31 October 2012

Zombie Jamboree


by Robert Lopresti

 Don't forget you can still enter our contest for a free copy of David Dean's book.  Details are in his column, right below mine...

 Before we get to the main topic of today's lecture, a brief musical interlude.

Michael P. Smith, one of my favorite songwriters, released a new CD last  week, and what do you know?  The very first track, "Accokeek,"  is perfect for a mystery website on Halloween, involving both a murder and a ghost story.  I found this concert recording of that song  on Youtube.  Alas, the soundtrack is a bit fuzzy, but it is worth the effort.


Now then.  A happy, safe, and spooky Halloween to each and all.  And speaking of spooks....

At the university where I work a lot of the students have been engaged in an activity called Humans versus Zombies which is, as near as I can tell, a, elaborate and  humongous game of Tag. The players wear orange headbands or armbands depending on which team (species?) they are on, and race between points of safety.

Okay.  Makes more sense then streaking, which was popular on campus when I was a wee laddie.  So when I say I don't get it, I don't mean the game, I mean the current fascination with zombies.

The weird thing is that the world is dealing with, so to speak, two unrelated types of zombies.  The first are the revived dead persons we think of as a piece of Haitian folklore/religion, but which apparently originated in Africa.

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston, doing anthropological research in Haiti in the 1930s, was apparently the first to suggest there might be a pharmacological explanation for zombies; i.e. drugs that simulate death and/or controlled their will.

But zombies had already staggered into popular culture.  White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi had appeared in 1931.

And it is in movies that the second wave of zombies arrived.  George A Romero is credited (blamed?) for starting it with his 1968 hit The Night of the Living Dead.  And the odd thing about this, of course, is that the movie never calls the stumbling brain-seekers zombies.  But those are the ones that people have in mind when they use the term today.

People who think hard (maybe too hard) about society have suggested that we can learn something about the current world view by noticing which monsters are popular in a given time.  For example, see the movies in the fifties in which the monsters are the productions of mutations caused by nuclear weapons.  What were people worrying about then?  You bet.

Or consider the rash of vampire movies in then 1980s when AIDS made contact with blood a terrifying issue.

So what does it say about our society today that a prominent monster is the mindless, undead, seeker of brains?  Insert political joke here, I suppose.

And speaking of politics, our favorite federal government joined the zombie industry this year, with predictable results.

The illustration on the right is from a comic book created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, using a character's dream of a zombie attack as an opportunity to explain how to prepare for an emergency.

I'm sure it seemed very cute and clever, but when, a few months later, some people were accused of doing nasty cannibalistic things the CDC was forced to issue a statement:  "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).”

As I have said before, if a government author thinks he is being clever and hip, he is probably making a tragic error.

Let's go out with some more music.  Do it Rockapella!...





13 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Happy Halloween Rob and all,
Enjoyed your blog and the music. My favorite Halloween song is, for some unearthly reason, Shel Silverstein's "Freakers' Ball."

David Dean said...

Happy Halloween, Rob, and all! It's a little subdued here, as you might imagine--in fact, it's been cancelled until tomorrow. We were lucky, but a lot of people to the north of us are hurting badly.

Loved the piece, Rob, and the music. Thanks.

R.T. Lawton said...

Rob, in the 2nd video, the refrain of "back to back and belly to belly, I don't give a damn because I'm dead already" isn't that the same refrain from an old Kingston Trio song on their album when they performed at The Hungry I ?

John Floyd said...

I think you're right, R.T. I think it was something like "Back to back and belly to belly, and I don't give a damn cause I done that already," or something like that. I can hear them singing that in my head . . .

Great post, Rob. Happy Halloween to you too.

David Edgerley Gates said...

Do you know a book by DuBose Heyward called THE HALF PINT FLASK (1929)? One of the first, I think, and still one of the scariest zombie books, a psychological ghost story, a little bit like THE TURN OF THE SCREW.

R.T. Lawton said...

Ah, John, you must be as old as I am. Scary the things that stick in our head.

Dixon Hill said...

Rob, reading your post I was reminded of two discussions about zombies, which I had with military guys stationed in Haiti.

One of my brothers in law was sent to Haiti, when in the Air Force. His barracks window looked out over a field a mile or two away. At night, he could usually see a collection of blue lights moving to and fro within the dark field, but he couldn’t figure out what they were. When he asked locals about them, folks tended to run away for some reason. So, when my brother in law met the local priest (a transplant from the U.S., who had lived in Haiti for years) he asked him. The priest said, “Oh. The blue lights in that field at night? I understand those are zombies. They form a sort of slave labor force, here on the island. That’s what I’ve been told, but I was also warned to stay away from them. So, I’ve never really seen them.”

A Special Forces buddy of mine corroborated the story when I asked him about his adventures there. He said he and his team had also seen blue lights in fields at night, and been told the lights were carried by zombies. So – in true SF style – he and his A-Team went out with a couple cases of beer one night, and drank beer with the zombies. He said the overseer didn’t welcome them at first, but the guy backed down when the team made it clear they weren’t leaving – and that their weapons weren’t just for show. And, after a few beers, the guy seemed to calm down. He called in the zombies with a sort of dog whistle, and the zombies came in and gathered around. My buddy said the zombies seemed to like drinking the beer, but they weren’t good at it -- spilled a lot down their shirts. And, try as they did, nobody could get the zombies to speak to them. When they asked the overseer, the guy laughed and said, “Well, they’re zombies. Zombies don’t talk!”

Robert Lopresti said...

r.T., John is right. i never heard the Kt version until i was preparing this. I encountered Rockapella when my daughter and I used to watch Carmen Sandiego. (They were the band and comedy act every day... Although the bass singer is the one i recognize from those days.).

dix, scary story. there is a book i love by Thomas Perry, callled Island. it is about a tiny Caribbean isle being run by con men as a countryf, to make money off banking rules. at one point Haitian refugees arrive and the chief conman makes a (not intenionally) hilarious speech in which he urges them to throw back any blowfish they catch (that being the suspected source of zombie drugs) and ending by declaring "No weirdness!". Tjat is a motto around my house.

Robert Lopresti said...

David, never heard of that book, thanks. I thought about mentioning Robert Heinlein's "'-All You Zombies-'" a short story he suposedly wrote in one day (and yes, the punctuation is correct). Nothing to do with zombies, but a great time travel story, that will make your brain curl up in nots.

Robert Lopresti said...

Uh, knots.

Leigh Lundin said...

Damn, I wish I could fully hear the Accokeek lyrics! Tell the zombies to stop laughing!

Leigh Lundin said...

I hadn't realized Zora Neale Hurston made the connection! Her house is nearly around the corner from me in Eatonville.

Robert Lopresti said...

Leigh, unfortunately the lyrics are not on his website yet. Of course, you can buy the CD...