Zombie consumerism.

th14 Zombie consumerism.Lately it’s been all undead, all the time. My friend Linda B. has been recording the deeply creepy series “The Walking Dead” for me, and the two of us saw the zom-rom-com film “Warm Bodies” together. Last weekend, DF and I attended opening night (and the world premiere) of “At Home With the Clarks,” described by its author as “Father Knows Best” meets “Night of the Living Dead.”

All three got me thinking about class and consumerism.

In the TV series, survivors of the zombie apocalypse are ultra-stripped-down consumers. The mostly desperately prized items are food and bullets and, this season, baby formula since one of the characters died in childbirth and no one in the group is currently lactating.

People wear the same few clothes over and over. They drive whatever operational vehicle they can find. When they need shelter or a defense against the undead they must MacGuyver-up solutions with what’s currently at hand.

Barely making it, always hungry, no chance to plan for the future because they’re too busy surviving the present: Clearly, they are the working poor.

Always chasing the ghost

The zombie leading man of “Warm Bodies” is a collector. While the other undead mostly shamble in endless loops around the airport, “R” has built himself a little nest in a passenger plane.

He’s got a stereo system and all sorts of decorative tchotchkes. No food, of course, but what single guy keeps more in his fridge than some Coronas and a couple of limes? (Not that I wish to generalize. And not that zombies drink beer.) He’s got a hot red sportscar that he can’t actually drive, zombie reflexes being what they are.

However, none of what R has makes him happy. Once he’s obtained it the stuff is just, well, stuff. When he’s finished stumbling around the airport with all the other brain-dead undead, R retires for the night to his super-narrow condo to sit among his stuff and, um, vegetate. He can’t even sleep (zombies can’t, apparently).

R’s only brief moments of quasi-joy come from nibbling on the brains of any people he can catch. When he does this, he gets fragments of their memories, quick flashes of what it was like to be human. Think of it as zombie meth: It feels great but it doesn’t last long, and it leaves you desperate for more. You’re always chasing the ghost.

I think this makes him…the acquisitive middle class.

The status quo as birthright

And the Clarks? Why, they’re the clueless rich! They’ve got nice furniture, the latest electronics (for that era, anyway) and chirp-happy kids who say things like “Golly gee whillikers” when things are perplexing.

Dad makes so much money that Mom doesn’t have to work. She serves pot roast for dinner on a weeknight and wears a lovely dress even though it isn’t Sunday. They live in “a nice neighborhood,” so nice they don’t bother locking the back door. (Hint: Not a good habit once the zombie apocalypse has taken place.)

Success is as expected and accepted as the oxygen they breathe, and the status quo is their birthright. When warned about an imminent nuclear attack they actually laugh. Even a radio broadcast urging them to seek shelter is dismissed as probably just a drill. Sirens going off in the neighborhood? No doubt it’s just an accident or a fire.

When the mushroom cloud shows up, Mom and Dad chant a Civil Defense ditty about Bert the Turtle. They really believe that ducking and covering will save them. After all, our system is set up to protect people like them. The Clarks are too big to fail.

In fact, some of the trappings of their success – pretty things on the wall, the high-tech (for that era) telephone – do provide some protection. Some small part of the zombie brain is easily distracted by bright shiny objects, slowing them down enough to help the survivors avoid immediate capture and infestation.

And while I won’t reveal the ending, I will say that the status quo does figure prominently: Too much social change too fast is one of the reasons that the crisis happened in the first place. Ahem.

What makes us human

Class symbolism aside, what are we to make of this societal fascination with the undead?

Maybe it plays on our fears of being dehumanized by what an increasingly cold and uncaring world, or by a social structure that turns us into zombies/drones. A scene in the zombie comedy (zomedy?) “Shaun of the Dead” shows people with vacant eyes and expressions, but it turns out they’re just commuters – and by the end of the film, it’s pointed out that tamed zombies make excellent retail clerks.

