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Books / Entertainment / movies / April 20, 2009

Such a clever satire of a repressed society. Such an apt continuation of George Romero’s “cleverness,” his allegorical critiques of American culture in Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead.

But that’s exactly the problem. Just like it’s grossly stupid to think of Pride and Prejudice as a story of people who were witty and mannered in order to avoid dealing with sex and money, so it’s sickeningly dumb to reduce Romero’s films to allegories condemning Our Racist Society or Our Militaristic Society. Yet ask a zombie-film-loving idiot what he likes best about Romero films, and if he’s a true idiot he will tell you his favorite thing is when the zombies go shopping in the mall in Dawn of the Dead. Terrific satire of the mindlessness of Our Consumer Culture! CONSUMER culture, get it? Get it?


Let’s try to get this straight, people. The greatness of Romero’s trilogy is not in its allegorical devices. It’s in the way these devices go into the meat grinder along with everything else. Romero comes up with the most appallingly realized vision of abject horror ever conceived, the complete Darwinian nightmare on film, and people think he’s doing nothing more than riffing on topical events.

And they’re at it again with this zombie revival. Lev Grossman at Time opines,

It was the beginning of the end for vampires when Lehman Brothers went under, those bloodsucking parasites. Down with vampires. Long live (or is it die?) the zombie: the official monster of the recession.

And Adam Cohen of The New York Times chimes in,

Zombie stories often end with a hearty band retreating to a small, secure space — a cabin or a shopping mall — and fighting for survival. It is the horror movie’s equivalent of embattled investors today who are shifting their retirement funds into cash and stocking up on gold and canned food.

The danger is that this kind of guff gets such wide circulation, writers and filmmakers start to believe it and create new zombie works that are just as stupid as the critical take on old zombie works. Romero himself was not immune, and seemed to make his later zombie films in accordance with the thin satirical notions he’d read about in some cinephile journal: It’s all about corporate culture! See how one of the zombies is carrying a briefcase?

So now it’s Recession Zombies, or Repression Zombies, or Psychobabble Zombies, or something just as weak. My one remaining hope is that World War Z might be good. People say that though author Max Brooks is Mel Brooks’ son and an SNL writer, and though his earlier Zombie Survival Guide is clearly a parody (that succeeds by its solemn, wooden seriousness), World War Z is an excellent addition to the zombie canon. I’m frankly afraid to read it. Is it any good? Could it possibly be any good? Readers, please advise.

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  • 1. John Christy  |  April 20th, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Seth Rogen and Diablo Cody et cetera need to be purged from the earth

  • 2. Bill  |  April 20th, 2009 at 10:14 am

    I knew this day would come, but it isn’t any easier. Also I agree with you 100% on Romero. The man crafts the most basic and terrifying Thanatos-fest imaginable and all anybody can do is fall over one another trying to come up ways in which the films hold up a mirror to our shitty society.

    My reason for commenting is to strongly encourage you to read World War Z. He maintains the deadpan tone that made the guide so successful. The horror lies in how matter-of-fact he makes the collapse of society at the hands of flesh eating ghoul seem. The book also manages genuinely incisive and topical satire.

    Throughout the book I found myself saying, “This is EXACTLY what would happen if there really were a zombie apocalypse.” From China acting as if nothing were wrong, to the military being completely oblivious to the nature of the threat, to profiteering by pharmaceutical companies, to celebrities attempting to use the chaos for publicity, the realism adds to the horror and the credibility of the lampooning.

    I also believe that the style of the book will translate well to film generally, and Forster’s frenetic style particularly. It’s just a series of oral history vignettes. The settings change constantly. Furthermore, I think watching a specific person kill zombies or a specific zombie kill a person is only interesting for a couple seconds. I think rapidly cycling between various permutations of those two events can keep it interesting.

  • 3. Ben  |  April 20th, 2009 at 10:23 am

    It’s great. Read it.

  • 4. rick  |  April 20th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I gotta admit “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is the lone, single instance of effective book-marketing I have ever seen. I saw a poster at the store, and it briefly elicited a flicker of interest. Good job, whoever drew zombie Jane Austen!

    You want to explain Dawn of the Dead in greater detail, in your conception? I was never a huge fan of the “consumer satire” thing, but that is the funniest line in the movie, when he says, “Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives,” but it’s all about the way he says it.

