(I really did intend just to write about zombies and vampires. Somehow this became something else, which long-time readers, as well as my therapist, know happens with me. )
I don’t know why I prefer vampire movies to zombie movies, but I think it has something to do with the pornographic violence that lurks at the heart of the latter. This is why I don’t really care for Quentin Tarantino films either — he has an ear for snappy dialogue, but at his heart he is a sadist who crafts characters for the sole purpose of torturing and defiling them. He is the film-making equivalent of the smart, creepy kid who sits in a corner and pulls the wings off flies.
But I’m talking here about inhuman monsters, namely zombies versus vampires. I think I prefer vampire flicks because with vampires there is the mystery of who will be attacked next, whether they’ll escape, who will be turned. With zombies it’s all slumbering, slouching doom through numbers, with the inevitable close-up shots of arms and feet being devoured. It’s like watching teenagers in the mall, only instead of chomping pizza they’re gnawing on Aunt Susie’s femur. If vampires are the elites of the monster world, zombies are the slobbering democratic masses. Perhaps I dislike zombie movies because I am an elitist, which I still think is a perfectly good word and worldview, despite what Sarah Palin’s handlers tried to make of it.
Movies aside, however, there is the deeper, more important question: which would you rather face in real life? Don’t tell me you’ve never watched Night of the Living Dead, or Thirty Days of Night, and not asked yourself: How would I survive a vampire invasion? How would I turn my home into a fortress against rampaging zombies? It’s something I’ve thought about, anyway. I’m not dead certain how we’ll evacuate in the event of a fire, but I know exactly where we’re holing up if hungry cannibals start popping up from the ground.
I blame Ronald Reagan and the Evil Soviet Empire for this. When I was a kid we had those TV movies about nuclear apocalypse, and so I spent many nights lying awake, wondering where I’d hide when mushroom clouds erupted over Greensboro. I figured they wouldn’t zap my home town of Winston-Salem, because even communists like cigarettes. But it’s the radiation poisoning drifting in an invisible cloud from Greensboro that would get you. Your teeth would turn yellow and your eyes would bug out and your skin would fall off.
At the time I didn’t realize that this is pretty much what happens with old age anyway. I only knew that terrible forces gathered on the horizon, and that if it wasn’t nuclear war it would be killer bees or AIDS or a final, devastating world depression. I carried about a sense of doom, and I suppose I still do, and that it’s probably not the fault of Reagan or the communists or Quentin Tarantino, but something inside me that expects the worst, the very worst, any minute now.
I suppose part of growing up — really growing up, not just getting older while you continue to dress and think and speak like a teenager — is setting aside child-like thinking. If you were abandoned or beat up or simply ignored as a child, if you grew up with a thick knot in your belly, then you can’t help but feel that knot now, all these years later, when you have your own children who imagine you are normal. So growing up is, I guess, living with that knot or that scar or that fear, and behaving like the courageous adult that you are not, that you don’t think you can ever be.
It means recognizing that the monsters are dead and gone, if they were ever monsters at all. There are monsters in the world, to be sure, but there is also goodness and hope, and I suppose I didn’t realize that when I was a child. There is goodness and hope, and this is what I want my children to know. I’ll teach them how to work a shotgun for good measure, just in case we are besieged by zombies. But I pray I don’t teach them to expect the worst, as I have always done, as I still do far more than I should.