Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The problem with zombies in this day and age

I'm going to start out this rant with a Roger Ebert-style disclaimer: I never made it past page sixteen of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With that out of the way, let me begin by talking about how bad the book is, and what that means.

I love zombies. They have on many occasions been called "my thing." Just last week I was sent two different academic articles on zombies by two different friends. I am the "zombie guy." Now that I actually type that out it doesn't seem like much of a compliment, but it's one that I've taken pride in. I like the potential of zombies as a social metaphor, and I've made efforts to become knowledgeable of examples of the subject being explored maturely and successfully.

So, with that in mind, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies seemed like the perfect fit for me. It ostensibly takes one of the totems of the English canon and reworks it to include zombies. This conceit redoubles the potential for social examination and criticism inherent in Austen's novel of manners, bridging the gap of time and context by reducing the masses to mindless, undead hordes. Oh, did I mention that I have a Lit degree?

That's more or less what my sister had in mind when she very lovingly purchased Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for me. Despite the appreciation with which I received it, however, I just couldn't force myself to read past page sixteen.

The book plays the zombies for cheap laughs/thrills/whatever, 110%. Every chapter I read seems to forcibly wedge undead mayhem into the original text, making slight changes in an attempt to have it all make sense. Knowledge of the deadly arts, for example, is now a desirable quality for a person to have, and one that Elizabeth instantly notices in Mr. Darcy. The Bennet girls are unique in their mastering of these arts despite their femininity, as exemplified on page fourteen when they form a "Pentagram of Death" to escape a horde that has broken in on a ball.

It should be said that all of the criticisms I'm making could, theoretically, be of aspects limited to the first sixteen pages or so. There is the possibility that it could turn around and suddenly get better, and maybe one day I'll finish it and see. But I really don't think so. Evidently ninjas show up at some point.

The original text has received nothing but a cheap face lift (or ripping, as the cover art seen above suggests). Its traditional societal references have been exchanged for juvenile elements of violence, gore, and mindless horror. The new "co-author," Seth Grahame-Smith, evidently decided that all Austen's text needed to be "spiced up" was a zombie attack every paragraph or so. Rather than assisting in the aims of the original novel, the zombies seem poised only to capture the short attention spans of modern readers.

The way the book is written suggests that it doesn't respect its audience, and treats them like ADD-riddled gore-addicts, just looking for something new and shiny that they can use to get a fix. There's no justification for the presence of the gore, there's not even any intelligence displayed in the construction of the violence. It's just there to satiate an implied audience of children, and troubled ones at that. Reading the book made me feel patronized and embarrassed for my interest in zombies, and left me looking for a copy of the original with which to redeem myself.

Maybe I should have read more. Maybe my fault was to expect more from the text. After all, the back of the book does say that the addition of ultra-violent zombies "transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually what to read." I don't know, but in any case this issue is not unique to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and that's what I really have a problem with.

Zombies have gotten too popular. I don't mean that in a fanboy-ish, "I liked them before they were popular kind of way... Ok, I do, but only in part. I did like zombie movies before it was cool to do so, but that's not why I'm annoyed by the explosion in popularity that the genre has experienced in recent years. On the contrary, I've rather enjoyed the fact that there have been more zombie movies, books, etc., for me to explore.

My problem is with that fact that we the audience are increasingly being treated like children, as mindless as the zombies themselves in our endless consumption of the violence and gore they so often (but not necessarily) entail. The very existence of "fast zombies" is a pretty immediate sign of this, but even they have been handled intelligently at times.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, at least its first sixteen pages, encapsulate everything that is wrong with the general embrace of zombies, and the reason why the genre should probably be laid to rest for a while, so to speak. At least until someone can say something intelligent with it again.

As both a fan of the zombie genre and a general cultural consumer, I for one am sick and tired of being treated like an idiot. I'm glad I didn't pay for this book but I'm pissed that my sister did so with the best intentions, and also that the book is apparently a hit. They're re-releasing it come November with "30% more zombies," literally quantifying the amount of stupidity that they are able to cram into the confines of Austen's classic text.

The fact is that these kinds of things sell, and they sell well. I don't know how often this book has been read (the back of the book quotes Entertainment Weekly's excitement in a preview for the book), but it's certainly in a lot of homes. Mr. Grahame-Smith already has his next job, penning a novel about Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and I was actually excited about it until I finally sat down with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The people making these things (books, movies, etc.) know what we like, they just don't respect us enough to treat the properties well and produce something worthwhile. It's the reason we still get shitty superhero movies from time to time, the reason there are films with seemingly genius premises that can't even come close to matching their potential in practice (Outlander I'm looking at you), and the reason that Seth Grahame-Smith has a career for the time being.

I really want to let this thing spin out on me into a rant against the tacit and insidious resistances to the general embrace of geek-chic, but I need to let that sit for a while. In any case, zombies have been overdone and we need to let the subject rest in peace. The mainstream market has been supersaturated by them to the point of overindulgence, and that's never a good breeding ground for new ideas.


  1. How curmudgeony of you.

  2. Oh, pooks. My recent return to comics buying has also proven to me that zombies are overexposed. Every second book on the shelves felt like it was just another survivalist zombie epic.

    But I'm not a Romero purist. I'll take my zombies fast from time to time and count the ghouls from 28 Days Later as zombie-like enough. Still, my problem with the recent glut is only a bit about the dumbing down of the audience. You're right, it's there, but to be fair, Romero had a problem with telegraphing his points.

    Instead, I think the issue is what you got at later in your review- they all feel the same. They're too faithful to the Romero originals and now the whole thing's overchewed.

    Oh, and they also provide all the thrills of individualist survivalism, while ignoring the creepy political baggage those movements usually carry around in real life. Militias, anyone?

    Sorry to drone on, it's Marty, btw.

  3. Haha, overchewed is a great word for it Marty. I'm only just now noticing this comment(and your blog!) and I'm delighted to see it.