6 Mind-Blowing Ways Zombies and Vampires Explain America
Here's the weirdest graph you'll see all week. It's graphing the popularity of zombie movies versus vampire movies, split out by whether the president at the time was a Republican or a Democrat. There are exceptions, but in general when a Republican is in office, it's all about zombies. When it's a Democrat, it's all about vampires:
And apparently all our apocalypses started with Eisenhower.
Night of the Living Dead shambled into cinemas during the Nixon era. Carter gave us two adaptations of Dracula. See that massive red spike in the '80s? That's when conservative superhero Ronald Reagan occupied the highest office, and a Night of the Living Dead remake, one sequel, two Return of the Living Dead movies and Reanimator occupied the cinemas. Then Clinton gave us Anne Rice. The connection is confirmed by academics who study the subject. What the hell?
Actually, it makes perfect sense. Horror plays off of social anxieties of the times, and it's all about what the left and right are afraid of. For instance ...
The Right Fears Vampires Because They're Immoral Sexual Deviants ...
Vampires represent a combination of all the things the right fears about the left -- a breakdown of traditional morality and sexuality, a rejection of religion (there's a reason you can ward off a vampire with a cross), and the seduction and corruption of the innocent. It's everything Mom and Dad fear when their little girl goes off to college. When a Fox News viewer sees this:
They're really afraid of this:
To be fair, we're pretty sure this crew could whoop the cast of Twilight hard.
It's the sexual seduction aspect that's driving the whole vampire phenomenon right now, so let's start there. Vampires are so damn sexy right now, advertisers have even started using vampire imagery to help sell their shit, from razors to cologne.
No, vampires wouldn't need razors. Let's not start that argument.
The idea of the sexy vampire is something Bram Stoker essentially invented -- before that, vampires in folklore were basically walking corpses. Dracula reinvented the vampire as someone whose bones you would walk over your mother's grave to jump. It worked then for the exact same reason they work now -- they were the absolute inversion of conservative Victorian ideals. Prim and proper English ladies, after being bitten by the Count, became oversexed slutbags who abandoned their maternal duties to indulge in depravity. The motive of the vampire invasion was to turn England into the Jersey Shore.
A fate worse than crumpets.
And it's never about traditional, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. From Buffy to Anne Rice to Twilight, part of the whole concept of vampires is that they're not just sexy as hell, but aren't too picky about which warm hole they decide to probe.
Count the number of characters in True Blood who are gay, or at least display bisexual tendencies. You'll see our point when you run out of fingers. There's pretty much nothing about the vampire that doesn't directly oppose the conservative ideal, and although being conservative doesn't necessitate being Christian, a hell of a lot of American conservative ideals are rooted in religion, as they were in Britain in Bram Stoker's time.
"We believe in love, forgiveness and staking the shit out of vampires."
And that brings us to the fact that ...
... They're Foreigners ...
Bram Stoker's Dracula was the book that first took a bunch of campfire stories and cultural myths and constructed the modern incarnation of the vampire. It's about a guy from Transylvania (which we're betting you probably couldn't place on a map) who decides he wants to leave his dark, lonely castle at the edge of some obscure European village and enjoy the comforts of Western society.
But when he arrives in England, he starts "converting" people into the same kind of monster that he is. What really stirs the heroes into action is that the new legion of ex-humans are aggressively loyal to Dracula, not to Britain. Shit, if Dracula had been written today, he'd be wearing a turban.
"Sure you can go out with that murderous vampire. Wait, is he a Muslim?"
Daniel Bernardi points out that vampire movies tend to crop up whenever immigration becomes a hot-button issue in the United States (along with alien invasion movies). In the late '80s and early '90s, an important era for the immigration and multiculturalism issue, we got a crop of movies such as 1989's Vampire's Kiss, in which the vampires were all model minorities like African and Asian Americans (on an unrelated note, it contains some of Nicolas Cage's finest moments):
Vampires tend to have their own language (as in the Blade universe), and their own weird rituals and government (True Blood). But in every incarnation, a vampire is not one of us.
