The Morning After, “The Night of the Living Dead”

This is not a treatise on last Saturday’s wild night and then the morning after, no, not a story about the waking dead, but maybe I protest too much. No, this post is about the explosion of the macabre in modern culture. The Twilight series is just one of the more successful franchises in this genre. I feel somewhat handicapped discussing this cultural movement. I am not particularly partial to it; I have not seen any of the Twilight movies and frankly don’t believe in any of its supernatural underpinnings. Even with this lack of credentials, let me lead you on into the darkness.

When I was a child, I enjoyed watching a Saturday morning cartoon show called “Space Angel”. It was an animated space opera and certainly was child appropriate. Coincidentally, or maybe not, a movie by the same title appeared in theaters. I had to go see it. I was young enough and naïve enough not to suspect what was about to happen. Our mother dropped my brother and I off at the theater, we bought our tickets, got our seats and waited for the movie. What ensued was not space opera, nor family friendly entertainment. I was terrified by the horror movie that followed. In this monster movie emulsifying black goo began falling from space. If you were one of the unfortunates that it landed upon, your flesh would be burned from your bones.

Later, in junior high school, I passed almost blissfully unaware of the daytime, horror soap opera, “Dark Shadows”. When I did become aware of the phenomena, the plot had become so convoluted that it seemed too difficult to follow. Besides our ancient TV set of the day had so little contrast left in its tube, it was impossible to see what was going on in this perpetually dark TV show. This time boredom won out over fear.

Last Saturday afternoon, Anne and I were rounding the Barnes hospital complex, when we saw a sign for Cortex. Cortex is a non-profit organization that buys and then develops the real estate to attract biotech start-up companies. I joked that it was really just a front for zombies. So, even a non-believer, a non-participant, such as my self can be affected by the horror culture. Where are all of these monsters coming from?

The word monster is derived from two Latin words, monstrum, meaning “to show” and monere, meaning “to warn”. Think back, back to prehistoric times, back further still, back to when we spent our days sitting in trees. Don’t try to quiet your inner monkey brain, because that is all you have left. Today’s monkeys have distinct calls for the three predators that prey upon them, one each for the leopard, python and eagle. When one of these predators shows itself, a unique cry is made that warns the pack and then elicits an appropriate threat response. The amalgam of these three threats is universal across human culture, in the form of the mythical dragon, part cat, snake and bird. So this is the reason that we create and fear monsters, on the most fundamental of levels, we are wired to.

Fast forward to the present day, all three of these archetype predators should and do fear us now, but still they haunt us. There are real monsters in this world, any newspaper prints daily testament to that. Why then do we continue to seek out make-believe monsters? Are they really less frightening? The Twilight sagas are certainly hunkier. Last weekend, I got sucked into watching the British TV series, “Being Human”. It is about three cool young urban types that share a flat. They all seem like such nice people, except that they are respectively a vampire, werewolf and a ghost. The series cycles through the principal’s problems, an increasingly anorexic looking vampire that refuses to drink; a werewolf that has a horrible “that time of the month”; and a ghost who is way too preoccupied with making tea. Still, they seem like such nice people.

The next morning, the night after the living dead, I was surfing YouTube and came across the Iwo Jima landing scene from the HBO series, “The Pacific”. This sequence condenses the groundbreaking horror of the similar “Private Ryan” landing scene into half the time. Life is depicted so cheaply. The recurring thought that this is supposed to show real life, instead of make-believe, that the characters on film represented real people, people who had dreams, life, makes it truly horrible and something to be feared, something to be warned about.

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