Vampire Weekend. Sure, it’s the name of a band, but it’s also a cultural observation we’ve been making lately. Twilight – box office record-breaker. True Blood – acclaimed HBO series. Teen Wolf – reincarnated, god help us, on MTV. And lest they be outdone by their blood-sucking brethren, zombies are inserting themselves into the dialogue just as, shall we say, voraciously. The Plants vs. Zombies app. Game of Thrones’ dreaded White Walkers. And, most unexpectedly, the Center for Disease Control recently spiced up its website with a blog post on how to prepare for a Zombie Apocalypse. Within 48 hours, traffic to the site increased 30-fold and then crashed the server.
Why are they so interesting? Well, for one thing, some of them are actually kinda hot.
But, seriously, it has to be bigger than that.
Since the release of the first novel in 2005, the Twilight series has gained immense popularity and commercial success around the world. The books have sold more than 100 million copies, consecutively setting best-seller records and even winning a Kids' Choice Award. The film adaptations have grossed about $2 billion and broken all kinds of box office records.
Then there is True Blood, which is Twilight for grownups. It’s a little like watching the Victoria’s Secret Angels on acid. And it’s riveting audiences far and wide.
Another successful HBO series, Game of Thrones, features a tribe of zombies called the White Walkers. We are told they sleep beneath the ice for thousands of years and can only be stopped with fire. If a White Walker touches you, you get creepy filmy blue eyes. Other gross stuff happens too. Beware.
Teenagers have always been fascinated with vampires. No kid wants to believe in death. It’s all about being in the moment, being invincible. In their struggle with confronting mortality, vampires - and zombies and werewolves - appeal to them because they offer a solution for eternal life. As 2011 Teen Wolf Tyler Posey puts it, this is “a generation that takes its monsters very, very seriously.”
And what about the rest of us? We believe this love affair with the undead in the world of entertainment – like the obsession with skull motifs in fashion and taxidermy in interior design – is a reflection of our anxious, tumultuous times. Surely, the fact that murderous snow zombies speak to us so poignantly says something about where our heads are at as a society.
Heather Havrilesky of the New York Times aptly calls Game of Thrones “a timely fable of sweeping global destruction and doom:”
“Winter is coming,” the rather sulky denizens of the imaginary land of Westeros repeat to each other, and these words eerily echo the gathering gloom of our contemporary predicament, from the global financial crisis to nuclear meltdown to widespread revolution… Maybe it takes the grand scale of sybaritic kings and imaginary kingdoms to do justice to the perversions and the nihilism of post-empire America… The joyless gluttony of fallen romantics feels pretty timely at the moment, particularly when kingdoms seem likely to rise and fall based on their whims.
The joyless gluttony of fallen romantics. Wow. If you start looking for that, you just might find it everywhere.
Havrilesky also points out darknesses elsewhere, which she beautifully refers to as the “crudeness and savagery of modern life… the meth-dealing dad in Breaking Bad… the pill-popping mom in Nurse Jackie… the enigmatic assassin in Dexter.”
To watch TV is to look in the mirror. We are narcissists. It’s why we love reality shows. So the current obsession with life’s dark underbelly in fictional entertainment must be a reflection of our own state of affairs as well.
There is also what Ginia Bellafante calls “the national lust for shape-shifting narrative.” Aha! Is this thing also about transformation, which we all so crave in times of desperation or crisis? Actually, heck, we’re American, we crave transformation all the time. Transformation is the American Dream.
And so, here we sit, playing Plants vs. Zombies on our iPads, intently transforming tiny rays of sunshine into killer plants that will stop the encroaching zombies before they eat our brains. Which will assumedly transform us into zombies. Wish us luck.
Funny, the Center for Disease Control failed to mention the efficacy of zombie-killing flora in its recent missive, “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” Nevertheless, this has to be our all-time favorite undead sighting. What was so great about it was the absolute deadpan manner in which it was delivered. It’s like your dorkiest math teacher suddenly showing up at school tricked out like Rihanna and acting like, “What? What are you looking at?” I mean, seriously, the CDC has a sense of humor? It’s awesome. But awesomeness is actually beside the point. The point is that zombies are everywhere.