Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why We Zombie

As we were sitting around the other day, drinking some oat sodas (some of us literally), the topic of the walking dead came up...again. It's no secret that my circle of friends has a somewhat inexplicable fascination with zombies, but my friend Suzanne asked what the deal was. "What's the deal?" she queried: she meant, why zombies? Why not ghosts? Why not a plague? What's going on here?

The supernatural genre has never been unpopular. Anne Rice's legacy was taken up by those hideous Twilight novels. Shows like Lost, Fringe, The Listener (big ups to a Toronto-set show!) aren't exactly The X-Files, but they do have a strong and distinct undercurrent dealing with the spooky and unusual. Even the Harry Potter novels - you know, for kids! - were all about casting spells and hitting puberty (I stopped reading those monsters around book five - can anyone tell me if the perpetually sexless Potter ever got to use his magic wand on anyone?), which are both events requiring one to suspend credulity.

But, like the recession and the cyclist, zombies have reached this zeitgeisty place in pop cultures. It does beg the question: why zombies? Why now?

Zombies as an intellectual construct have always been about death; they are, after all, reanimated corpses that feed on the living. In the same way that ghosts deal with the spiritual realm of un/death (what happens to a person's soul after they die?), vampires address the sexual link with death (all that blood and penetration), and werewolves take up the primal, animalistic nature of man (we did evolve from beasts, no matter what Arkansas teaches its kids), zombies deal with our discomfort with death as a physical event. The walking dead aren't transformed into a different creature. They don't grow extra legs or fur or something.

In most representations, zombies are slow-moving, covered in gore, and utterly empty in the brainpan. They are physical husks, designed and desiring only to prey (slowly) on the living. With ghosts, we lose the body and keep the soul - the essense of what we think makes us human. Zombies takes that and flips it right on its head. Only the meat suit remains.

So why now? There are comic books, movies, spoof movies, guides, faux-memoirs, fashion, parades...I'm surprised that there isn't a children's television character named Zombo. While the first wave of zombie pop culture came in the 1970s with George Romero and his brilliant film Night of the Living Dead, there's been a recent resurgence in the last few years. Zombies have shuffled back onto the radar.

As a culture, we have incredible anxiety at this point about many, many different things. We have collective body issues: we're too fat and we worship too skinny. We don't deal well with death. We're losing the primal modes of social interaction to substandard technological replacements (talking on MSN doesn't count as having a conversation!). We are constantly innundated with messages that try to make us feel special when we do the same thing as everyone else. Most of us have no idea how to live off the land, shoot a gun, or even throw a punch. Our highest-paid jobs aren't physical labours, but rather mental and monetary somersaults. In short, we're a bunch of soft, lonely, citified, lazy-ass sheep who are scared to die. Not to mention that some of us already think we're living in the End Times....

So what could possibly be more appealing that a figure who cuts a wide swath through the very embodiement of death, brandishing a machete and living on the run? That person would be ridicously bad-ass. In the case of widespread zombification, we would lose much of the high technology that relies on electricity. We would lose creature comforts like tampons and cold beer. We would be tired, stressed out, and alone.

I would argue that we're currently tired, stressed-out, and alone: we just do it in condos and in offices, instead of while fighting ghoulish enemies. A zombie invasion would allow us to face some of our death-related neuroses, reconnect as families and communities, and tone us into a leaner, meaner fighting machine. That's pretty appealing.

It goes without saying that a zombocalypse wouldn't be all fine wines and fancy cheeses, but the secret belief that fighting off an army of the undead would actually be kind of cool stems from our desire to have the lifestyle it would force us to create. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire has humanity had an opportunity to recreate itself: we ended up, a thousand years later, with Lady Gaga and cheeseburger in a can. We want to connect with each other; we want to be physically fit; we want to feel special. Are we so collectively stuck in our ways that the only way to achieve this is to literally raise the dead?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Post Is Funnier On A Tee Shirt

I just need to give a shout-out to one the best inventions of the last 50 years. Sorry, nerds. It's not the e-bike or the internet. The real duke of New York is the funny tee shirt. I know: it's a totemic hipster douchebag thing, like the sartorial equivalent of claiming to be "way into Diplo" before anyone else. But I would argue that it's done plenty to unite folks - not just hipsters - in the common quest for the funny.

