Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to do my Surviving Zombies workshop at MileHiCon in Denver. I have attended and presented at the con before, and it’s always so much fun.
As part of the workshop, I use examples from TV shows and movies about some of the things the survivors do to survive, and we got into a conversation about how the characters don’t always make the brightest decisions. In particular, we were talking about the morons on The Walking Dead. Many of the participants said they get so frustrated with the characters’ decisions, and I agreed.
But I think there are a couple reasons why the characters in zombie films and TV shows act the way they do. First and foremost, they are supposed to represent the common human. Does this mean that we are all idiots? Of course not, but it’s supposed to reflect how we are all flawed.
If you’ve watched zombie movies and TV shows, you know that science and the military can do nothing to save us when the dead arise. They are worthless and most of the time not even present. The people who rise to the occasion and stand against the undead are normal, everyday people. Sure, a few of them might have some special skills (Rick was a police officer), but for the most part, they are our neighbors down the street.
And this is something that’s done intentionally. It’s to show that the authority figures of society (science, the military, the government) are powerless while the masses aren’t. If science or the military is present in the film, they are often power hungry and corrupt (the Governor in The Walking Dead, Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead, and pretty much every scientist in any zombie movie).
Sure, the survivors make some questionable decisions and we probably yell at the TV asking them what the hell they are doing, but most of them still survive. And this brings me to the other reason they act like this: watching the characters on the screen act the way they do makes us think about how we would react in the same situation.
How many times have you been watching a zombie movie—or horror movie in general—and roll your eyes at the characters on the screen? How many times have you told them not to go into the basement or venture out into the city alone? How many times have you thought: I would have done that sooooo differently?
And that’s the point. It makes you think. It forces you to put yourself in the characters shoes and figure out how you would handle the situation. You think about it long afterwards, maybe even talk about it with your friends, and talk about how you are so much smarter than those idiots. You could survive any of those scenarios no problem!
Zombie films are actually really clever in how they handle this type of scenario. One of the guest authors I had in the workshop on Saturday commented about how she didn’t really know what to expect from the workshop, but thought it was a lot of fun, and she was amazed at how many people had thought about what they would do to survive zombies.
Personally, I wasn’t surprised at all. As a horror and zombie fan, I’m well aware of how the audience reacts to the films and TV shows—because that’s how we’re supposed to react. Sure, they’re great for a scare, but they’re also fantastic for teaching life lessons.
The best thing about zombie films is that all of the survival plans we come up with can also translate into other natural disasters, from earthquakes to floods to wars. That’s why the CDC used zombies at one point on their blog to talk about disaster preparedness. That’s why I do this workshop. It makes thinking about survival fun because it’s done in a nonthreatening, theoretical fashion, and I tell the audience that what we talk about can be applied to multiple survival situations.
The only difference is that in most cases we won’t have to defend ourselves against the undead. However, should the need arise, my hope is that my workshop will help people prepare.