06 November 2010


I mentioned before that S and I started watching AMC's new show The Walking Dead. Well, we also found a show called Dead Set that is made in England (I think). Both are zombie shows featuring lots of blood, gore, murder, walking corpses and screaming people. But there are some major differences as well.

Walking Dead takes place in America where the main character wakes up from a coma to a deserted and trashed hospital. He learns quickly that the dead don't stay down unless they are shot in the head. While searching for his wife and son he encounters other survivors and gets the lowdown on what's going on. Another plot line features a group of survivors learning how to live in a camp-like setting away from the majority of the zombies. The pace is slow and the show is character driven. After just one episode I was already rooting for the main character to find his family and pitying the zombies for their condition. Walking Dead beautifully demonstrated how a single zombie is a sorry and pitiful sight, the need to feed driving it and the last vestiges of humanity locked inside pleading to be set free. The zombies are portrayed as shambling, lumbering, stupid, hungry, aimless beings that will group together only for food. Violent only in their need to eat they will tear apart a living being for dinner. Otherwise they are kinda like...well, brain dead lumps of walking meat with only the tiniest bit of humanity buried inside.

Dead Set takes place in England on the set of the show Big Brother. We see behind the scenes of Big Brother as well as what's happening inside the BB house. In one isolated TV screen in the producer's viewing area we see a news flash about rioting and some dead. The producers are concerned that the news will bump the BB episode that's about to go live to oust one resident. In a very fast progression we see that the live outdoor audience is infected with a zombie and some making their way into the studio. The residents of BB have no idea what's going on until an employee makes it into the house alive. The pace is very fast, engaging and leaves a lot open to your imagination. Halfway through the series (one season only) and we don't know what caused the zombie behaviour, cell phones & landlines don't work, and TV is off the air for the most part (no idea why nobody tried to boot up a laptop for global info). One single sentence gives the idea that the zombie situation is not confined to England. The zombies here are fast, hungry, murderous, rage-filled beings. When there is no food present they appear reasonably calm or at rest. As soon as some noise indicating food is present, they attack with an alarming amount of rage. These zombies will abandon their fresh kill to attack a nearby prey with unquenchable anger. If no new prey is available, they will calmly hunker down and eat their raw dinner. We learn the zombies are not intelligent by their inability to open doors or get out of a hot tub. There appears to be no humanity left in these beings.

While both shows grabbed my attention and left me wanting to see more, the differences struck me as being more than just a writer's decision on what a zombie should be. Instead the shows seemed to reflect the cultures they represent very well. In America, they seem to pride themselves on their individuality and intelligence. Having zombies that are stupid and indistinguishable from each other would be the epitome of horror. In England they seem to be very controlled people, 'stiff upper lip' as they say. Zombies portrayed here are out of control with rage and their behaviour leaves the victim to have to rely on decisions that are far outside their comfort zones.

I'm not familiar with zombie movies or shows from other parts of the globe, but what do you think zombies in Japan would be like? Or Africa? How would cultural differences and general population behaviours translate into something that would make the viewer's blood run cold?

1 comment:

Chantelle said...

What a thought-provoking analysis!

There are lots of different types of zombies, from the slow-moving Romero zombies to the later, fast-moving ones. I'd never thought that some of the differences between types could be due to cultural differences, but it does make sense.

I recently read a fantastic zombie anthology that included a detailed introduction and analysis of zombies in popular culture. It's called Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead and it's a huge book but one of the best. Anyways, one thing from it that stayed with me was that North American zombies are consumers... they're our consumer culture consuming us. But consumer culture is much less prevalent in the UK so that might be one of the reasons for the difference.

Have you read World War Z by Max Brooks? It's the story of a global zombie apocalypse told through interviews with survivors from around the world. One of the reasons that I love this book is that it does take a global perspective - the experience is subtly different in Russia as compared to the US as compared to South Africa, even though the zombies are the same.

There's more to zombies than first glance, isn't there? The history and cultural differences are almost more interesting than the stories themselves.

Love you,