I’m big into fiction, both on screen and on the printed page. I try to be aware of trends and happen to love speculative fiction (sci-fi, horror, fantasy). Always have. But, recently I’ve seen an overall shift toward these otherworldly treats by the general population.
Vampires have become huge. (No, I don’t mean that they’ve been over-eating.) The TWILIGHT series makes big bucks in print, on DVD, and on the big screen. HBO’s TRUE BLOOD has become a cult favorite, and the VAMPIRE DIARIES TV series promises to keep the CW crowd off the streets at least one evening a week.
Weirdly enough, right smack dab in the middle of the vampire craze, zombies have hit the big time. Now, the living dead have never been the A-listers of the horror genre. They were always those “B” movie creeps, forever in the backdrop but never in the limelight. The eternal also-rans. Maybe it was their not-so-snazzy dialogue. “Rrrrrrr” and “Grrrrr” are hardly Oscar –worthy lines. Maybe it was the cheesy scripts or the low budget props. Possibly the slap-stick splatter scenes. Whatever the case, the decomposing hordes were relegated to the back of the drive-in theater bus. But somehow – possibly due to alien influence from the planet Grossmor – zombies have hit the mainstream. ZOMBIELAND is a recent hit film. (The Bill Murray cameo alone makes the film worth watching.) PRIDE AND PREDUDICE AND ZOMBIES hit the best sellers list. (By the way, kudos to author Seth Grahame-Smith for such an out-of-the-box original, quirky, and just plain demented idea.) SEAN OF THE DEAD is an honest to goodness cult classic, DEAD SNOW an international fan favorite. It seems everywhere I look, I see the living dead.
On the sci-fi front, DANCES WITH WOLVES ON MARS, er, I mean AVATAR is smashing every box office record this way, that way, inside out, and upside down. Even JJ Abram’s new STAR TREK became a mainstream sensation. (A great film and a wild ride.)
So, what gives?
Has the world finally given over to the Geek-side, or is there another, more sinister explanation for the trend?
Some say that popular culture mirrors the state of the country. Maybe the sagging economy, less-than-stellar housing market, and the stunning loss of Conan O’Brien as a late night host has shocked the land into a state of zombie-like oblivion.
Nah. That’s stupid.
Maybe we’re not becoming zombies; maybe we’re just escaping from reality. But, if we’re trying to escape something, why escape to some post-apocalyptic horror where only a handful of people survive and all of our dear departed loved ones see us as yummy little snacks? Not much sense there either. Comedies became big after nine-eleven. That seems a more natural escape.
But what if it’s not escapism at all? True, any fiction is an “escape” from reality. But I can flee a bad work day by watching an action film, a good drama, by reading a good book, or even by taking a hike. One doesn’t need other-worldly critters to get away from it all.
Actually, I think all of this psychobabble is bunk.
When I read a book or watch a movie, sure there’s an element of being transformed to another place and time. But I don’t seek an escape, a way out. What draws me in is story. I love a well written story – regardless of genre. What I think we’re seeing now isn’t an escape because the world’s so bad. Let’s be honest, it’s always been bad. Pick a historic era; chances are life was much grimmer for average run-of-the-mill working-class folks than it is today. At the very least, they had no iphones!
I don’t think the trend has anything to do with modern-day angst. I think we’re simply seeing a general openness to more diverse, formerly marginalized story elements. Speculative genres are hitting the mainstream and the world at large is realizing that there are some really good stories in the off-beat treats. We’re an entertainment-driven generation. Boomers grew up with STAR TREK and STAR WARS, with Michael Jackson’s THRILLER, with Bill Bixby’s HULK. Peter Jackson’s superb filmmaking brought the geek classic LORD OF THE RINGS to the mainstream, Sam Rami and Brian Singer brought SPIDER-MAN and THE X-MEN to blockbuster silver screen status, retelling stories that fan boys have loved for years, and offering them up to the general populace.
If there’s escapism here, I don’t think it has anything to do with an escape from hard times, I think, as a people, we’ve just acquired better taste.
To quote Stan Lee – “’Nuff said.”
Thom Reese is a Las Vegas based writer whose weekly radio show, 21st Century Audio Theatre, previously aired on the 50,000 watt KDWN. Fourteen of Thom’s audio dramas will be released by Speaking Volumes Quality Audio Books throughout 2010. Thom studied comedy writing at The Second City and works in market research for CBS Broadcasting.
Copyright 2010 Thom Reese All Rights Reserved.
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