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“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”

Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.

Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.

Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.

But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.

The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.

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Mr. Popularity!

AdAge, Entertainment Weekly and countless other pubs are running stories on how surprised everyone is about the success of TV show, The Walking Dead. Even the reporters who wrote the stories are amazed.

Really? Hell, I saw this hit shambling up Broadway in spring, when it was first reported in production. With Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) and AMC (Mad Men) behind it, how could The Walking Dead miss?

The surprised ones keep pointing to the show’s characters and their struggle to survive as the reason for TWD’s success. They want to make it clear it’s not the bloody disgusting zombies, God forbid, that are pulling viewers in. Stop it! Of course you need to care about the characters. Otherwise you wouldn’t be frightened by the thought of said characters getting eaten and, better yet, turning into bloody disgusting ghouls themselves.

Don’t kid yourselves. It’s not only the ‘living’ that are interesting. They’re just food. It’s the dead. Put zombies on Gilligan’s Island and it’s gonna fucking work.

Why the insecurity around horror’s popularity? The mainstream treats it like pornography, denying its presence during the day yet wallowing in it at night.

Horror rules. Look at the success of True Blood, already in its 4th season. Granted, the show has a sexy cast and vampires have always been a dark turn-on. But still, compared to sissy shit like Twilight, True Blood has some serious bight. If it didn’t deliver the gore I wouldn’t watch. Lots of people wouldn’t.

Forget bloodsuckers, anyway. Zombies are the new vampires. What took them so long to get on TV? If we had to endure another clique of brooding poseurs pining over unrequited love I’d impale a wooden stake in my heart.

There is ample precedent for TWD’s success everywhere in popular culture. Before he directed SlumDog Millionaire, Danny Boyle helmed 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. His hyper zombies killed at the box office. And deservedly so. Fact is ever since George Romero created the genre with his nightmare inducing Night of the Living Dead, the undead have been the gruesome princes of filmdom, helping to make horror the most consistently profitable genre in Hollywood. As for books, Oprah Winfrey chose Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel, The Road to be on her book club! (Okay, so the antagonists were cannibals not zombies. But it was Oprah Goddamn Winfrey!)

And yet we’re still surprised? Come on, people look alive. The Dead walk!

Thread for fans of The Walking Dead: Roamers and Lurkers

Site that broke news (for me) on The Walking Dead:28 Days Later Analysis


Must…have…content!

In the highly entertaining Tobe Hooper film, Life Force the human population are turned into ravenous creatures that must suck the essence of life out of other human beings every few minutes or die. Without going into plot (in this case alien invasion), the streets of London are quickly turned into a maelstrom of carnage. Half dead zombies grab onto the living, draining them. The drained then come back to “life” looking for new victims to drain. And so on.

Typically, zombies do not dwell on one meal for long. Unthinking creatures, they rip into one victim after another, leaving the dead and dying in their relentless search for fresher meat. Of course, the bitten quickly “turn” and well you know the rest.

It’s pretty scary…the stuff of nightmares. Many observers have likened the popularity of zombies in our culture to not-so-latent fears about the economy or terrorism; that these ghouls symbolize a loss of control. It also has been suggested that we see ourselves in these mindless creatures, an even scarier thought -for how quickly our appetites run amok. Neither view is wrong. As one of the remaining mortals exclaims during George Romero’s remake of his own classic film, Night of the Living Dead: “We are them.”

Perhaps sadly, it’s also a metaphor for the effect social media is having on more and more of us every day. Earlier, I wrote an essay calling us “content zombies.” No longer able to process information, we rip through new media biting and chewing and spitting out content, barely digesting any of it. Ravenously, we move on to the next. Indeed, barely chewed facts, items and stories pass through us onto the web like offal. Our constant tweets and updates are mere bits and pieces, carrying links like so many worms, each containing the shred of something devoured earlier. Or something like that.

I myself am turning. Last night I tried reading an article in a magazine. I found myself jumping over paragraphs, skipping entire chunks, gluttonous. Unsatisfied, I started another article. Then another. Within minutes I was in front of my laptop lapping up more, more and more!

Already an addictive personality, once I taste blood I cannot stop gorging. The more I feast the less I retain. A vicious cycle if ever there was one. God help me for I am a content zombie. I am legend.

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Everyone’s dropping “F” bombs…

Remember appalling? Remember when being intrusive or disruptive was a bad thing? Whether it was a terrible TV commercial or a gruesome homicide, we used to grimace at the offensive, raise hell about it if necessary. We were capable of being aghast.