"It's agreed then. We like drinking blood and talking in unspecified European accents."
... And Parasites.
When Rush Limbaugh said that "individualism, to a liberal, is like showing Dracula the cross," he wasn't just making a random analogy. He could easily have said that it's like showing Superman some kryptonite, or like showing Ke$ha a bar of soap. No, commentators like him love the vampire analogy. He often says "vampire" is just another word for a Democrat -- a parasite, who "sucks the blood out of capitalism."
Well, this can't possibly be a political cartoon. Where are the labels? We don't know what this means.
Or, consider the 2009 vampire movie Daybreakers. In it, vampires have taken over the world, and installed their own society and government. But with no more humans to bleed out, the people begin starving in the streets, leading to harsh, Soviet-style rationing and mass vampire riots. It's the exact kind of bleak, dystopian hell that people like Limbaugh imagine will become reality if the Democrats win another term in office. No one in society is producing, everyone is just bleeding their neighbor dry.
Or, you have Vampire Nation by novelist/Ayn Rand aficionado Thomas Sipos, which just openly makes the vampire/leftist connection (the cover features a blood-drinking Lenin).
Or as they say in Russia, better vampire-Lenin than zombie-Stalin.
Even True Blood, where the good guys are vampires, puts them on that side of the equation, the heroes always being denounced and hunted down by gun-toting conservative caricatures.
"Say NO to brooding, dangerous and sexually attractive young people!"
So, let's take this from the opposite side now. The more conservatives come to power and prominence, the more zombie novels/movies/video games people buy. Why? Well ...
The Left Fears Zombies Because They're Mindless Consumers ...
In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis, left wing commentator Thom Hartmann warned that Tea Party zombies are loose in Washington and that their secret mission is to raze America to the ground and create a "second great depression," because that totally makes sense, at least if you're a Saturday morning cartoon villain.
Leftist New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls conservative economic theories zombie economics.
We're going ahead and calling them "Zombinomics."
Someone else took the time to produce a Doom clone flash game in which you grab a shotgun and march through a trailer park, picking off shambling undead rednecks, climate skeptics and Fox News personalities. When someone from the left sees this:
... what they really fear is this:
If we know our protesters, these two groups smell pretty much the same.
It's a belief that conservatives are a mindless, stupid mass, just aimlessly ambling forward and devouring everything in their path.
The current incarnation of the zombie was given to us almost single-handedly by George Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead and its sequels. Specifically, it's the second movie in the series, Dawn of the Dead, in which Romero decided his blood-and-guts horror movie was going to double as a metaphor for mindless, mass consumerism (it's set in a shopping mall, a setting that was borrowed for Dead Rising).
Man, liberals have really bad tunnel vision. The zombie hoard is right there!
Unlike the minority vampires, zombies are always the majority. You've never seen a movie in which a group of survivors battle one or two zombies. An essential part of the whole trope is that the dead quickly outnumber the living. They're everywhere, and all they do is consume -- they have no other mission but a massive human-brain shopping spree.
In more recent incarnations, the culprit is explicitly some giant, evil corporation that unwittingly turns the world into zombies through its products -- the Resident Evil series has zombies unleashed by a transnational pharmaceutical corporation, in 28 Days Later, it's some company's evil animal testing division that brings about the zombageddon.
And then the rage infected monkeys are released. Thanks, PETA.
And to really drive the point home, the survivors who barricade themselves in the mall in Romero's movie immediately fall victim to the allures of capitalism. They greedily loot the place, and in one telling scene, the once hardass strong-female character, Fran, is seen pampering herself with perfume and lipstick in front of the mirror, and in the next scene, is shown cooking for the men. At one point, one of the characters looks upon the zombie horde and laments, "They're us." Yeah we get it George.
"Also maybe they want to kill us or something."
