Everything Went Black: I Was Dead Before Dead Was Cool

Shoot him in the head. He's dead, he's all messed up

I have watched the zombie media apocalypse overtake American pop culture with a mix of snarky detachment and genuine irritation. These days it's mostly curmudgeonly annoyance, but what do you expect from a 46-year-old who first latched onto the living dead well before he hit puberty?

For the past decade or so, zombie culture has been on the rise, agreed? Agreed. For the sake of temporal clarity, let's say since 2004, when both Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder's remake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead took box offices by storm and signaled an almost overnight change in how les morts vivants were perceived, embraced, and, ultimately, devoured and thus co-opted by the mainstream consumerist maw.

That was great news for writers, screenwriters, and directors of horror cinema, who could finally step away from Wes Craven Scream remakes, locked-room-torture porn-grand guignol splatgasms, and 80s slasher do-overs. But for those of us who had been weened on gateway doom-druggies Romero, Lucio Fulci, and even Peter Jackson (Dead/Alive), this sudden influx of what can only be called zombie chic felt about as welcome as Nirvana's first stadium tour felt to a fan of Bleach. Smells Like Teen Spirit was/is awesomely heavy skronk, but it sure as hell wasn't/isn't Negative Creep. And Zack Snyder (despite his many, many excellent points as a director) is no George A. Romero, or even Dan O'Bannon.

If you'd told me back in 1980, when I first laid eyes on Romero's tempera-paint crimson Dawn… that by 2010 there'd be a hit basic cable television series starring the living dead, an epic Twinkie-quest featuring the undead, Bill Murray, and Woody Harrelson, and a Jane Austen/zombie mashup, I'd have bit you hard enough to draw blood, then wondered if there was another war coming up. (Reel zombies and real battlefield bloodshed tend to go hand in severed hand, or so the theory goes.)

Romero's original horror-art film, Night of the Living Dead, was released in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam war, and although Romero has said in countless interviews that it wasn't meant as an analogy to the conflict, time -- and a zillion film school theorists -- have more or less proven him wrong.

Our contemporary return to the living dead kicked off with Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later…, another surprise hit, followed by the aforementioned Wright and Snyder films. Why? Simon Pegg's spirited defense of runners vs. walkers (or lurchers) makes some great points, but the real reason evades even me. As much as I loathe seeing gaudy zombie merch available at your local Hot Topic for $9.99, I'm also heartened by the fact that the kids aren't alright; the kids wanna be dead.

That is as it should be. Grok the pic of me in full liquid latex zombie grue above, circa 1981, in my own teenage "home haunt" in Amarillo, Texas. Nothing says being alive like being a teenager who wants to be dead -- and I'm sorry, but vampires were never my bag; they've always struck me as being an undead version of Occupy's 1%. They never drink…whine.

Where am I going with this? I'm not sure, honestly, except maybe to say that there can be too much of a good thing, or a dead thing. Like punk rock -- like Nirvana -- the walking dead have become a trendy lifestyle/fashion appliqué. And we all know where that leads. As messy as it might be to say it, Kurt Cobain does, anyway….

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