Dawn of the Draculae
by Randall Auxier
Among the five worst movie-going experiences of my life I would list Dawn of the Dead. It was the first R-rated movie I saw on my own (and I sneaked in with my friend Anthony, because he was legal at 17, but I was still 16). I had been earlier traumatized by a Saturday afternoon viewing of Night of the Living Dead on television –I am sure it was edited, but I was, like, eleven, and unfamiliar with the whole idea of zombies. I lost sleep. But Dawn of the Dead, well, that was something else altogether. It became clear pretty quickly that the movie was about finding ways to decapitate, crush skulls, blow heads off, or face being eaten alive. Totally over the top. This is entertainment? Seriously?
I’m sorry, but that is pointless. Or isn’t that just the point? It’s mindless death, shuffling toward you like so many middle managers (like this one, to the left here). The current enthusiasm among friends and students for The Walking Dead series started me thinking about this . . . for the millionth time. So I watched one episode. It’s got very much the feel of Dawn of the Dead. I don’t think I can watch this. It doesn’t frighten me any more, it’s just not interesting. “Why do people waste their time on this?” I smugly wondered. (I know better than to get into this argument, but hear me out.)
On the other hand, to confess the full situation, I can watch vampire movies and TV shows, read vampire books, ponder vampires almost without limits, even write from a vampire’s point of view. I mean, I do have limits –could not handle the Twilight stuff; far too annoying, and these just aren’t vampires anymore. They’re more like ninjas who like raw food. And Bella Swan? Let’s just say that vampire lore is supposed to be the forerunner of Third Wave Feminism, not of Unending Adolescence. No, that isn’t about vampires. But for me, almost anything smarter than Twilight will do. So clearly I have time to waste and no room to judge. Since when has that stopped anyone?
And this whole pathos leads to a thought. There are really two kinds of people in the world: zombie people and vampire people. Deep down you already know this. Vampire people like to see vampires get what they desire. Zombie people don’t care whether zombies get what they want. Vampire people mix sex with death. Zombie people mix death with eating. Vampire people are about pumping hearts and pulsing blood.
Zombie people are about splattered brains and decay. Zombie people can tolerate a mess; vampire people prefer a tidy kill. Vampire people suspect that those being bitten really want the erotic experience of being consumed. Zombie people always assume that the victims die in the most horrendous agony and never want to be eaten. Zombies don’t talk; vampires make a fine art of it. Zombies are social only in a feeding frenzy; Vampires can’t eat food, but love to have mortals over for dinner parties to watch them eat. Vampires live forever and want to, even if it isn’t easy, and that’s how vampire people like it. Zombies are there just to be re-killed in nasty ways, without guilt (you’re doing them a favor) and that’s how zombie people like it. Vampire people are crypto-religious, almost without fail; zombie people are unreligious and often anti-religious.
What does this add up to? The division really comes from differences in where you believe evil originates. For zombie people, evil isn’t so much evil, just bad: the mindless onslaught of the world, grabbing, consuming their energies, their time, their very lives. There is no plan. No one is in charge. It’s just how things are. For vampire people, evil comes from their own infinite inner desire, their guilt (which they reject and despise), and their sense of wanting what they ought not want. In real life, this is a continuum, with a pure zombie person as an exemplar at one end (like George A. Romero) and a pure vampire person at the other (like Anne Rice). You can probably locate yourself on the line. In the middle are either vambie and zompire people, who are more amused by evil than curious or threatened, and they share space with all those who simply don’t get what the fuss is about (non-neurotic, sensible people). Here are some sensible people in a meeting. They are not discussing the origin of evil. But let’s ponder the extremes, shall we?
I want to start with vampire people because that’s what I actually understand. The vampiric condition is not about what we fear, except in a distant, uninteresting way. Vampire people are not easily frightened, except by their own desires, and we like that. No, it’s about what we want and were told we can’t have. We don’t like that. Total control over others for the satisfaction of our desires and expectations, unfortunately, is the primary candidate for the unity of such desire. Vampire people have to control themselves if they want to have any friends or any fun. It isn’t easy. We have high standards, especially for ourselves, but we don’t expect others to meet the mark we set for ourselves. This is actually the problem with Bella Swan; no real vampire could be attracted by her because she is whiny and indecisive, and she has very low standards for herself, but higher ones for others –which is to say she doesn’t deserve any of what she has. Here she is being treated as far more interesting than she really is. (This is not Kristen Stewart’s fault, but she was perfectly cast. Apparently, Robert Pattinson did grow bored with her, though.)