Now words like “appalling” and “aghast” are nearly superlatives: “I was appalled by that beheading video on You Tube. I’ll send you the link!” If we’re not there yet as a society we’re close. Certainly those words have become archaic reminders of our very recent past. Old ladies get appalled. Nobody else.

Why? You’ve heard the reason before. We have become inured by the proliferation of content. What mass media started the digital age is finishing. In order to stand out (be it advertisement, film, book, commentary, even acts of criminality), one now has to continuously up the ante.

Examples: Burger King relies on a sinister, plastic golem for a pitchman, his permanent smile as unsettling as Sardonicus. Horror, once the odd niche, has become immensely popular in mainstream culture, even as the content has gotten darker. The term “torture porn” says it all. And what about porn? It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Chester the Molester is richer than Bill Gates. He is your neighbor.

Speaking of the “F” word, it’s on everyone’s tongue. Heroes and villains use it willy-nilly in movies…in real life. For me the tipping point was overhearing a trio of well-to-do teen-aged girls dropping F-bombs all over Starbucks. That, my friends, used to be appalling. But these girls were only aping their role models. Have you seen any of the countless reality shows targeting young women? The actresses are as vulgar as the actors, their countless, glaring bleeps only highlighting the point. I guess that’s what makes it real. You’ve come a long way baby!

Is anyone appalled? I’m transfixed.

While not a fan of “torture porn” and the like, I adore the horror genre, in particular the zombie film. George Romero appalled the world with his truly terrifying film, Night of the Living Dead. I do not regret him crossing the line, which he most certainly did. I applaud his courage for rendering the movie the way he did, pulling no punches.

As a young man, I remember Eddie Murphy shocking America with Raw. It was scary funny. Now, however, Murphy’s dark blue rants would be right at home in an Judd Apatow film. Indeed, the last two comedies I saw, The Hangover and Funny People were completely obscene and, I might add, hilarious. That my wife agrees with this assessment tells you all you need to know about mainstreaming vulgarity. Ironically, Eddie Murphy is now most often seen in tame family fare like Dr. Dolittle or Shrek. Eddie, baby. WTF?

Regrettably, I use the “F” word far too often. As the father of three little girls, I wish I could stop. After all, It won’t be long before they’re the same age as the profane trio I eavesdropped on at Starbucks.

Swear on my Twitter!

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Buddy, can you spare a dime…or a limb?

Last Sunday, a substitute ministered to our church. The residing pastor was taking a requisite holiday after the travails of Easter. Anyway, the replacement pastor was a younger man, bearded and portly, with a wry grin. He reminded me of, of all people, the Comic Book Guy from the Simpson’s TV show. It turns out the comparison was valid in more ways than one. For the deacon’s sermon began with a most unexpected metaphor, one perhaps more suited to a comic book store than a Presbyterian church.

God love him, he compared the resurrection of Christ with Zombies! Paraphrasing a story from Newsweek, the pastor claimed zombies to be the perfect creature for desperate times, “chewing away at our psyches as well as our 401k’s.” His words not mine. The undead, he said were the new vampires, replacing the gothic bloodsucker in popularity.

Amen. With so many of us suffering tremendous financial hardship, zombies are like the rapacious creditor, insatiable and evil. And, once ruined, we become desperate ghouls ourselves…

Or do we? Pulling a religious 360, the pastor reminded the congregation that Christ’s rising from the grave was as far from evil as an event could be and, obviously, that it symbolized new life, hope and good tidings for mankind. This, of course, is familiar post-Easter rhetoric and certainly welcome. Especially after the wonderfully gruesome reference to flesh eating monsters!

Some of you already know how much I love horror. I’ve written several posts on the matter. And in the genre, next to vampires, nothing turns me on like a good zombie story. The preacher was right. The undead are trendy as Hell right now, pun intended. Between the Swine Flu and our collapsing financial markets, the walking dead fit right in.

Fun zombie facts:

-Prior to making the beloved movie, Slum Dog Millionaire director Danny Boyle made both zombie-apocalypse thrillers 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Not to mention the equally gruesome (and wonderful) Trainspotting.

-Over 50 years before Will Smith’s tepid version, Richard Matheson wrote the genuinely terrifying I Am Legend. An equally scary film version (The Last Man on Earth) was made in 1968, starring a surprisingly stoic Vincent Price. Read the book. See that film.

-Rumor has it legendary commercial director Joe Pytka served as cameraman for the even more legendary George Romero during the filming of the greatest zombie movie (if not horror movie) of all time, Night of the Living Dead.