15 November, 2010

On Shambling

I had the creepiest dream about zombies, you guys. They were pretty out of it, but they could talk so even though you could tell by looking at them that they were dead a lot of people wouldn't read them as zombies. I got on one of those really big elevators with a guy my age and his little son, and then this older guy started to get on who I knew was a zombie. I told the guy my age not to let the guy on the elevator, and he ineffectively tried to stop him but he got on anyway. The whole time we were on this elevator, I was telling the zombie to stay on the other side of the elevator, and picking up this folding chair that was in the elevator and threatening to smash his head. By the time we got to my level (we were in a parking garage) the living guy in the elevator obviously thought there was something wrong with me because I was being so aggressive and rude to this other guy, who seemed really gentle. As I got off the elevator I grabbed the living guy and whispered in his ear, "He's a zombie. He will kill you."

When I got in the car two zombies I knew were just sitting in there like we were friends. Riding shotgun was this really nice female zombie (she reminded me a lot of a particular lady with a disability who I worked with this summer). In the back was the zombie from the elevator who was a little more calculating. I couldn't convince them to get out of the car, so I just started driving. The zombie from the elevator kept saying, "What did you whisper to him in the elevator? He was staying away from me. Why did you do that?"

Finally I was at the end of my rope. "Because if you bite people, they will die," I said. "When you bite people, they die, okay? I didn't want you to bite him."

"Oh, I see why you said that," said the female zombie.

I think this dream was interesting because it was the culmination of a lot of thoughts and feelings I've been having about zombies lately. I've been watching The Walking Dead a lot and obviously--and, yes, this does skeeve me out--pretty much every horror entity can be read as disabled in some way or another. Well, I don't read vampires that way, but lots of supernatural figures and ghosts tend to be creepy because they have nonstandard faces/bodies and/or they move differently. For example, in this completely terrifying short film Mama--which I've never been able to watch all the way through so don't be too hard on yourself. Another example is The Grudge where one of the ghosts often crawls around instead of walking. The Orphanage and Darkness Falls have ghosts that cover their faces because their faces are supposed to be so horrifying.

Recently I saw a YouTube video of people dressing up as and impersonating zombies. One commenter said that "they look like they have cerebral palsy," and was lambasted by other commenters for "making fun of people with special needs." I can't help seeing this as really disingenuous--not that the first commenter was awesome, but are you seriously going to pretend to be some kind of gooey champion of "special needs" when you're into zombies, which resemble disabled people more than any other monster? Like, look at this video of extras in The Walking Dead learning to "walk like zombies":

I mean, without the makeup there is kind of a sketchy feeling in watching this, at least for me. Some of the people still look supernatural, but a lot of them just look like they're doing an awkward impression of a disabled person. (By the way, I'm definitely including people with mind disabilities, including myself, in the "people who zombies movie like" category. For whatever reason, weird gaits tend to be a thing for a lot of people with ASD and ID.)

I think I ended up having a dream where I was kind of friendly with zombies because for the last month I've been developing a sense that I'm basically a zombie. Like, it seems like a pretty simple way to explain stuff. Look at this from the Walking Dead comics Wikipedia page:

Zombies may follow something that has caught their attention for hours, such as a gunshot, after which they may follow in the general direction for days, even if they have forgotten what they originally were pursuing.

From the page describing Romero zombies vs. other kinds of zombies:

The animated dead retain vague impulses derived from former living behavior. For instance, zombies often return to specific locations they frequented when alive...Lacking immediate victims to hunt, zombies will often fumble through crude motions reminiscent of life activities, often when prompted by a familiar artifact such as a telephone or car.

Yeah, pretty much.

I was thinking of writing a story about a person who is bitten by a zombie but thinks she can remain human through willpower. Then I found out from TV Tropes that this is already considered a trope, but I think there would still be mileage in it. Especially because I don't think a zombie apocalypse would happen (can you imagine a bunch of AWVs being powerful enough to destroy society?), I think that the infected person could still be trying to go to school or work or whatever, while losing the cognitive function that enables them to succeed in those environments. And they do a pretty good job, until one day they can't anymore.