Conservatives will say this is a sign of elitism in the left, that they see themselves as the last thinking, enlightened surrounded by a brainless horde.
... They're Here to Stamp Out All Non-Conformists ...
Part and parcel with the zombie concept is the zombie apocalypse. As World War Z author Max Brooks points out, "Other monsters may threaten individual humans, but the living dead threaten the entire human race ... Zombies are slate wipers." The only goal that zombies have, if they can be said to have a goal, is worldwide assimilation.
"We'll do without her though. She can keep that brain."
Ever wonder why the hell zombies don't just attack each other? In 28 Days Later (in which the "zombies" are actually still technically living people), that was actually a plot point. The zombies actually starve to death in the end, as it apparently never occurs to them that they can just feast on each other's flesh instead of trying to track down the remaining five or so uninfected humans. Turning everyone into a zombie is more important even than individual survival.
Sounds like someone needs to get some brains.
That means what they really despise are minorities, those straggling ragtag survivors who refuse to assimilate to zombie culture. Zombies, you see, are basically white people.
It's not just an American thing. In 1994, Irish band The Cranberries released a popular protest song against British imperialism. The title? "Zombie." But the fear of right-wing, white, American consumerist culture taking over the world is a large part of what the whole zombie thing is all about. It doesn't matter if you're black, white, Latin, Asian or Eskimo, the zombies will come, and soon you'll abandon your personality and individualism for the kind of living-dead non-culture that zombies represent.
"Save Money, Kill Efficiently."
When you're watching a movie about mindless zombies eating up the world, what you really fear, deep down, is your parents sitting in their recliners watching Idol. You're afraid of McDonald's and Wal-Mart and 7-11. You're afraid of Cosmo, Facebook and Justin Bieber. You're afraid that monolithic, capitalist, zombie corporations are coming into your homes and eating your brains.
"One more hour of Farmville and I will happily chew someone else's arm off."
... And Can't Think for Themselves.
Part of the threat that the right represents to the left is this mass adherence to conformity. When boiled down to the simplest stereotypes, conservatives are in uniform dark suits with red ties, liberals are hippies in wild, non-conformist tie die dresses. The association of conservatives with religion is part of that, what the left sees as blind, mindless patriotism is another.
Which do we shoot? Which do we shoot?
Consider that the core of Christianity is based upon the story of a man who rose from the dead and started converting people. Zombies represent the typical irreligious critique of the religious -- they suppress critical thinking, and they're viciously evangelical. They come to your door, and suddenly you're a drooling religioid.
"Can I interest you in the word of the Lord and the edibility of your face?"
But it goes beyond religion. Part of conservatism is a passionate adherence to stability and tradition. The zombie apocalypse is the ultimate vision of a perfectly stable society -- zombies never attempt social reform or try to shoehorn amendments into the constitution, they just shamble about, moaning and bumping into things.
That actually brings us full circle, with what these fears have in common. Specifically, that both zombies and vampires have the ability to turn our children, friends and people we love into one of them. And we'll be next.
You would have thought these guys would be all about health care reform.
That's the most terrifying concept of all, that this other point of view that we find so ridiculous and inhuman is somehow contagious, that if exposed to it we might be forced to see the world their way, whether we like it or not. And neither a vampire or a zombie can be cured -- once converted, you never go back. And that's why they must be destroyed.
Hell, maybe we owe Stephenie Meyer an apology. Maybe her sympathetic, sexy vampires are an attempt at no less than staving off Civil War II. All we need is for somebody to write a book about sexy zombies.
There's no such thing as a zombie love triangle when you can each have a limb!
S Peter Davis overanalyzes even more popular culture over at Three Minute Philosophy.
For more ways horror movies tell us about ourselves, check out 6 Popular Monsters Myths (That Prove Humanity Is Doomed). Or check out some beasts that we hope don't represent us, in The 5 Most Half-Assed Monsters in Movie History.