Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of vampires and zombies

There has been a longstanding difference in the nerd community about what is better - zombies or vampires. It has recently become a pop-culture debate as well. I'm here to tell you the definitive answer is, of course, the zombie. I'll give you the objective truth behind this.

The original Vampire stories had an analog in patron systems where the wealthy rulers and aristocrats would tax the impoverished peasants into virtual slavery. This changed with the times into a true class warfare scenario where the story involves the masses rising up against the bourgeois class bleeding them dry, and kill their oppressor. But in the 20th Century the vampire myth became romanticized. No longer was the vampire an object of fear, but now they became a romantic troubled soul aching for meaning in an immortal life, and love with humanity that is dying around them, while at the same time feeding their lusts with abandon. The vampire changed from class warfare to a morality tale about feeding lusts. The Twilight series makes this most explicit comparing the bloodthirst of the vampire to the sexual cravings of post-pubescent adolescents.

The mythology even changed so much it incorporated the werewolf mythology (sometimes called the Lycans). This conflict between immortal races really doesn't have much analog in our real life, and serves no point whatsoever besides sometimes adding adventure into an otherwise romantic story of vampire love.

The werewolf myth also comes from the days of vampire stories, but always separate. The wolf-man creature has two analogs: The transformation from tempered human to wild beast correlates to the suppression of the evil within man by the domestication of education, religion, and society; and, the wolf-man is the outcast of society, maybe the deformed, the immigrant, gypsy, or otherwise. In the 20th Century the werewolf has kept most of the characteristics, only the "evil side" that emerges is often, like with vampires, a sexual urging. This story is told two ways: we must constantly suppress our carnal self (interestingly this is also told in a Vampire story with Blade who is a half-vampire who fights his own bloodthirst), or that we should embrace our cravings to not lie to ourselves about our true feelings.

Zombies don't have a storied history like vampires do, really only getting their own mythology in mid-century 1900s. The zombie is the ultimate cultural corollary for many reasons, and it is because the zombie mythology is so flexible you can tell any moral tale (or none at all if you want) using human nature reconstructed to its basic parts (feeding, violence, sex). The zombie has been told different ways: sometimes they are dead risen, sometimes they are simply infected with a virus and are still living though higher thinking is removed. Sometimes they represent rampant consumerism, sometimes it's the effects of corporate greed, pollution, military experiments, or even nature fighting back. But the zombie archetype can be extended to almost any social wrong.

I can see how the zombie can be an analog for poverty. Take away every safety net, homes, food, and society can turn into a place where violence reigns (think Somalia). We can even make a Zombie Christmas movie where all of the mindless zombies put of trees in their homes, and head off to the shopping centers. The possibilities are endless, and timely.

Even the reaction to a zombie infestation can be used to tell a story, like in 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Zombies can represent the ghetto that rich consumer culture has stuffed the poor minorities into.

Clearly zombies are the ultimate storytelling device for telling tales of real life struggle, oppression, love, hate, and survival. You really can't go wrong.

And I suppose this debate can come to a close now.


William said...

what an enjoyable read. You have quite a way with words there Steve, I look forward to hearing more from you.

His Name Extoled said...

false. vampires are superior. id rather be bloodthirsty than mindless (not to mention blood tastes good). AND the twilight representation of vampires should not be used in vampire lore.

Steven Kippel said...

No, John, Twilight is just an extension of where vampire myth has been headed. Lestat and the retellings of Dracula himself are all about romance.

And you're not supposed to want to be these creatures, they're devices to tell a story.

Steven Kippel said...

I just re-read this, and realized I missed something. The vampires who indulge in the lusts of the flesh are sometimes used in literature to show how when people lose all purpose, they find no other purpose but in fleeting desires.

"Eat, drink and be merry" though they do not die.