Certainly there’s a hint of zombiedom in certain consumer behaviors. Plenty of people mindlessly buy the newest version of anything, even if the old one still works just fine and/or isn’t even really “old” (and even if they can’t afford it). If a celebrity shows a new hairstyle or is photographed drinking a particular beverage, how many fans rush to imitate? And as regards social media, well…Don’t get me started or we’ll be here all day.

For me, the fascination/fear stems from the notion of memories. They make me who I am. Memories are my most precious possessions.

True, they’re sometimes strongly linked to material items. Prime example: Why did I drive a U-Haul to Alaska? It would have been much more practical/frugal simply to mail a few boxes, pack a couple of suitcases and dump or donate the rest before getting on a plane.

But there’s no logic to emotion. While I did get rid of a bunch of stuff I kept a lot, too. There was no need for me to bring the grandfather clock that an artist friend made for me, or the outfit my newborn daughter wore home from the hospital, or even some old Tupperware that belonged to my mother. But specific memories are attached to those items.

Yes, I get sentimental about food preservation containers. Sue me. But zombies don’t have memories. (Or Tupperware.)

What defines us as human beings is our ability to care, and to remember. In a recent episode of “The Walking Dead,” a preteen and two other survivors went on a supply run to the city where he’d lived before the infestation. With a whole town to plunder, the kid risked his life to grab one thing: a photo of himself and his parents. (His mother was  the one who died in childbirth.)

When chastised about taking such a chance, the boy explains that he thought his baby sister deserved “to know what her mother looked like.”

That ability to think about others before ourselves? The need to cherish family ties? That’s what makes us human. That’s why I fear dementia more than I do cancer, because it would take away everything I have. Or, rather, everything that matters.


18 Comments

  1. I do agree about memories. Thoughts of dementia fill me with dread. Cancer or loss of physical mobility are less frightening. After I spent a total of a decade in school, I mused that dementia would be just ducky–all that work just to lose the fruits.

  2. Ro in San Diego

    I agree with Practical Parsimony. My aunt died a few years ago after a sudden, and terrifying onset of Alzheimers which left with no memories of how to do many things we take for granted.

    I haven’t talked to her daughters about her situation at the end but I would be they are terrified that they might end up like their dear mother. For me, the only hint that something was wrong near the middle (not the end) of her ordeal, is that her speech seemed slower and she almost seemed not to be remembering me so well.

    Unfortunately for her, not even as functional as our movie Zombies.

  3. I can tell how happy you are. Your writing a lot more often.

  4. I was seriously amused by your inclination to take the current fascination with zombies and turn it into a lesson on frugality.

    That’s when you know you have a serious life mission.

    • kim bradshaw

      I ruminate on these problems much of the time anyway, even without the zombies….if the $US ceases to be the world’s reserve currency, we could see an economic apocalypse, and I wonder about how myself and my family would survive. I have the advantage of living on 4 acres, 60 miles out of Winnipeg, with 3 artesian wells, so we could form a colony, but I imagine it would be rather a grim life!

  5. Donna, this is hands down, the best post I’ve read this month. What defines us is not the trinkets we collect, it’s the bonds we form with others. You said it better than anybody.
    The only thing I’m a little upset about is that you didn’t mention *spoiler alert*! I’m only through season 2 of the Walking Dead. I didn’t know she died!!!!! (haha, just kidding)

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, CR, and sorry about the reveal. :-(

      • Tracy Stone

        Yes! Gah! I’d read this before and come back since I’ve started watching The Walking Dead with my husband . I clicked on the link in today’s post. Oh, well. Her husband just found out in this latest episode. (We started watching it because my 8-year-old son wanted to watch it, I said no, so hubby started watching it to see if it was okay for son to watch (NO!) and I got sucked in. Oh, well. I figure they all die eventually. It’s fascinating to me to watch each individual with all their own issues. I think they’re making fun of us all.