  • 5. bbot  |  April 20th, 2009 at 11:10 am

    World War Z was okay. Readable, not brilliant.

  • 6. An Exile Fan  |  April 20th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    You’ll need Microsoft Reader but Here:

    It is an excellent book. Read it at night and tell me you didn’t get scared.

    Viva La Pirates !

  • 7. Sublime Oblivion  |  April 20th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    You should rejoice. Zombie films tend to become popular when society is in crisis, as it was in the 1970’s and the 1980’s when this genre first became popular. It symbolizes the revenge of the downtrodden, and as such may spark the seed of bloody rebellion amongst the masses against our banksta elites – thus fulfilling the dreams of the eXiled.

    PS. WWZ is shit. Repetitive. Brooks tries to show off how much about the world he knows, and not very successfully. And worst, implausible. There is absolutely no way clumsy, extremely slow, completely non-intelligent “shamblers” can ever unleash a zombie apocalypse. His Survival Guide is much better work.

  • 8. Peter  |  April 20th, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    World War Z is ok, but for the Romero zombie purist, a lot of it will be bothersome. For the Russophile as well, for that matter.

  • 9. derrick  |  April 20th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I would highly recommend World War Z for your reading list, as it still maintains that deadpan tone that made the Survival Guide so great, but seems more serious. It has superb action and well developed and diverse characters, and vivid imagery. But the real beauty lies in the social critique that is found in EVERY SINGLE chapter/short story. Even to this day, I keep finding new critiques that are present in his book, and I haven’t even read it in a while! They just come to me in the middle of the day!

    Nothing is safe from his critique with everything ranging from:

    The world’s response to the AIDS epidemic.
    The outdated tactics used by today’s militaries.
    (Especially ours) The unnecessary use of high-tech wonder weapons in guerilla/asymmetric warfare.
    The need to streamline the bureaucratic process.
    The disparity of wealth among different socioeconomic classes.
    The magnitude of human rights violations that are present in some nations.
    The environmental impact of humans.
    The presence of racism.
    The power of mass media.
    ETC. ETC. The list goes on, but I’m watching the NBA playoffs, so I’m gonna cut it short.
    All in all, Max Brooks’ book is BRILLIANT.

  • 10. Anne Nonymous  |  April 20th, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    World War Z is one case where I (normally a staunch bibliophile) would recommend you listen to the audioplay version rather than reading the book. Listening to the actors’ voices rather than reading it on paper really brings an aura of realism to the presentation of the material as oral history.

  • 11. jajagenau  |  April 20th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    That doesn’t seem so new to me. Fido (2006) comes to mind (a variation of Pleasantville). Or that “poor, little zombie girl” Emily or whatever her name is.

  • 12. Peter  |  April 20th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    For another thing, the whole Jones/Ames/Dolan tendency towards criticizing every stupid piece of media out there for not being dangerous enough is getting old. Here’s a list of problems with this critique-

    1. I agree with Ames that the sword is mightier than the pen. In fact, there’s such an availability of swords in this world that any pen, no matter how mighty, should not strut around acting deadly, if we take the paradigm seriously.

    2. As for the supposedly ur-deadly pen, early punk rock, I’m deeply unimpressed by it, and I think its rapid cooptation speaks to its status as a paper tiger from the get-go.

    3. Connected to this, the successive failure of supposedly dangerous, edgy art/music/literary/what have you movements to actually draw any literal or figurative blood has induced a quite sensible feeling of fatigue with the whole notion. People are sick of edge because it’s almost always so fake. Turning to schmaltz is a bad answer, and our generation’s turn towards schmaltz deserves castigation, but the castigation would have a better sting if it didn’t come from people who still think Sid Vicious can destroy the world.

    It’s time the face the post-WWI art and/or thought as weapon paradigm is utterly spent. We’re flogging a dead horse at this point. It’d be better (though less cool-looking at parties, which I have an inkling is the point) to get behind work that’s perceptive, whether it has edge or no. There’s plenty of art and thought in this world hailed as genius that’s utterly blind, as Dolan points out, and when the Exile goes after that stuff, then it’s worth it. The rest is amusingly-written pointlessness.