(Note: if you found this post when you were googling The Walking Dead or something, please don't start making comments about how I'm too politically correct or whatever. I'm not trying to attack/call out anyone for being into zombies--I mean, I'm into zombies and I obviously am into/am affected by some of the other tropes I'm reading as disability tropes. It's probably kind of fucked up that that's the case, but I'm more interested in reclaiming this stuff and thinking about what it means instead of just saying it needs to go away.)


  1. Because of this post, I compulsively read the entire "Body Horror" section on TV tropes. Some of it kind of freaked me out. But a lot of it was about the fear of disability/disfigurement. "Freaks" was listed as an example of this trope, with the caption "no special effects -- the actors really look like that!" which I thought was fucked up.

    That thing about being prompted to do things by objects reminded me of Amanda Baggs' video "How to Boil Water The Easy Way," and then I was mad at myself for being reminded, and then I was mad at whoever made the zombies act that way for thinking that only dead people would act like that.

    Sometimes I can't make myself walk very fast and I have a walk that feels sort of slow and stiff, but I don't know how apparent that is if you're not me. I used to shuffle and drag my feet, but I was trained not to and now I don't. Shh! I'm secretly a zombie.

  2. and then I was mad at whoever made the zombies act that way for thinking that only dead people would act like that.

    The thing is I don't find that any more offensive than writing a female character and having her wear a dress. There's a reason that a walking corpse would walk like a person with cerebral palsy and act like a person with frontal lobe injuries (which also cause all that water-boiling stuff, which is why I was crushing so hard on them last week)--their brain is damaged.

    I think the fact that you would choose to make the scary character someone who is basically a supernatural version of someone with a brain injury is worth thinking about. But I don't think that once the character exists there's anything weird about them being that way.

  3. The weird thing is that vampires are actually pretty disabled when you think about it, in terms of having a lot of serious limitations that normal people don't have. (Can't go out in the sunlight, can't enter a dwelling uninvited, can only consume blood, can't cross running water, repelled by Christian religious symbols, ect.) Also, supposedly, if you spill seeds or grains of rice or other small objects on the ground, any vampires in the immediate vicinity will be compelled to stop and count them all. Vampires are really rule-oriented, which is interesting, because with a lot of monsters part of the scariness seems to be that they're *not* bound to laws or rules.

    But vampires are also, at least by modern popular consensus, the sexiest and most charismatic monsters. For some reason. People are horrified at the thought of turning into zombies; people kind of *want* to become vampires. So there the analogy falls apart a little...yeah, I'm not sure where I'm headed with this train of thought. I like this post.

  4. on the other hand Stephenie Meyer threw almost all of that out :)

  5. What's AWV stand for? (sorry)

  6. that is, it's a fancy way of saying "a bunch of mes"

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  8. I had just sort of assumed without thinking that your name was Amanda Forest Vivian, but now that I think about it, I guess that doesn't sound like a real name. haha.

  9. yeah my middle name is Wood but my friend thought it was a funny name so she replaced it with Forest and I thought that was a lot cooler

  10. Okay. . . again, I'm sort of skipping around all over the place, but with regard to "The Walking Dead". I really really felt stressed out watching that show.

    I guess it's full on lame, but I felt so tense watching it all the time. I'm not a huge horror fan, but zombie shows captivate me for some reason. . . this one just has too much tense and not enough relief.

    If (and this is the premise upon which this entire comment is based) you can make your peace with the concept of a creature that somehow maintains some semi-life regardless of the state of its body (I think it was the first episode where the woman was dragging the top part of her torso around by the hands, with her spinal column trailing behind her like a tail) then what I still can't quite get my delicious brains around is how a zombie somehow bites THROUGH the skull of a person to get the delicious brains OUT.

    I bobbed for apples when I was a child. . . the curvature makes getting a tooth-hold tricky at BEST. . . but trying to bite a hole in someone's skull and slurping out their brains just doesn't make sense to me.