Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Stupid, Stupid Zombies
On the one hand, you're doomed. On the other, the only thing standing in the way of you levelling is the size of your magazine. I don't know. I see a disconnect here. This thing about contradiction: wherever you sit on A and not-A, you shouldn't ought to think both at once.
The flip side of being doomed is
You get killer boots and a red dress!
I think I get what it's about. I could get all humanities grad student here, but, really, best not. It comes down to this, that there's you, and there's the red dress, handed down by the Big Guy in the Sky. Or some guy at the worstest corporation in the fiction-universe. (In real life, Umbrella's "business plan" wouldn't make the top 10 list of stupid.)
Now, I don't hate zombies, even if the last zombie movie I really enjoyed, even including Shaun of the Dead (sad face!) was Night of the Comet, slow pace aside. But the red dress is a problem, no matter how much my inner Y chromosome might like it. Jeff Smith throws rat-tails at his protagonists again, and again, and every time the story gets deeper and richer, even if he can't stick the ending. Zombies go the other way: more, morer, morest! You have cool, and no story, and it doesn't matter, because story is your story.
What? The reason that I'm talking about zombies now is that my sister can't even get confused about how to kill them without my niece explaining the facts of life to her. Head shots all the way, Mom. That's what we learn in first grade! So if you've got an extended magazine, Arizona-style, you're safe as long as there aren't more than 30 zombies.
Except, and here's my problem: there are always more zombies than you have bullets. You seem to have agency. But you don't. Unless you happen to be the protagonist. In Max Brook's World War Z, the United States Army, with all its technology, gets routed out of New York because it doesn't understand how to kill people. Government. Eventually, the US army is reorganised around line rifle fire tactics, and slow marches back across the continent, head-shotting convenient mobs of zombies like a particularly accurate Eighteenth Century army.
No subtext there! I wonder if Max Brooks understands that some thought went into this before he came along. Yes, people, unlike zombies, go for cover. But that makes them harder to kill. Because, and this is a little-known scientific fact, I admit, brains are an evolutionary advantage. That's why, more than a hundred years ago, the the French invented this in order to improve on the killing power of a gaggle of riflemen. The basic concept was to shoot people lots, and if those people choose to stand around taking it for a long time, well, lots of people end up getting shot. (Look, Ma! I'm Aristotle!) Ever since, it's basically been upwards and ever onwards for the killing people arts. Headshots admittedly not guaranteed, but there's always chainmail hipwaders and a splitting ax for tidies after.
The story of a zombie movie is that there's an apocalypse, and you survive. When the red dress shows up, it says that you didn't earn it. If you're chosen to wear it, you can kick all the zombies to death. If you're not, it doesn't matter if you've got a gun, a tank, or the US Army on your side. The zombies will walk across the bottom of the ocean. They'll defy the laws of thermodynamics and your own made-up rules. They won't get freezer burn. They'll be in the house waiting for you. They'll get you.
I could worry about who gets the red dress. For example, if I were going to criticise Brook's politics (and, Lordy, what else do we do on the Interweb?) I'd point out that he gives it to Israel and South Africa and take that to town. But I'm not, because I have a Generation X objection instead. The red dress is story-nepotism. The protagonist isn't the one that earns it. The protagonist is the writer's nephew, and the story saves his worthless butt so that he can make lots of money and have the nice vacation and house and tell you that he earned it because he hasn't the faintest idea how hard it is to kill zombies if you don't have the story on your side. Good stories feature people who become protagonists by working hard and persevering and doing brave things. They teach that in first grade, too. But the noise drowns it out.
Fine thing for someone who can't even nerve himself up to ask a girl out to say. But still....