This is odd. Vampires are destroyed by the loyal conformist, usually a man of religious faith, and zombies by the punk rebel. Different times require different heroes, and heroes change constantly. Even nihilism is not what it used to be. In A Bout de Souffle, Jean Paul Belmondo persuaded us that there really was a transcendental moment to justify selfishness and self-destruction. Now heroes bleed to death, remembering their sadistic violence. They wait with a wry grin for a comfortless vacuum. The gratification they have is that they can say, usually in a very deep voice, ‘I told you so.’
Heroism once required faith and was found in the steadfast. Nowadays we hardly use the word steadfast, which is only one of the reasons Charlton Heston has lost appeal. Special effects and reduced attention spans mean that the threats to survival in a movie are now relentless. Modern adventure cinema subscribes to the Sam Goldwyn mantra. ‘Start with an earthquake and build it up to a climax.’ Inevitably, the modern hero has stubble. There is not the time to shave in a zombie epic and stay alive. This is an irony. With so much stubble around, steadfast should be in abundance. Think Charlton Heston again. In the past, the steadfast had beards rather than stubble or, if they were handsome, whiskers. They were victorious and prevailed. They inherited a Christian future or at least went home to, or with, nice girls. Those who survive against zombies do not. Even in victory, everything modern man wants is lost, the Internet, pubs and the shopping malls. Gone are the days when steadfast heroes were inspired by a cross and a few prayers. Now it is no more than the next unsatisfactory breath.
The modern hero has staying power and, like the resolve of a football manager, it is significant that the ultimate objective is trivial. In the case of football, it is a trophy whose appearance few can describe and that proves nothing of meaning. The victory will soon be superseded by future tournaments. For the hero of a zombie picture, it is existence with nothing on the horizon. But this is what we admire in the modern world, determination without awareness. This is what makes us strong supposedly. Inevitably, mindless self-reliance has consequences. Nobody looks as cool as Jean Paul Belmondo anymore.
Indeed, the gross rather than style is important. Zombie fighters have especially strong stomachs, and, for a cinema or TV audience, this is a comfort. Those in front of the screen may not be resolute and brave but they can watch intestines hit the floor. The zombie fighter and their admirers are not queasy. It is a distressing moment in Lord Of The Flies when the pig is killed by what were once rather reserved public schoolboys. But we have moved on. The public schoolboys are now neo-conservative thugs in the making, and no one cares about a squealing pig and blood and guts.
The punk has triumphed. Our heroes, though, change.
Howard Jackson has written 3 stories for Zombie Bites, which will be published by Red Rattle Books in October. He has written 4 stories for Dracula’s Midnight Snacks, which was published by Red Rattle Books last October.
His own collection of horror short stories, Nightmares Ahead, will be published next year.
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