        • Donna Freedman

          My 11-year-old nephew has a friend whose parents let him watch the show. I think it’s deeply unsettling and not for children. Terrifically acted and written, but deeply creepy.

  6. ImJuniperNow

    Can’t get into the Walking Dead/Zombie thing. Reminds me too much of the office I work in, I guess. Don’t even like the Time Warner Walking Dead TV commercial (gave up red meat last year – another memory jab).

    I’d add toilet paper to the food and bullets list. But how come nobody ever needs to go to the bathroom in these things? Even Bruce Willis didn’t take time out for that in “Die Hard”.

    MacGuyver that!

    • kim bradshaw

      I imagine it’s one of the things that shut down when we are under life threatening stress — why terrifying situations cause us to $#@!*& ourselves and then get on with it!

  7. Catseye

    I’m also a Walking Dead fan but when I watch the show, the last thing on my mind is class and consumerism. One of the reasons I find the show fascinating is everyone is on the same level. The political, financial and social structure simply no longer exists. I don’t think the characters even think of themselves as Americans any more.
    People who didn’t own guns or found guns morally objectionable no longer think that way. Decent, caring people have become cold and dispassionate towards others simply because it’s a matter of survival. Trust a stranger, wind up dead. Or undead.
    And don’t even get me started on the necessity of killing people who are already dead and look it. People who might have once been neighbors, friends, family. What a nightmare! Sure makes my life look a lot better. ;o)

    • Donna Freedman

      I think class/power is re-establishing itself, with the Governor and his group. Religion hasn’t been mentioned, but their politics seem right-ish to me.
      Ever read “Lucifer’s Hammer”? Brrrr.

  8. Excellent post Donna. You are a gifted writer, and I so enjoy reading your blog!

  9. priskill

    Excellent post — and I forgive the spoiler in Season 3! We frugally rent and netflix so ended at Season 2.

    I ADORE this show because it isn’t really about zombies, who are, let’s admit it, rather a dull, clodhoppish class of villains with less panache than vampires or even your average serial killer. No, it’s all about society devolving away from civilization — what happens to people in extremis, at the end of the world? Love how characters are changing, even the stalwarts and nice guys, as horrors chafe at their goodness, and loss piles on loss. Sounds as though Season 3 will reinstate some weird semblance of “order” and the class system. Do wonder where they get all those bullets.

    We do get annoyed at the portrayal of women, though. Apparently, even during the End Times, women still get stuck cooking and doing chores. Men blunder off with weapons to slaughter the undead while women cower back to snipe at each other about the laundry. The one female who insists on learning to defend herself is chastised for “sitting on top of the RV tanning” instead of doing her womanly duty. It was very odd and kind of sad — the end of the world and we’re still arguing about this stuff!

    LOVED this post! Especially the class breakdown. Just hope the DALES beat the SHANES and the RICKS stay the course.

  10. After reading your piece I knew we weren’t the w/dead or zombie, sort of family so I put us in the Clark family. As I went back and reread the discription, the only thing that really relates to us is the film about the turtle. We had that over & over in school.

    We hardly had 2 pennies to rub together. Mom & dad were very hard workers and long hrs in the fish factories. Our grams lived in the neighborhood so was always caring for us, we even had a neighor who would feed us lunch on school days but for some reason I had gotten it in my head that she was going to poison my sister & me, so I wouldn’t eat there. Fred & Myrtle. I can picture them now.
    I don’t remember ever seeing my mon in a dress or dad dressed up, tho I guess when he remarried in his 70s he had a suit on.

    So I guess we were somewhere almost out of the clark family era but
    not into the Zomie, w/ dead era. Where does that put us?

    Keep up the good work Donna. Your parts really bring back alot of
    memories, tho I think I mentioned that before.

    sincerely,
    donna

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for reading. Myself, I think I identify most with the lower-class zombies, a la “The Walking Dead.” Never quite convinced that what I have is going to last or will not be taken from me. I believe that’s known as a “scarcity mentality,” and I’m working to correct it.

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