When I was at ApolloCon XI in Houston this past summer, I attended a panel discussion(1) entitled “Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves, Oh my?” It posed an interesting question:
What the big deal? Why are we obsessed with part human monsters? Do we see a part of our own humanity in them? A discussion of the fascination with these myths, also why they aren’t new trends, just old ones revised. Do they take on different forms based on society’s current issues?
That last question was the one that got me curious (that, and an old Con friend, Derly Ramirez, was on the panel), so I dropped in.
In the course of things, one of the panelists observed that vampires were the aristocracy of the triad under discussion. Consider a vampire: Strong, commanding, erotically romantic, attractive (ever see a vampire rating less than a 7?), in control. Powerful. For quite a while, we all wanted to be vampires, whether it was Angel or Spike, or Dracula (a character re-imagined by Fred Saberhagen as an anti-hero in “Friend of the Family). We wanted to be powerful, and we could imagine ourselves attaining that power.
It was further commented that werewolves were sort of the worker class. Sure they were powerful, and their human personas could be attractive, but there was no job requirement for it. And when they turned into werewolves … well, pretty? Not so much. Nonetheless, you could still see why someone might want to be a werewolf. You were human at least 3 weeks out of the month, but you were still and always strong, ageless and immortal. So, a not-too-horrible fate.
But zombies? Why on earth would zombies suddenly become popular? Why would the popularity of zombies begin to eclipse that of vampires, even to the costumes in which we dressed ourselves? After all, vampires are the undead. Zombies are merely walking, shambling dead; no power, no hope, no life — literally and figuratively — and really, have you ever seen a zombie that rated higher than maybe a 1 or 2?
So we return to the question: Why are we obsessed with part human monsters, and do our obsessions evolve based on society’s current issues?
Then the thought occurred to me, yes! I can see it. At a time of rising expectations and perceived affluence, we can all aspire to be vampires. But when times get tough — layoffs, foreclosures, and an overall sense of being insecure and out of control — zombies come into the picture. At the least, we feel threatened by the zombies of our world; the random attacks on our homes, our jobs, our sense of control. At worst, we become the zombies; hopeless, shambling from one place to another with no real goals or expectations that life will improve.
Isn’t it interesting that zombies have become, perhaps, the mirrors of how we feel deep down.
It may not be a coincidence that the first golden age of movie monsters was in the 1930s; a time of greater economic hopelessness and despair than we feel as a society even today.
Popular culture and media have an interesting dynamic; it’s impossible to tell where the circle begins and where it ends.
Maybe the end of economic hard times will be in sight when zombies wane and vampires are back.
1. Panelists: Derly Ramirez, Gabrielle Faust, Julia Mandala, O. M. Grey, Lou Antonelli (M)