It is a serious question whether vampire people ever do anything genuinely unselfish. It is not that we are never kind. We love to be kind, on our own terms, and if that results in gratitude, and gratitude results in increased personal power, well, is that our fault? Sure, I’ll do you a favor. The bigger the favor . . . well, you can finish the thought. You think I’m proud of this? Look, bud, I need to live forever here, and if you’re not on board with that project, you’ll need to stay out of my way. If you also want to live forever, let’s have some True Blood and talk it over, but I’m the Sheriff, like Eric Northman here. Better yet, let’s find a semi-willing sacrifice and share it. Me first. Now, what can I do for you? Vampire people are contemptuous of what we cannot master, things like handling money, maintaining appointment books, participating in total quality management. We also despise sentiment, which is why we like cats (little vampires, after all). The worst thing in the world is military order. But we like politics. We think we’re good at that. We aren’t.
I have to guess at the basic nature of zombie people. I confess I don’t quite get it. But, being the sort of person I am, I will ignore the warning signs and plunge in. There are many zombie people I like just fine. I have even betimes conspired with some zombie people. You don’t want them in charge, of course, but they make good foot soldiers, know how to keep a secret, don’t mind messy work, and lack conscience. I’m not saying they aren’t smart. Some zombie people are very, very smart. Vampire people are blinded by their own arrogance, underestimate others. That is not a weakness for zombie people, who make ideal occupants of cubicles and any offices that aren’t on the corner of the building. Zombie people are persistent and always somehow find a way into the house or the mall or wherever the fresh meat is, you know? They can’t sell, but they can ship and handle logistics. Things may not arrive quickly, but they’ll get there eventually. Even when one gets a corner office, well, not much will happen, and that’s often better than the alternative. But they aren’t loyal creatures when you don’t have the keys to the meat locker.
Zombie people are every bit as selfish as vampire people, but it’s of a different quality. It’s about ordinary survival, as far as I can tell, not immortality. They will tend to stockpile and guard the implements of survival, both material and intangible. They save money, live by routines, often like guns, dogs, and alarm systems, hate taxes, and are not personally ambitious except to the extent it contributes to insulating them from the grasping world. They have surprisingly good memories, especially when it comes to damaging information. They play video games and like their i-Phones very much. They lack empathy and are clueless about the inner lives of others, and clueless that they are clueless, finding it impossible to believe that anyone actually has a richer or more complex inner life than they possess, themselves. Such obliviousness actually does protect zombie people from the world, but it is a mixed blessing at best, although it doesn’t tend to damage other zombie people. Zombie people are almost impossible to convince of anything, especially if it involves long stretches of time or any kind of speculation. Vampire people, by contrast, believe anything that makes dialectical sense and serves their long-term desires.
I know why vampire people are the way they are. I don’t know why there are zombie people at all. I am continually surprised by their reality. I want to bite them so that they will wake up, but it doesn’t work to bite them. They don’t taste good. They don’t want to play like that. Most of us work for zombie people. It’s ok. They are predictable. They don’t make any fast moves. If you hunker down, or at least don’t call attention to yourself, they won’t eat you. They’ll assume you’re like they are. If they come after you, you’ll have some time to get away. If you don’t, it’s your own stupidity.
That work situation is hard for vampire people to endure. They change jobs often, they start their own businesses, they become, er, umm, free lance writers and the like. They move from project to project, but they get bored very easily. You don’t want to work for a vampire person, though. It might be fun at first, but it’s inherently unstable. In addition to being unduly self-interested, vampire bosses may well be incompetent and in deep denial about it. The only good kind of vampire boss is one who finds you completely uninteresting. There is no way to go under the radar. Just try to be not worth his trouble, you know?
It is really clear to me that most of the evil in the world is banal, unaccompanied by malice or calculation. There is nothing to be done about that, so it is tempting to exaggerate the exceptional cases when evil does more than shuffle relentlessly our way. Wal-mart is zombie evil. Clear cutting forests is still just zombie evil. Republicans and Democrats are zombie evil. Ted Bundy, on the other hand, is vampire evil. When vampire evil pokes through the world-haze, it is the most unimaginable evil. Rare, inhuman stuff. Vampire people hardly ever lose all restraint, while zombie people don’t even have such issues. That is why radical evil is so scarce in our experience. Still, I hate inhabiting in a zombified world, I admit. But as I contemplate a world full of vampires, well, that’s not an improvement, is it?
It seems to me that both kinds of evil are just filtered and purified versions of what exists, without reliable emulsifiers, in all of us. When we notice them, these are like two sores we can’t seem to leave alone, as a society. The vampire in us all is like the sore in your mouth you keep biting, and the zombie is like the pimple that regenerates every time you pop it. But maybe it’s a good thing that we externalize and view ourselves thus. Maybe it’s therapeutic. Or maybe we like moral ambiguity because it makes us feel alive, which seems to be the one thing we all really have over both the zombies and the vampires, no?