Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Growth of the Zombie Myth

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 10 Apr 2012 12:00
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It seems it's still impossible to avoid zombies as far as cultural phenomena goes. First it was a sub-genre of horror, now it's an all-purpose device to crowbar into any property in order to wring out some additional, off-canon fun times, as with Yakuza Dead Souls, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare and that Pride and Prejudice thing. In this column I've already covered my theories as to why zombies are so popular - to recap briefly, because they represent consequence-free fun violence, life after death and a new lease on life for people who long for the challenge of post-apocalyptic daily existence - so today I'd like to catalog a few updates to the zombie myth.

Zombies are basically part of the folklore of modern urban society. I look at the phenomenon of 'zombie walks' and I'm reminded of ancient tribal ceremonies in which the menfolk would dress as evil spirits from their campfire tales and run around hooting and smacking the children. A thousand years from now people will probably assume that zombies actually did exist from all the stories we tell about them, in the same way we tend to picture dragons and wizards actually existing in medieval times.

But! Folklore is an ever-evolving thing that is constantly getting bits stapled on and levered off in the unending process of linguistic Chinese whispers that occurs as the stories are passed from generation to generation. The whole vampire concept originated (according to one theory, anyway) from the practice of staking corpses in coffins through the heart so they don't slide around when the pallbearers stumble. From that starting point poor Dracula has somehow accrued all this other baggage over the years: he hates garlic, can turn into a bat and all his kids hate him.

In the same way, zombies started out fairly simply as shambling grey corpses that endlessly hunger the flesh/brains of the living, and if they bite you you slowly die, then get back up as one of them. But with their endlessly being used in movies, TV and especially video games, the zombie myth has acquired a whole bunch of new 'rules' that are fast becoming the new standard. Rules such as:

1. Zombies will slap up a bitch.

Back in my day zombies would just try to clumsily grab you so that they can devour your flesh. Consequently it was fairly easy to shake off a single one of the buggers, but things get complicated when there's enough of them to be a threat capable of holding you down. Now zombies run, and when they catch up with you, they actually try to punch you. Usually by flailing their arms really hard. Suddenly one lone zombie isn't the laughable threat it used to be. This may be partly because zombies, especially videogame ones, kinda need more than one kind of attack if you want the protagonist to be injured without necessarily being infected.

More broadly, though, both running and punching are covered by the single point that zombies have suddenly gotten a lot more angry than they used to be. I always thought the idea of zombies, one of their scary aspects, is that they're not the people they used to be, they're just the reanimated flesh with no personality or emotion. I'm pretty sure anger is an emotion, guys. Or is this going to turn into one of those 'they're not zombies, they're infected' arguments?

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