The Sunday Magazine

Michael's Essay: Zombies 'R Us

    I never caught on to the whole zombie thing.    Zombies are so in and so hot, that I'm surprised I'm not deeply involved with the whole zeitgeist, being, you know, always ahead of the wave in terms of pop cult, as I am.    I mean I even use words like zeitgeist.  Or sometimes weltanschauung....
    I never caught on to the whole zombie thing.
    Zombies are so in and so hot, that I'm surprised I'm not deeply involved with the whole zeitgeist, being, you know, always ahead of the wave in terms of pop cult, as I am.
    I mean I even use words like zeitgeist.  Or sometimes weltanschauung.

   Zombies are all over our screens. Sometimes they are the undead or the walking dead. Mostly just plain zombies. My problem is they're just not scary. Or very interesting. Most of them look like my high school football coach and, like him, have an astonishingly limited vocabulary.

   The makeup is award-winning, I grant you. But the stories seem at first glance pointlessly the same. Ever since Shaun of the Dead, I can't keep from smiling when the undead begin to perambulate.

    When they sit down to lunch, it's hilarious.
    Mind you, there is no avoiding their popularity.

    The eminent Canadian philosopher and cultural anatomist Mark Kingwell has worked out a complicated but fascinating theory.

    To steal a phrase from a well-known toy store, Zombies 'R Us.
    In an essay from a book entitled The Ends of History, Professor Kingwell writes:
    "Why, after all, do zombies eat us rather than the animal species we blithely consume on a daily basis?

    "Because, " he goes on, "we consume ourselves. The zombie is the uncanny perfection of the self. Zombies are the self-infection of consumption run riot."

   Of course.

    It was the same with Buffy and the vampire business of a few years ago. Never made it on my 10 best list.

    I think I had been spoiled on modern vampirism by Bram Stoker.  Anne Rice's obsession with vampires left me, you should pardon the expression, cold.
    Vampires and zombies fail their core mission --- they're not scary. You go to horror movies or watch scary television to be frightened, to be transported into realms of fear we would normally turn from.

    Now The Exorcist is scary. So is The Fly, the original with Vincent Price, not the awful re-make with Jeff Goldblum. So is THEM and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original with Kevin McCarthy, not the awful remake with Donald Sutherland.

    Concurrent with the extraordinary interest in zombies and vampires, is the inexplicable popularity of the celebrity chef.
    These shows are a hit with the viewing public, especially the chef as bully, Gordon what's his name, the Brit.

    The first celebrity chef on television that I remember was out of Montreal. Her name was Madame Jehane Benoit, famous for her fabled turkey crumpets.
    She was a jolly, pudgy little woman who made you feel entirely welcome and at home  in her sun-splashed kitchen.
    But after a few programs like this, the mind wanders. Even turkey crumpets lose their allure.

    These people are only cooks, people, just like you and me. They have no business being celebrities, let alone cultural icons. (You see how comfortable I am with a phrase like " cultural icons,")
    Hell,  I have a journalist friend who can out-cook all of them. But then he's Italian.
    Now if some smart teevee producer could concept (the TV verb) some new format encompassing all three  phenomena, I might become interested.
    If for example,  there was a weekly television show starring a vampire/zombie/celebrity chef, I think I  could really get  down with that.
    I would become, as I like to say, engagé.

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