Zombie Comedy Literature
It could well be the most obscure genre of literature ever created, but zombie comedy is a distinct art form in and of itself, and its literary canon is growing.
From the very beginnings of zombie entertainment zombies have been inherently funny, they are hideous and terrifying creatures as well, but many of their other features are comical. For example, their awkward gaits (in most incarnations) are similar to Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. Their profound stupidity (in most representations) renders them similar to something from The Three Stooges or The Benny Hill Show. These similarities may not catapult them up to the absolute pinnacle of humorous entertainment, but they are by and large funny.
We see these comical elements as far back as the work of George Romero, where uncoordinated zombies stumble around in their appalling seventies fashions. Many of them caught grinning at the edges of the shot or far off in the distance. There is a slap stick element to the behaviour of all of the undead, they are unable to competently perform many basic actions, it is only their sheer numbers that create a large problem for the human survivors.
Zombie films are also generally full of one-line wisecracks that play on the unease with which the characters are adapting to the incredible social shift that a zombie plague unleashes. The zombie apocalypse provides an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the society which is in the process of being unravelled. The manner in which this unravelling occurs tells us a great deal about human nature, as individuals and as a collective.
In recent times zombie comedy has become far more explicit with the creation of films like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, both of which manage to generate thoroughly unique jokes despite being set in similar circumstances. Shaun of the Dead takes the inherently slapstick nature of the undead and teases it out to its limits. The result is a film that could almost have been made by Monty Python. Zombieland has a much blacker humour, exemplified no better than in the cameo scene where Bill Murray playing himself is shot for being dressed up as a zombie. He forgives his murderer with a small quip and leaves the audience puzzled and amused.
The now best-selling books of Max Brooks are also heavily invested with humour. Mr Brooks uses the zombie apocalypse to delve deeply into social and political issues that affect the world today. As such, the humour is subtle and thoroughly un-slapstick. His work is probably the most sophisticated zombie literature that has ever been created, it is thoughtful, well researched and invested with a deep understanding of the world we live in.
If you are convinced by my assessment of the intellectual value of these entries in the zombie canon, you may still be asking yourself:
“Why would anyone bother trying to write meaningful literature about something as ridiculous as zombies?”
This is an extremely interesting question. On the surface the entire idea seems preposterous. People get bitten and infected with a disease which kills them, rewires their mind somehow and then reanimates their corpses so they can run around biting others. It spreads until almost no one is left who isn't a zombie.
There are a number of reasons why I believe the zombie apocalypse is an effective and revealing literary device. First of all it allows us to tell a story in a world which is familiar to the reader: houses, supermarkets, malls, cars and streets are the world of the reader. Just one little change by the author and the meaning and significance of all of these elements has altered. That one thing is the creation of a disease which changes human beings into flesh craved monsters. The exact details of how this change occurs are flexible, giving rise to many versions in which people die and are reanimated, and others where people are simply infected.
The fact that what has changed to make the world so different is in fact human beings themselves, is the other reason that this literary device is so captivating. It allows an exploration of the boundary between humans and other animals. It allows us to investigate the limits of human morality, identity and ultimately what it is that we are. When we are just a handful of neurological changes away from becoming a monstrosity it is hard to cling to any notion of our inherent superiority.
In short, zombie comedy is an art form that entertains and stimulates. It attacks our basic beliefs about who we are, our own social environment, and it challenges us to see life in its truly fleeting nature. The simultaneous comedic and terrifying nature of the genre places us in such an unusual mind-set that we are able to receive ideas about ourselves and the world that we might otherwise resist.
© 2012 - John e Normal