I was perusing the internet, as I am wont to do, when I came across a thoughtful comment regarding my recent zombie panel at Armadillocon. I wanted to cut and paste it directly, but I couldn’t find it today, and it’s late, and I’m lazy, so I’ll just sort of paraphrase what the poster said as best I can. Apologies if I screw it up.
“Martinez and Thomas made some interesting points about the redundancy of the genre and how every zombie story is basically the same, but none of that really matters because zombies rule!”
Now this, I can respect. No nonsense suggesting that zombies are something special. No long-winded semi-intellectual dissertation about the relevancy of the zombie genre. It’s just, hey, zombies are awesome, and that’s all he needs to know.
Let’s admit this. We are not a rational species. Oh, sure, sometimes we’re pretty bright. We can build airplanes and computers and discover the nature of the universe from swirling galaxies to ricocheting atoms, and that’s just super. But most of what motivates us comes from the squishy, illogical emotional center of our brains. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with understanding this.
Yet we continue to believe that we are rational, and that everything we do is rational. Even silly little decisions like whether or not we like zombies.
There is no rational reason to prefer zombies to ninjas. Or ninjas to pirates. Or Godzilla to King Kong. These are just random things that get stuck in our heads, little preferences that get set at some point and rarely change.
As I’ve pointed out before, I love the Taurens of World of Warcraft. Hulking minotaurs, they are not “pretty” in a conventional sense. Yet there’s something tremendously appealing to me about the way these guys look, about the entire concept of such animal-like humanoids. Hardly surprising. I like monsters. Have for as long as I remember. Could I tell you why? Oh, I could give you some bullshit reason. I could tell you that I find elves and humans to be “boring”, that I enjoy pretending to be something I could never be in real life, or that I just like big, strong beasties. And I even sort of believe these things.
But not really.
No, I like monsters because the “I like monsters” switch in my brain was flipped some time, somehow. And that’s really that.
The entire concept of fiction and make-believe is built on human irrationality. Withour our absolute willingness to surrender to our emotions, we’d have none of it. I don’t care what genre you pick, it’s all the same. Without emotion, it doesn’t work. Because fiction, by definition, is make-believe. It’s not real. And we know it’s not real.
We know that there’s no such thing as zombies, and that a movie or book depicting the zombie apocalypse is ludicrous. More importantly, even if it were realistic (or even remotely possible) it doesn’t change the fact that no zombie story ever actually happened. Nobody “killed” by a zombie in a story was actually killed. For that matter, I’m pretty sure that Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorheese have never claimed a single, real-life victim. Just a slew of actors and actresses who screamed and pretended to die in terror then walked off the set after the director called cut.
Godzilla may have killed millions of imaginary citizens, but he hasn’t so much as stepped on the toe of a real person. And when he battles King Ghidora for the fate of the Earth, I know that it really doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. The story could end with the planet blowing up, and it would have no real effect on my life.
Every story could end with the planet blowing up, and it would have absolutely no real life consequences.
And what about the imaginary characters we adore and admire? We know they aren’t real, but still find ourselves invested in their well-being. There’s no rational reason for that. Fictional characters are completely at the whim of their creators. The fictional character’s motivations, thoughts, and actions are the designs of artists to manipulate us like puppets on strings.
I really like Superman. I don’t mean that just in a “Hey, he’s a cool character” kind of way. I mean it sincerely. I believe that Superman is a terrific role-model, that he embodies what is best about humanity, and that if we all endeavored to be more like Superman in our daily lives, the world would be a better place. It’s also explains why I can get a little pissed when some writers decide to “humanize” Superman by robbing him of these qualities I so love about the character.
And, yet, Superman isn’t real. He exists, behaves, and functions only as an outlet of writers and editors. This is why I don’t buy Superman comics because I love the character, but find the stories to be badly written or disappointing. (Superman: The Animated Series is where I go for my Supes fix usually.) But I’m not blind to the absurdity of the above statements. I’m saying I like Superman, and I don’t like Superman at the same time. I’m defining Superman by my own terms, as if he were a real person who I could know. But he’s just an imaginary character.
But if tomorrow DC killed Superman, I’d mourn. (And I mean really killed him, not just some publicity stunt.)
I loved Wall-E. I think it’s a mesmerizing and beautiful love story, and emotionally, it resonates on a very deep level with me. But it’s a frickin’ cartoon. There is no Wall-E, no Eve. Their pains and joys are illusion. And it doesn’t matter.
I watched Kung Fu Panda the other day again. Even knowing the story inside and out, knowing everything that will happen, I find myself enthralled by it. Not only is it an illusion, a bald-faced lie intended to manipulate my emotional core, it’s an illusion that can no longer surprise me.
And I still fall for it. Every. Single. Time.
So let’s just deal with this. Let’s just say it, and stop convincing ourselves that our likes / dislikes / 90 percent of our opinions are anything more than random bits of mystery, no better or worse than a thousand other choices we could’ve made.
It’s cool to love zombies or ninjas or giant robots or human drama or lime-flavored Jell-O. Just don’t tell me it’s because there’s something special about them. Because any “reason” you give me is most likely reverse engineered from your love of them, and not the other way around.
My love of Dinobots, on the other hand, is perfectly rationale. But every rule has its exception.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,