  • 13. gazzaj  |  April 21st, 2009 at 1:13 am

    World War Z is a great read – very entertaining, but nothing heavy.

    It’s definitely more about the comic possibilities of zombie survival than anything else, but he does at least touch on the horror. (I’m not sure if it’s possible to write a truly scary zombie *book* anyway).

    And yeah there’s a fair whack of obvious satire, but it’s deliberate and a little more clever than zombies lining up outside a USMC recruiting office.

    Definitely part of the comedy sub-genre though – if the idea of an 80 y.o. blind Japanese monk living in the forest decapitating zombies with a staff appeals then give it a go… if you want apocalyptic terror stick to the (old) movies.

  • 14. Pez  |  April 21st, 2009 at 1:41 am

    WWZ is not horrible. It is not Romero, but very little is. Some of the incidental details are very good. The new zombie as funny stuff will not last. It is to horrible a thing to be zombified for people to see it as humorous for very long. If they make zombies into ghouls, well the horror factor is still front and center. Vampires apparently feel tormented or whatthefuckever. Zombies don’t feel.

  • 15. joey  |  April 21st, 2009 at 3:41 am

    Its good, read away.

  • 16. Gerbal  |  April 21st, 2009 at 6:31 am

    I quite enjoyed WWZ. I found it a genuinely well written book. Maybe as a student of history and frequent dabbler in anthropology the idea of an oral history was very appealing.

    I am not steeped in zombie lore, I find Romero entertaining, but not a god. His works are good and set an intelligent and well constructed foundation for the modern zombie mythology, but so long as the zombies are slow, his works are not a holy canon to which all other zombie works must aspire to copy.

    WWZ does a good job constructing a realistic image of how a zombie apocalypse could happen and what would follow. It is not a horror novel by any stretch of the imagination but it is excellent speculative fiction.

  • 17. El Hombre Malo  |  April 21st, 2009 at 6:49 am

    I love zombie flicks, but more than the horror ingredient, I am more interested in the whole “the world is going down the drain FAST” factor to it. I enjoy most depictions of the world changing dramatically and forever, and zombies is one of the most amusing ways to envision that.

    WWZ does that… it is a lengthy, detailed vision about the world -almost- ending (for us), and how does it look after that. Even if I disagree with certain outcomes (you can tell he is big into the whole “Israel is inherently good” scam), I devoured what Mr.Brooks served and asked for seconds.

  • 18. marketfrankford  |  April 21st, 2009 at 7:52 am

    No mention of Simon Pegg. Hmmm…

  • 19. Michael B  |  April 21st, 2009 at 8:50 am

    WWZ was alright. Oddly enough, the thing that irritated me was the discussion of what’s better, cats or dogs. Read it and you’ll see.

  • 20. mr. pharmacist  |  April 21st, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I want to know what Eileen Jones thinks about Observe and Report…

    More importantly, I want to know what Eileen Jones thinks about dinner. Pick you up at 10?

    See. Cornball humor gives you cancer. Anyone who laughed at that now has non-hodgkins lymphoma. Congratulations!

  • 21. Anonymous Coward  |  April 21st, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    This whole article doesn’t phase me, the reason why is because I saw that bad zombie episode of the X-Files. The one that was directed by David Duchovny. That one.

    Of course in the episode, Moulder (sic), had to say something oh so clever about zombies eating people because of some stupid metaphor.

    Well, I turned to my brother, and I said, “Do you know why zombies eat people? Because it’s horrible. It’s horrible to have this shambling, stinking thing, ripping you apart and eating your flesh while you are still conscious. That’s why. No other explanation.”

    Incidentally, the mall was an excellent place to wait out the apocalypse. In fact, that was the only problem with it, the biker gang wanted it too.

    Anyway, if there is a zombie-comedy apocalypse coming, at least we have decades of great zombie fair to fall back on. Everything from Fulci’s Zombie 2, Serpent and the Rainbow, to 28 Days Later. I notice DVDs are going cheap on Amazon, and there is always the Internet. Do what a zombie movie survivor would do, stock up and wait it out!

