Chapter 4 – Staying Alive Is As Good As It Gets

This weeks material proved to be a pretty good look at survivors, which is the theme for today’s post.

Material for this week:

-28 Days Later

– The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

– So Now You’re A Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead by John Austin

– Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection by Don Roff

The Survivor

Who is the survivor? We’ve already talked about the survivor being anyone, and anybody. It is usually someone who remains righteous in their actions as portrayed in the films. The survivor is someone who thinks rationally, morally, and quickly. It is someone who shoots zombies in the head with near pristine accuracy and has a large array of weapons. It is a band of moral, TV-diverse characters that grow to consider themselves family, and in turn their love gets ratings. People who find a safe haven. What is this infatuation with theses moral values, and what can the zombpocalypse tell us about surviving it?

The Family and The Home 

The threat to your loved one’s safety is a pressing theme in the Zombie apocalypse. In 28 days later, the first thing Jim did (after eating Maltesers, of course) was go find his family. It turns out, they decided to end their lives together, rather than fight and risk losing each other. Family provides something to fight for. Without something to fight for, in a world where you will most likely feel like the last person alive, it is easy to succumb to hopelessness, much like it can be easy to succumb to hopelessness in our reality.

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Support systems are what bring us back and what keep us holding on. They are grossly emphasized in the Zombie Apocalypse. Very little travel alone. Even those who do eventually succumb to the support system, like Selena from 28 Days Later. Family is so important in the apocalypse; it gives us something to root for, to feel for, to relate to. It is something to cry for when they are threatened. It is normality in an utterly odd world. Family values being emphasize tell us what is important when it really comes down to it.

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It is not just the family values that are emphasised, but the reaction towards threats. The act of revenge against a family threat has been created one too many times in popular culture. Hamlet, Star Wars, Lion King, Taken, Harry Potter, the list is endless. This is the image we see in popular culture when it comes to zombies. The one character whose family is being threatened or has already been taken away fights against the undead. The band of survivors become a family, and every act against them merits an act of retribution. In 28 days later, Jim comes back to save his ‘family’, but in turn kills at least 3 men and sets an infected on the others.

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even though the Governor is seen as an evil character, he holds to his obviously infected daughter as if she were still alive, unable to kill her.

Better yet, every kill of the infected is an emotional boost in the grief and panic that losing a family member can bring. In season 3 of the Walking Dead, Lori dies and is consumed by a zombie. Rick is on a zombie-killing rampage, massacring every one in sight as a means of release. When he sees the zombie that ate Lori, he destroys it. This begins to change his murderous rampage and emotional outlook. The act of revenge has been completed, the grief may be lessened, and ‘all’ is well.

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Maybe, these zombies are just live (dead?) metaphors for the grief that these people go through, the psychological damage, and the societal overhaul. Killing these things maintains a mindset that all can be well again with one fell swoop of a knife or one shot of a gun that isn’t against your own temple. Living to destroy these creatures means you can honour your family and maybe things can return back to normal, getting over the grief with each kill.

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Woodbury in the Walking Dead. A Surface of Normalcy

Families develop within the home, or within security. Home is where the heart is; it isn’t in violence or eating flesh. The survival of humans relies on the survival of the home. It is normality, it is safety  and it is a place for families to live as if the undead were not walking. As long as there is a safe place to go at night, the zombie apocalypse is just another day on the job. We see this in survivors in a plethora of zombie films; it is about finding a safe haven after it’s pretty clear you have to move on.

The family and the home are one, one working towards pushing away change, holding on to what is left. The family grows with the security of the home. The home grows with the security of the family. Every zombie killed is closer to protecting the family. Every zombie killed, every act of revenge, brings the world back to the mundane normalcy that we miss.

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Each zombie killed is closer to the life we once knew. Each zombie killed is a step closer to running water, to family game night, to the grocery store, to fighting with your sister or reading the crappy magazines at the doctor’s office. Each zombie killed is everything the world took for granted before the apocalypse, that they crave for now. “Home” and “Family” and the world we once knew, all boils down to what survivor’s strive for. Normalcy.

dawnofthedead1978Maybe this is why Zombie movies still have love and relationships, safe havens and the families. Family and security is what is important to us. Perhaps, if we were in that position, that is what we would care about. We can so easily put our own faces on those of the survivors. If we were about to die, we would want to know our families were safe, or be the ones to keep them out of danger. We would want to live peacefully in a home along side our family and play scrabble and pay taxes, like the ending of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Or would we?

In zombie movies especially, we have seen these values played so many times. I wonder if, throughout the zombie “What Would You Do” games and the Zombie Survival Guides and the possible emergency situations, there isn’t something else going on here. Would we really react in the way that the zombie film portrays us, or are these values ideas that we are simply being told to embody. The plastic nuclear family, and the perfect american home is long gone. However, the zombie survivors on-screen search for it says that we should Want the perfect family with no wrongdoers. We should want the perfect american home. The perfect american family is strong and healthy and moral. The perfect american home is safe and secure from danger.

It is entirely plausible that, since we’ve seen the perfect family and homes destroyed and found again so many times on-screen, nothing is stopping us from reacting exactly how popular culture tells us too. ‘Family values’ could very well be something created on the big screen, something that is totally plausible. However, it is something we fully accept now.

However, the family is not concrete. The family is not only Hannah and her father from 28 days later, completely moral and celebrating christmas every night as a beckon of hope. What about the others? The looters, the killers, the military, those with no morals? The classic zombie movie tells us they will die. Frankly, most other movies have this, too. (Notice the lack of zombie films that follow a group of looters…who don’t make a moral change). What happens if we are those people? What if those people are your fathers and mothers and siblings? What if they are your children, and you must find a home for them. Why must just the righteous survive? Is the zombie apocalypse, when the evil undead are literally biting into anyone’s flesh, is that the time to repent your sins?

In the end, we can’t all be righteous. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, we are probably going to sin. And when that time comes, we are going to realize that we aren’t on the big screen, we are in real life. People will do what they need to for themselves, maybe not for their families, and they will still survive.

If we aren’t the classic zombie survivor, then how can we expect to survive? It might lie in your own individual values. If family is important to you, believe in that. If killing zombies is important to you, believe in that. If security is important to you, if travelling on your own is important to you, if finding your old childhood home is important to you, follow those values. Our modern culture is telling us to believe in the same things. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe in family and security and the search for a new life. However, we are all different, and just because society tells you its true, doesn’t mean you’ll survive.

In the event of a real zombie apocalypse, don’t let society write your story. Don’t let society dictate how to react. Protect your family, if that’s what’s important. Find security, if that’s what’s important. But definitely don’t let society tell you what kind of survivor you will be.

In the end, it’s still about not becoming one of the horde, and being yourself.

Until next time,

Rebeccah

Stay tuned for next week – I am Legend

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