20 October, 2008

Why Write Horror in a Horrific World and Time?

Recently a friend of mine asked me why I wanted to write about zombies, especially in light of dismal world circumstances. "Isn't there enough doom and gloom in the world without adding to it with another apocalyptic horror story?"

My answer was complicated. I knew why I wanted to write about zombies, but I wasn't sure how I could put it into words so someone else might understand my reasoning. Did you ever see that "Scared Straight" program the correctional facilities do to youth offenders? Instead of sending you to prison, we're going to give you a hardcore glimpse at what awaits you if you don't straighten up and fly right. The concept I'm employing for myself is similar, only with zombies and life.

I reached a point where I started to feel like my own life was askew. Not that I'm eating brains, or anything horrid, but I had fallen into some serious patterns in my life that were detrimental to my physical and mental health. Sluggishly moaning through life, the purpose behind my every move revolved around the next paycheck, the next meal, the next night's sleep... I felt like I was hardly existing in a world that was slowly crumbling down around me.

Depression? Maybe a little, but for the most part it was just this empty, lacking feeling in my life. The last big risk I had really taken had been going back to college at 27, and after I graduated I fell into a comfortable, but risky freelancing lifestyle. Life was comfortable. Even if our lifestyle didn't always feel comfortable there was a lot of pressure and fear about maintaining our comfort level. Zombies don't think about comfort. Zombies don't think about anything, they just go through the motions and devour in order to maintain their existence. To me, that is the same thing as sacrificing your wants to exist comfortably.

So, my zombie desire awakened. Suddenly I started to think about life in a new way. I thought about humanity, and how all too often things seem impersonal and disconnected in our world now. I wondered if there were an apocalypse tomorrow, how would people react. It made me think of this old episode of the Twilight Zone. A man spent a year building a fall out shelter for his family, and all of his friends laughed at him. Then the big one hit and when he and his family fled to their shelter, no one else had a safe place to go. The friends became violent, insistent that he owed them space in his fallout shelter. Even for the time it was filmed, it was brutal.

I started to question myself about how I might react in an apocalypse situation. We tend to live in a remote area, but we're also along a major highway. We have a nice plot of land and could easily slip into the woods if needed, but if people came to us looking for help would I turn them away? Would I run, constantly motivated by my own safety over everything else? Now, I don't want to be a hero, but I certainly don't want to be a coward either, so that is where my desire to write about zombies really kicked in. I wanted to explore the human condition. I wanted to put people in different situations and see how they would react under pressure. Maybe I even wanted to create a zombie slaying heroine or two that started out afraid of the world, then rose to the ranks and became a bit of a leader. Because if there is anything I learned in college that changed the way I will think about my actions for the rest of my life, it was this: There are three types of people. 1. People who latch onto leaders because they don't want to be responsible for the outcome 2. People who willingly aid leaders in an attempt to make a better situation 3. Leaders. In my life I have done everything in my power to be a #3, and when I fall short there, I do my best to be a #2, but as long as I live, I never want to be the #1.

Of course, there is a fourth type of person, but that is the zombie, and even though they once lived, zombies aren't really people anymore. I know I never want to be a zombie either.

So, in answer to that question, I do think there is enough horror and violence in our world. I could probably live out the rest of my life rather peacefully if I never saw the trailer for another SAW movie or psychopathic serial murdering Hitchhiker film. See, there's a difference between zombies, vampires and werewolves. They are the kind of nightmares we can recover from at the end of the movie. We may look over our shoulders a few times, peer through the blinds as the wind moans through the night like a corpse from the grave, but at the end of the night we can go to bed without losing much sleep. We see enough true horrors like murder, mutilation and terrorism every day in the media that it's actually nice to step back and slip into an imaginary world where the horror is supernatural and not the cruel result of our fellow man.


Susan said...

Thanks for writing this--lots to think about!

Jacquéline Roth said...

I agree with what you were saying the other day and rephrased here. We can be comfortable and we can even sit back and let others take the wheel from time to time, but we should never blindly go along.

Horror is escape. And horror often reflects our greatest fears and helps us face them and break them down as our heroes struggle to survive.