    Oh, and they are doing a The Goon CGI movie, that might be pretty good. I have hopes. Even the undead fear… The Goon. If not, well… there have been shockingly bad zombie movies before… and there will be again…

  • 22. Frank McG  |  April 21st, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Here’s the best riff on Diablo Cody’s wretched work:

    Anyways, what in the hell is it with self-important agents of justice and equality that always try to make monsters into misunderstood victims? The True Blood books takes the bold stance that bigotry is BAD! The author honestly believes that she is writing ground breaking social commentary. “Sure, vampires drink our blood, are super powered, could kill us in the blink of an eye, and run a secret society that plots to make us their slaves, but other than that they’re people just like you and me and anyone who would treat them different is just MEAN!”

    As far as Romero, the guy’s first 2 movies were movies were great for the time (Night of the Living Dead as horror, Dawn of the Dead as comedy), but they’ve aged horribly and only snooty film buffs will claim they hold any non-historical value today. The guy had zero social commentary in NotLD until people started calling his statement on racism “genius” when the black guy gets shot. He latched onto that and his movies got progressively more unbearable. This trend in zombie movies finally culminated with the godawful 28 Weeks Later (us Americans deserve a lot of shit for Iraq, but nothing as horrible as that movie).

    FACT: The 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake was not only vastly superior to the original, it is the best zombie movie to date (precisely BECAUSE it dispenses with commentary). Don’t let any counter culture film majors tell you different.

  • 23. Kotek Besar  |  April 22nd, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Zombie stories are nothing new, they’ve been around for over 2000 years! The Bible, which eventually gets around to telling the story of the most famous zombie of them all – Jesus Christ.

  • 24. Frednelore  |  April 23rd, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Zombie movies, albeit the clever (initial) concept, are not scary, not thrilling –they are just boring. Romero’s movies aged badly and, in thruth, he had one idea. Just one.
    Of the old ones, Dario Argento was the guy (was. Decades ago).

  • 25. Anon-e-mouse  |  April 24th, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    WWZ was terrible. You can only kill a zombie by shooting it in the head, but apparently airburst artillery is ineffective at making tightly packed groups of zombies blow up.

    The book is overrated and certainly overhyped by the typical nerd who thinks paying $10 for Lowtax’s thousand dollar chair is alright and bacon with Cheetos and Red Alert Mountain Dew is the best food ever.

    If it wasn’t for people who think cheap silk screen shirts with video game charecters were the height of fashion, the book wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar.

  • 26. bdrube  |  April 25th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    World War Z is the best piece of zombie literature ever produced. If the movie is even half as good as the book it will be worth watching.

  • 27. JR  |  April 26th, 2009 at 11:42 am

    “World War Z is the best piece of zombie literature ever produced. If the movie is even half as good as the book it will be worth watching.”

    Umm, not it’s not. “I Am Legend” (the book) is. By Richard Matheson. And any discussion of the subject that does not include it is lacking.

    Matheson’s creatures were a hybrid Zombie/Vampire which makes it even cooler.

    There have been at least three movies based on the novella. Starring: Vincent Price, Charles Heston, and Wll Smith.

    The latest one sucked and ruined the story. But that’s what Will Smith does for a living. The other two were okay.

  • 28. Anonymous Coward  |  April 27th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    o/~ There’s a zombie on your lawn o/~

  • 29. LakeHavasuSpringbreak  |  April 28th, 2009 at 7:42 am

    hahahaha good vid.

  • 30. aleke  |  May 1st, 2009 at 2:33 am

    “If it wasn’t for people who think cheap silk screen shirts with video game charecters were the height of fashion, the book wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar.”

    They’re almost as bad as mediocre pupils of internet forums attempting, in bad form, to create a hackneyed composite of the Internet nerd’s doe-eyed bogeyman. How and at what point in time did “goons” and other sign-identifiers creep onto the Exile and wrap their slimy fingers along its neck.

    Go away. “At the height of fashion,” in your “flame-decaled jorts,” along with the rest of your merciless “cheetoh-stained” cliches.

  • 31. montyeinzz!  |  July 23rd, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Seems to be worthless trash..lame jokes..
    There is so much stuff to read 4 free, amazing stuff
    from every categorie one can think off.

    So is ANYBODY actually buying such beyond boring
    “pseudo – zombie -no ideas -no plot -must sell anyway”
    “books” …Odd book that is “produced” , not sure that they
    play from their fucking heart, very VERY strongly recommended by Bill Hicks .

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