For instance: this matching duo might be one of the best uses of the "funny girl best friend" clauses of the frustratingly sexless mixed-gender adult friendship. The chance to make your friends crazy with laughter all night, to provoke strangers to come up to you at the inevitable dive bar and ask if you're pregnant when you light up a smoke while clutching a PBR, is a privilege granted only to the greatest of professional jerks. Braying laughter in a concerned stranger's face is upper-level dick behaviour, but the shirts are so charming and wide-eyed that I'll come down in the "pro" column.

Without the funny tee-shirt, Threadless would be a lonely internet outpost instead of a repository of both great beauty and great fun. Without the funny tee shirt, American Apparel would never have turned into the jersey juggernaut that it is. Without the funny tee shirt, shy people would never have approached slightly inebriated strangers at a bar, claiming that they only "want to see the shirt," thus catapulting them into a potentially hot and awkward (hotkward?) make-out session while both are in line for the bathroom.

The funny tee shirt is the grandson of the vintage shirt, which, of course, begat the ironic faux-vintage shirt. The funny shirt cuts out the pretend-old bullcorn and cuts to the heart of the matter. Girls think funny guys are sexy. Conversely, men seem to view hilarious women as a variety of ugliness. To combat this, we just wear our funny tee shirts tight and hope for the best. To paraphrase Bobby Vinton, a sense of humour is never a handicap to a girl as long as she hides it under a see-through blouse. Funny tee shirts are a visual cue, not unlike a concert tee: Some girls want guys who will take them to Joel Plaskett concerts; other dames want tickets to Just For Laughs. I want both, but I am a princess.

The funny tee shirt announces to the world, "I don't spend my hard earned money on concert tickets and lasting memories! I could, but instead, I choose to amuse my friends with puns, hilarious graphics, sarcasm and a finely finished seam on the sleeve. I am truly delightful. Now, young lady, if you'll just come with me..."

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Have a Doctorate in Dating

I'm getting old. While Toronto isn't exactly a "university town," I live mere steps away from campus, and I'm still enrolled in classes. The fact is, I'm old enough to be a grad student. Technically speaking, I'm old enough to become a Doctor. Since I'm not Margaret Atwood, I can't get a free one from OCAD, so I guess I'll just have to deal with being Toronto's Oldest Undergraduate. My dating life suffers accordingly.

Naturally, since I have a complicated relationship with everything (beards, vegans, cupcakes, Leah McLaren, etc.), my connection to U of T is duly complex. It's like a shoddy boyfriend: usually treats me bad. As in, what's with the fee hike, jerkbags? U of T makes up for it, like, twice a year. After I dumped St. Michael's College for a cheaper, closer and co-ed Innis College, I felt a little better, but the University of Toronto is expensive, huge, and is annoyingly noted for its graduate programs, not its undergrad crowd. Which is sort of like saying my terrible boyfriend will someday make a wonderful husband. If Sex and the City: The Movie taught me one thing -well, two things if you count "Patricia Field is a loon" as one - it was this: the bad boyfriend ain't going to make such a good husband. Even imaginary, academic partners are susceptible.

Now I'm taking an extra year so I can apply for those apparently superb programs, which puts me in classes with people who are, like, a generation younger than I am. Seriously. Can 18 year olds and 26 year olds even sleep together? (yes....but barely.) You know that magic "half your age plus seven" formula that apparently determines if it's okay to snog someone? I am barred from people younger than 19 and a half. That's, like....a lot of people on campus. Many.

I'm going to have to start dating T.A.'s, and that's going to be a total downer. While the female teaching assistants are usually bubbly and hilarious, the dude assistants, with rare exceptions, are complete disasters. Sexually unsure, socially awkward, and self-conscious in a way that echoes the darkest days of middle, these man-boys are generally not my cup of tea. N.B.: I have many suave and sophisticated T.A. pals who happen to be men. Not one studies English. It's possible that I'll luck into a friendship with the one interesting, single, attractive English T.A., but given that roughly 80% of my fellow students own vaginas, the competition will be fierce.

Of course, I could start dating my professors...or venture outside the walled enclosure of U of T to find handsome, silver-haired professionals who don't mind dating a slightly erratic woman in her twenties. Maybe I should go for a slightly more ghetto-fab crowd? I want something different. I want something - someone, excuse me - a touch older. A touch...not this. The last thing I need to do is date a man who says he was born in 1983, but behaves like a fourteen-year-old. I'm surrounded by teenagers as it is.