This Zombie Moment: Hunting for What Lies Beneath the Undead Zeitgeist | LA Life | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

This Zombie Moment: Hunting for What Lies Beneath the Undead Zeitgeist 

"Zombies are always the monster for fear of something larger than yourself, whether it's the recession, or going on boats without pirates attacking, or countries far, far away plotting our doom. Zombies make sense right now."

Wednesday, May 13 2009

More zombies: Read STEVEN MIKULAN's "I Rode With a Zombie: An Undead Memoir," SCOTT FOUNDAS' "Birth of a Zombie Nation: The Undead at the Movies,"  and GENDY ALIMURUNG's web-exclusive interview with Zombie Research Blog founder, Andrew Morisson.

Also, view more zombie photos in the "What Lies Beneath: Zombies, Serial Killers & Suicide Girls" slideshow. 

We are in a time of the walking undead. A time of global economic recession, global pandemic and hand-sanitizer frenzy. A time when hordes of the foreclosed, the fired and the flu-ridden wander among us. A time when forlorn survivors of the downsized are reduced to hungry shells of their former selves as they soldier on in half-empty offices. Zombies, in other words. Zombie banks. Zombie corporations. Zombie housing tracts. Zombies are the “It” monster of our global mass panic.

click to flip through (8) ANNE FISHBEIN - Walk, don’t run: Construction worker of the dead, Anthony Dalbis of SoCal Zombiewalk.
  • Anne Fishbein
  • Walk, don’t run: Construction worker of the dead, Anthony Dalbis of SoCal Zombiewalk.

Cerebral, sexy vampires with their decadent lifestyles are out for the moment. So are werewolves, those slaves to animalistic passion. As real-life H1N1 swine flu rages through Mexico, Europe, Asia and the United States, and the world’s medical organizations prepare for a mutated viral onslaught this fall, a hoax BBC “report” of a new “H1Z1” strain circulates. “There has been a small outbreak of ‘zombism’ in London due to mutation of the H1N1 virus,” the hoaxster writes. “The Netherlands confirms its first case of zombie swine flu, in a 3-year-old boy recently returned from Mexico. After passing away early this morning, he rose from the dead and lunged at his mother.”

The entertainments of the moment rising up to meet the cultural Zeitgeist are a fresh wave of zombie films, zombie video games, zombie TV series, zombie comic books and a blockbuster zombie novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, “the classic Regency romance, now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem.” This book, more than anything else, starts me on a quest to explore the dark, mindless heart of the matter: Why zombies? Why now?

“I honestly have no other answer than it’s funny,” says Seth Grahame-Smith, the book’s author — the one, that is, who isn’t dead — Jane Austen is listed as co-author. “If you’re looking for a bigger point that I’m trying to make, um, you’re not going to find it.”

Undaunted, I meet Grahame-Smith at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in front of a Starbucks in Beverly Hills. He arrives late — a meeting at William Morris went long — apologizes profusely, glances at the people in line at the counter and declares himself to be already overcaffeinated. A TV screenwriter by trade, he has written books before, but none have done as well as this one.

“You have to understand,” he says, earnestly, “before this book, my Amazon rank was never above 7,000. The other day it was number 9.” That’s the power of zombies.

Grahame-Smith wrote the book over a five-week period last year. His editor, Jason Rekulak, had been wanting to do a literary mashup for a long time.

“He kept these lists with Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility and War and Peace on one side,” Grahame-Smith says, “and zombies, vampires, pirates and robots on the other. He kept moving the pieces around.” Then Rekulak called Grahame-Smith out of the blue one day with the title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. “And for whatever reason, I thought it was the most brilliant thing I’d ever heard,” the author says. “We went from there.”

Rekulak’s publishing bosses were hesitant at first. “They thought, well, you’re gonna turn off the Jane Austen fans with the zombies,” Grahame-Smith says, “and you’re gonna turn off the zombie fans with the Jane Austen.”

But what’s happened, despite the occasional “How dare you, sir!” flare of criticism, is the opposite, i.e. a zombie love fest in all quarters.

The zombies in the book are slow-moving, clumsy, easily tricked. They mistake heads of cauliflower for brains. “I didn’t want them to be quick, modern zombies. The comedy comes from the fact that they’re so simple-minded and helpless.” They barge in on the citizenry at opportune moments — during balls, during dinner, while traveling. “That’s another ridiculous thing about these people. It’s like, why would you keep traveling if this keeps happening to you? Sometimes they’ll send a letter by postal rider. And the postal rider would get slaughtered on the way there. So they have to send another postal rider. You have to think, why would the second postal rider go?”

Austen’s themes and the motivations of her characters stay mainly intact because much of the Austen stays intact. The book breaks down to 85 percent Austen, 15 percent zombie.

Grahame-Smith considered all sorts of plot lines. What if Lizzie turned into a zombie and killed herself? What if everybody became a zombie? Funny, but ultimately not sustainable. “While I think it’s hilarious to imagine Darcy pouring his heart out, and then his jaw falls off, there’s only so much mileage you can get out of that. All the jokes would be, ‘I would put my arms around you ... if I had any.’”

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