The Zombie Apocalypse: Why You Secretly Want To Live In A Commune
Us vs. Them.
Sure zombie games and movies have other attractive traits, like shooting guns, looting, and not having to go to your job (because your job is now shooting guns and looting), but the fundamental point of zombie entertainment is fighting within a group against the hordes of the mindless undead. In Zombieland, an introverted loser teams up with three others from disparate backgrounds, gets the girl, and forms something of a family. In Dawn of the Dead (the original or remake both work), people from disparate backgrounds band together, defend their modern fortress, and form something of a family. In Left 4 Dead, you and your friends control four characters from disparate backgrounds, battle to safety through hostile zombies, and form something of a family. I think you see a common thread evolving.
Then why is it that zombie films and games have taken off so rapidly since the 90s? The Internet has made us a globally-connected culture. Population studies show a trend of moving into cities, and out of small-town Beaver Cleaver-ville. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips, giving us the potential to be more educated and more informed, and when you factor in things like not dying of dysentery at the ripe old age of 25 anymore, we’ve got it pretty good. So then why do we choose “entertaining” depictions of the destruction of our cities, the fragmenting of our society, and the viral death of pretty much everyone in the country except a handful of survivors? Shouldn’t that be a horrific scenario best reserved for nightmares? I doubt many people fantasize about being beaten and gang-raped, for example.
…unless we secretly want to see it all burn gloriously to the ground.
But wait, that’s destructive! That’s not the kind of thing a normal, civilized, well-adjusted person would say! Wishing death upon everyone and creating a scenario where your survival is threatened at every turn, and measured in days instead of years, wouldn’t seem to make any sense! What about your friends? What about their friends? Who will read your Tweets?
It’s a documented and accepted part of psychology that humans are social creatures. We need interactions with other people, and when we don’t get them, we go a little crazy. Even the most anti-social shut-in is still likely to seek a form of interaction by posting on the Internet, watching human interaction on TV, or play games that simulate it. No sane person is going to spend the day literally doing nothing more than staring at the wall. It’s why throwing someone in jail – with free room and board, three meals a day, and no expectations or responsibilities… but limited (or no) social contact – is still considered a form of punishment. As much as we may not want to admit it sometimes, we need other people.
But I (and others) have a theory that our compassion is really fairly limited. Studies back this up, showing that, on average, people can handle about 150 friends (Dunbar’s number). You may have thousands of Facebook friends, but how many of them do you actually correspond and keep up with on a regular basis? It even makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We come from tribal communities, where those in the tribe look out for each other, and in doing so, gain a sense of purpose and fulfillment by working for a greater community. Those outside the tribe are met with suspicion, at best, and open conflict otherwise. Even tribes with cool relations will find those heated up when resources are scarce, or expansion is blocked by the other – after all, if they really got along, they’d be one unified tribe. The outsiders are the competition. They are the enemy. And it doesn’t really serve you, evolutionarily, to worry about the enemy’s kids back home, or how he just bought a boat and is three weeks from retirement.
And you (yes, you!) are doing this right now, whether you recognize it or not. You are building your tribe, or selecting the one you want to be a part of.
No, I’m not talking about bullshit high school cliques (though that’s an example). I’m talking about avoiding eye contact with strangers on the street. I’m talking about automatically listening to your iPod on the bus, because you don’t want to have any conversations with other riders. I’m talking about wishing that every single gridlocked car in front of you would explode into fiery coffins of metal and death because you are late meeting your friends.
You’ve done something like this, and you are a filthy fucking liar-pants if you deny it. You have excluded others from your “circle” automatically, without even giving them consideration, and sometime without reason. Why not talk to a stranger on the bus? You live in the same goddamn city, and might have something in common. Maybe it’s because you don’t “feel like it” or “have other things on your mind” or “are sure they’re all just douchebags anyway,” but the real reason – the subconscious reason – is that you’ve reached your limit of people you can keep track of. You are getting the social support you need, and can’t be arsed with remembering another person’s stupid name, and their ugly face, and the ages of their retarded kids.
You’ve made your tribe, which means that everyone else… is the enemy. When you’ve got some place to be (anything from your job on time, to your girlfriend’s house, to the front of the counter at Starbucks), then they are the slow, idiotic, shambling, two-legged fleshy mobile obstacles in your way. They sure sound a lot like…
… like zombies?
The anthropological value of games is accepted without objection. It’s mostly understood that games reflect the society or culture that created them, and taught or mirrored values thought to be important or entertaining. I’m not suggesting that thousands of years from now, historians will look back at the dawn of the 21st century as the time when everybody wanted to kill each other (well, no more than usual). But it is worth noting that sometimes a game is indeed more than “just a game.” If nothing else, there’s a reason why these zombie games and films are being made, and why you’re still playing and watching them.
Maybe our world has gotten too big. Maybe, instead of promoting awareness through connecting us all globally, the Internet has instead just shown how insignificant each of us really is. At the very same time, it’s made it much easier to find and retreat to the groups that make us feel valued; to the people we know and agree with. Be that Fox News for conservatives, MSNBC for liberals, or back to whatever site linked to this article (where you will post your thoughts and comments instead of on this site, because they know you over there). In those like-minded spaces, we find our tribe and our place, and feel comfortable within it – sharing camaraderie as we mock and hate the outsiders who disagree with us.
If it’s true, then we really are fucked up as a people. And that’s why the Zombie Apocalypse must seem so appealing; the great, rotting “reset button.” Everybody else fucks off and dies while you and your Bros (and that hottie from the California Pizza Kitchen down the road) kick back, take whatever you want, answer to no one, and shoot any other bastard in the face (because that’s the only way to be sure). Your bonds with the people you actually care about strengthen, and anyone who might conceivably get in the way is no longer even a factor. Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it? Oh, and you don’t ever have to go to work again too, so that’s extra cool.
So think about that next time you’re partaking of some zombie-infested entertainment. Every bullet you fire into your moronic, pitiless adversaries, with no families and no valid counter-points to your own arguments, is a little packet of wishes that you and your best friends would scrape together some money and buy your own independent compound out in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. There, no one would ever bother or challenge you again, and all trespassers are shot on sight with big rifles with powerful scopes. In the head, because that’s the only way to be sure.
Until, of course, one of your buddies is converted by those mindless, scheming bastards – left to shamble around with them like glossy-eyed sheep, mumbling things like “Braaaaaains” and “Actually, Obama is doing a pretty good job.” Then, you know what you have to do.