at all. I very rarely wore leather pants.

In grade school, while the playground was filled with kids playing "cowboys and Indians," "cops and robbers," and "war," we played zombies. My mom was well-read on Native American history and folklore, and she shared this knowledge, which was a very valuable lesson but not so much fun, (try convincing third graders to play "cowboy and railroad baron"). Similar moral conundrums applied to the other games, as well. Zombies were the least controversial.

By the time my friends and I got to high school, people seemed to frown on us running around the park, doing combat rolls, shooting fake guns, and biting each other—so we channeled our energy into storytelling. Instead of discussing issues that we dealt with every day—drugs, the great unknown of life after high school, and precarious first relationships—we discussed how to survive the pending zombie Armageddon. This may account for our difficulties with intimacy, since navigating the terrain of zombiedom isn't the best relationship advice you can get (always have an escape route, suspend all emotional attachments, wear leather pants), but it helped us cope with other life events.

These dialogues fostered an obsession with the films that influenced them. In college, my roommate played the Romero trilogy daily, reserving the classic Russo spoof Return of the Living Dead for respite. It was all zombies, all the time—Zombie TV.

Subsequently, zombies have seeped like trioxin 245 (the corpse reanimated gas in Return…) deep into my unconscious. Whenever I get stressed out, legions of undead amble through my mind as manifestations of implicit anxiety. This past January, for example, when holiday stressors were compounded by moving to the city with my girlfriend for the first time, I dreamt I was in a high school gymnasium (an image of terror itself), fighting off zombies using an empty shotgun (no Freudian interpretations please). As unique as these dreams are (and based on the looks I've gotten when I describe them, they are pretty unique), their symbolism may not be as unusual as it seems.

Horror writer Clive Barker has argued that "Zombies are the archetypal monster of the latter part of the 20th century." And the same appears to apply to the beginning of the 21st. In March, the remake of the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead was released following the success of Danny Boyle's stellar homage 28 Days Later (see my review), which resurrected the zombie sub-genre. From a studio perspective, the success of the latter film explains the deplorable House of the Dead (if an explanation is possible), as well as, the Resident Evil follow-up and back-to-back Return of the Living Dead sequels in cue. From an audience perspective, however, perhaps the interest in all things undead may have another source unconsciously related to our current social/ political climate. As a metaphor, zombies have served to symbolically represent colonization, labor issues, manic-capitalism, and the bureaucratic social machinery. In a time of rampant unemployment, when politicians are embedded with special interest groups, thrashing civil liberties, cutting taxes for the rich, and passing on a trillion-dollar debt, perhaps it’s time for the zombies to march again.

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