Why are Zombies being mixed with my Jane Austen?
Most people seem to agree that zombies and other monsters are an open testament to a troubled time. Zombies found their peak in George Romero movies, and they reflect whatever we might fear. These monster stories cover everything from pure horror to campy humor. Bela Lugosi appeared in 1932’s White Zombie, based upon traditional Caribbean voodoo, which was followed in 1943 by I Walked with a Zombie, also a Caribbean voodoo story line. Zombie stories were very popular during the Great Depression. So what does this hodge podge of information say about “Zombies”?
It says that zombies and similar monsters represent different things in different times. Zombie stories in the 1950s symbolized the Cold War; in the 1980s, they represented pollution. Beth Accomando in “Zombies Invade NPR,” says, “Zombies are the blank canvas to reflect whatever scares us, be it racism, disease, or the end of the world.” She goes on to say, zombies “reflect the fact that people are currently in crisis mode.”
Unlike vampire stories, which have been found in literature for hundreds of years, zombie stories are a relatively new phenomena. Haitian folklore involving the raising of the dead by a voodoo master appears to be the basis of zombie stories; and, like the folklore, troubled times seem to raise the dead. Nowadays, zombies symbolize the global economic recession and a world in turmoil. Where vampire story lines touch on “divisive” issues, zombies satirize the demise of contemporary culture. 1994’s Interview with a Vampire reflected our country’s varied opinions on AIDS; 1968’s Night of the Living Dead demonstrated our angst during the Vietnam era, even going so far as to dehumanize the combatants. The Vietnamese were “a faceless people, who wished to do us harm” – such as portrayed by the zombies.
Currently, we are being bombarded by countless zombie stories: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, which is a novel turned into a movie and being produced by Diablo Cody of Juno fame; Zombieland, which starred Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin; World War Z, a novel by Max Brooks, which has been turned into a movie by Marc Foster, director of Quantum of Solace; Resident Evil 5, a zombie video game, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which is being made into a Broadway show. Zombies plus subgenre combinations seem to be the way of publishers. For example, Star Wars: Death Troopers is a mix of zombies and science fiction. In fact, a romance anthology, entitled My Zombie Valentine, exists.
One of the ideas, which I found very unique, came from Illogic Tree, which purports that American politics set the trends for zombie and vampire films. Quite simply, zombies are popular when a Republican is in office because “Republicans fear the revolt of the masses.” And likewise, vampire films are popular with a Democrat in office because “Democrats are often fearful of upper-class America and believe the rich are bleeding the country dry.” Illogic Tree even using statistics to prove their point that vampires are “blue” and zombies are “red.” According to the article, 183 zombie films were produced in the seven years that Bush was in office (beginning in 2000). During Clinton’s era, we saw Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, Blade, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, as well as many other less popular offerings. Who knows whether this idea is true, but is it not just fascinating?
Again, how do zombies fit in with my Jane Austen? Lev Grossman in “Zombies are the New Vampires” says, “Apparently no one is safe from the shambling, newly marketable armies of the dead — not even Jane Austen. The author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith, tells a tale about a strangely familiar English family called the Bennets, who are struggling to marry off five daughters, while at the same time fighting off wave after wave of relentless, remorseless undead — since, as the novel’s classic first line tells us, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.’”
Grossman continues, “It is surprising how easily Austen’s novel succumbs to the conventions of a zombie flick. Much of Austen’s work is about using wit and charm and good manners to avoid talking about ugly realities like sex and money. In Grahame-Smith’s version, zombies are just another one of those ugly realities. ‘What was so fun about the book is the politeness of it all,’ says Grahame-Smith. ‘They don’t even like to say the word zombie, even though their country is besieged by zombies. They’re everywhere, and people are literally being torn apart before their very eyes, and other than the very few, like Elizabeth Bennet, who face this problem head on, they would almost rather not talk about it.’”
Grossman goes on to say, “If there’s something new about today’s zombie, it’s his relatability. Sure, he’s an abomination and a crime against all that is good and holy. But he exemplifies some real American values too. He’s plucky and tenacious — you can cut off his limbs and he’ll keep on coming atcha. And he’s humble. You won’t find zombies swanning around and putting on airs like some other monsters. They’re monsters of the people. So, down with vampires. Long live (or is it die?) the zombie: the official monster of the recession.”