It seems that all you have to do to make something successful these days is add vampires, werewolves and zombies. The whole world seems to be in a Twilight and Everything Zombie craze and while this franchising juggernaut of the world of the undead has been popular in its time, the current trend suggests something more significant happening today.
While the cool factor of the undead remains vibrant with memories of Michael Jackson's Thriller, the success of Thriller was probably another good example of the indulgent, glamourous and fantasy-driven culture of a period where times were good and the sky was the limit for any creative mind. The time of the supermodels, crazy fashions, heavily competing soda pop companies and a consumer culture that was appealing to younger and younger audiences, flush with allowances, there was no sign of economic collapse or the political jadedness which characterizes our current times.
Most popular culture is driven by a desire for the opposite of what's happening in the world. So most depression eras are characterized by super happy carefree forms of entertainment that can be so wholesome and cheesy that it makes people cringe. This is one of the reasons why the Sound of Music was so popular in its time. Think also about the charleston and other frenetic dance crazes. Most people need popular culture to remind them of the things that they would rather think about, rather than the things happening around them.
Good economic times: gritty films with darkness and edge, soul destroying music. Bad economic times: super happy pop tunes and feel good escapist films.
While there is an escapist appeal to the current zombie and vampire craze, there's something else more subtle happening, a desire for something that we seem to be missing.
Take the Twilight example. While there are scores of teens and tweens who are pouring money into this franchise, the majority of the readers appear to be women in between the ages of 20-50. Why are so many women from this mature and generally independent age frame enthralled with a teenage romance?
Most women nowadays are raised to be independent, to go to school longer, be well educated and go out and get the best jobs. They face enormous pressure to be smart, well-dressed, thin, outgoing without being aggressive, ambitious without being calculating, nice without being submissive, serious without being overbearing, and cool without being an asexual frat boy. That's a lot to handle, particularly in a society which is constantly throwing out conflicting images of what ideal women should be like and what their romantic expectations should be. The films directed at women are generally so mean to women that they're borderline misogynistic and those are supposed to be the 'romantic' films that we enjoy. And we aren't kinder to our own kind, either, with women shows literally yelling at us to be better.
To add to all that, romance itself is, by and large, considered dead. Nobody respects it, nobody honours it and nobody seems to value it. The most romantic thing that most women can expect is to have their man bring them a sandwich from the kitchen when he takes his half time sports break to make one for himself. Furthermore, women who do want romance get labeled as 'sappy', 'soft' or just plain stupid, when there's really nothing stupid about wanting to have someone show them some consideration. This doesn't mean that romance has to be flowers and candlelight, because many people are over this.
And yet, there's a part of us deep down that craves romance or expressions of romantic love. But because we're so cynical, self-absorbed and scared to look stupid, we need to fill this void with nonsense like Twilight because it masks itself as literature. We call it escapist and fun, but really, it's filling in a void that society has made for us and has made unacceptable for us to have.
Twilight, for all its silliness, is very romantic. It's the basic, classic love story with a colourful cast of characters that happen to have supernatural powers as well. As if we need to have vampires and werewolves as romantic stand-ins for the men that we don't have. There seems to be something ok with Edward expressing a desire to love Bella until the end of time because he's not a real man, but a vampire man. Give me a break.
Let's face facts, people. We love to love. Love brings meaning to our lives. We can't resist a good love story or an epic tale of unrequited love. We are not too 'smart', 'educated' or 'cool' for it. It's time we started believing in real love again and not Twilight love.
Of course, while it's not really cool for us to love each other, it is socially acceptable for us nowadays to love our things. A lot of ads blatantly try to sell you love by promising that you will fall in love with their products. What kind of backwards society finds it laughable for you to love a person and finds it acceptable for you to love your cell phone?
In the classic Romero Dawn of the Dead film, the last stand of the zombie apocalypse takes place in a shopping mall. This is a deliberate statement to the fact that consumers are very much like the living dead, sleepwalking through life in the pursuit of useless things that ultimately don't matter once the end of the world actually takes place. Ironically, zombie culture has since taken off from its original fringe cool and social commentary to become a billion dollar franchise based on its cynical humour and gore appeal.
But I think that the rise of the zombie culture stems from a deeply embedded saturation with commercialism and superficiality. I think deep down, we're so sick of being told to solve all of our problems by buying things and being solicited everywhere we go, that the appeal of the zombie world is that it's one completely oblivious of things. Furthermore, it gives no value to things. In the zombie world, things are only valuable if they can be used for basic human survival. Food, water, shelter, protection.
I think a lot of us are attracted to these post-apocalyptic images of the world because it's such an uncomplicated world. Yes, it's crude and violent, but it's raw, real and so alive. Nobody sits back in their recliner and contemplates the meaning of their lives, because the meaning is life itself, to live and survive. And all the things that we value or that get in our way in life, money, objects, jobs, position titles, neighbourhoods and houses, do not matter. This crazed world of survival has no race, no gender, no class. And to think that's the world without brains.
We love love because we are loveless in our society. We love the undead because we are soulless in our society. I think our zombie and vampire obsessions are indications that our society is sick, but it's sicker than most people would assume. Especially since the zombies and vampires seem more alive than the rest of us.
Maybe it's time we wake up.