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The rise of the zombies… George A Romero was onto something

In this tribute to film director George A Romero, Nick Triani makes the case for Romero’s zombie cinema as not only influencing popular culture but for also reflecting another view of humanity.

Category: Films

Reading time: 7 min

Writer: Nick Triani Photos: Rami Vierula

Rami Vierula

When the news of the passing of George A Romero broke, it initially felt like late-bloomer Martin Landau would steal his ‘death news’ clamour. As it was, both were obviously worthy of the many tributes they received. But with Romero, a different kind of acknowledgement started to appear – a realization that through that much maligned genre ‘the horror movie’, Romero had predicted a meditative state that would become not something for a future dystopian society, but something that was truly reflected in the here and now.

Outside of Romero’s influence on pop culture – which encompasses Michael Jackson fathoming the most successful album of all time through to the impending White Walker war we’re all so addicted to in Game of Thrones (and so much more) – a different kind of cultural reflection was going on with Romero’s zombie movies. An indefinite Zombie–state, that constant straight line walk – the march of the undead – almost oblivious to their surroundings, searching for their unkempt desire for human flesh – this all seems very familiar to me outside of the margins of a Romero movie. Metaphorically, I see that look regularly in my life.

Every morning, on my way to work, the usual parade – eyes fixed on phone screen – the uninterrupted walk to the oblivion of the bus queue (or at least to your office). Expressionless, non-communicative. Oh yes, Romero saw all this coming. The relentless stride of the living zombie is amongst our midst. One thing that joins the living with Romero’s version of the dead is an entitled sense of persistence. Nothing will get in the way of where we’re going.

One thing that joins the living with Romero’s version of the dead is an entitled sense of persistence. Nothing will get in the way of where we’re going

Fuck – you don’t even need to find infected specimens – this is the disease of everyday living. We are the living dead. There is no cure, no vaccine – unless we obliterate the habits of postmodern life. That shoulder, that immovable shoulder that hits you in the street as you pass a stranger who is obstinate and not to be deviated from their straight walking trajectory. No acknowledgment, or sorry for that collision – the path cannot be breached, the zombie will not be moved. We’ve all seen it – or experienced it – that type of zombie street-collision.

…you don’t even need to find infected specimens – this is the disease of everyday living. We are the living dead. There is no cure, no vaccine – unless we obliterate the habits of postmodern life.

The retreat from work normally leads us to spending time zombie-struck in front of a screen, our conditioning leads us to relentless no-compromise pursuits. I’ve seen it at Hullut Päivät for example; the mass-zombie-consumer-gatecrash is a regular event in our lives – and beautifully suggested by Romero in his own masterpiece of shopping-mall zombie mania, Dawn of the Dead (1978). A perfect example of Romero showing us where we would arrive. Consumerism and all its delights has lured us into a contented half-sleep state whilst numbing the pain that is modern life. That uncontrollable urge to grab that last sale item against all odds (or anyone standing next to you), chimes with the zombie fervour for live flesh.

 

Think I’m making this up? The only explanation I can think of for our lack of compassion as a species, is that we truly are the embodiment of the living dead, unfeeling, untouched quasi-survivors of a planet devoid of emotional experience. I can only come to this conclusion as I walk past another person that I ignore on the street, pleading with me for a few pennies so they can feed themselves. My zombie-state forbids me to make eye-contact – in case I feel something – or deviate from my path which would break my zombie-state-straight-line-walking, my convention, my habits. What if our lives are the after death experience and we’ve just got it the wrong way round?

What if our lives are the after death experience and we’ve just got it the wrong way round?

This brings me to my final realization, almost snapping me out of my living-life-zombie-state: The couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude of generation-now, only confirms that Romero was on the money. His movies, with their themes of racism and consumerism amongst heavy doses of black humor tell a modern day story about the living, not the dead. Yes, that anti-establishment, non-Hollywood almost amateur aspect of some of Romero’s films brings them even closer to our truth, a real-realism.

Perhaps Romero’s defining saga of the zombies reflects our own postmodern zombification and how we are now desensitized and compassion free to the public/private horrors that have simply become the norm. In this sense, Romero – through his films – showed an astute understanding of humanity that few filmmakers have ever realised. In essence, I think George was really important.

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