(Newbie warning: I link in several spots to tvtropes.org here. If you’ve never been there before, watch out; it’s an incredible down-the-rabbit-hole experience that will suck away two hours of your afternoon before you’ve realized it)
Long-term readers know that Chez Happycrow is a friendly place for horror movies and survival dramas of all kinds. Watching the characters make high-feedback decisions under pressure, and evaluating them, is a lot of fun. That’s what make-believe is: Negotiate Ruleset X, Adopt Ruleset X, and then play with good and bad decision-making within said rules.
To be fair and step out of genre, this same thing is fundamental to ALL OF SPORTS, the difference being that you typically have to actually understand the sport to really get what’s going on with the decisions that players and coaches make. Okay, back on-topic. Of course, survival dramas and horror flicks are two very different sorts of movies. The inhabitants of the former don’t stand much of a chance — by design. As I said way back when:
Normally, the inhabitants of zombie flicks, for instance, are your typical Hollywood Horror-flick dumbasses: they’re there precisely to make incredibly stupid decisions, so that you can wince at the inevitable carnage to follow.
And sometimes, it’s the whole point, as in Stephen King’s The Mist (not to be mistaken for The Fog, an oldie-but-goodie bit of cheesy dumb fun by Carpenter), a meditation on “what happens if the plucky but fallible heroes don’t all overcome their differences and pull together in the face of adversity?” Bad things, that’s what, and Frank Darabont had the directorial integrity to keep throwing the gut-punches all the way to the end. This is part of what makes good horror fun to watch, especially if you’ve got any genre savvy: when the character takes a plastic flashlight downstairs to investigate that bump in the night, and you’re watching a slasher flick, you know that no good can follow. In fact, usually the only way to get through these flicks alive is to be a virginal white girl, or else somebody who’s clueless but well-meaning. Sorry, Mister Strong, Level-Headed, Well-Prepared Man.
Zombie flicks stand that on their head a bit by being a horror genre that’s suffused with Darwinian Comedy — the Iron Laws of Survival are in full effect. Sort of like Aliens, a dark comedy which my late mother watched at least twenty-seven times. Wait, you didn’t know that Aliens was a comedy? Well, yes, allow me to present the Aliens Metanarrative of the Movie for you: “and this will all still work out except for (insert very next scene)” A good zombie flick which is intended to be horror doesn’t need to lean on this much — the fundamental premise is already horrific. Note that this is an important distinction: there is an entire subgenre devoted wholly to “zombie comedy,” a land of much B-movie-badness ranging from snarky romantic social satire like Shaun of the Dead, all the way over to the truly over-the-top, nigh-unwatchable inanity of Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, which inhabits the same niche in movie-dom that a 32-ounce soda does in a restaurant critique… it’s that shameful thing that, at the right time, can be hard to resist even though you know it’s made of awful.
It’s getting harder and harder to actually scare people with zombie movies, though, which is why, slowly but surely, the zombies have been turned from shambling corpses to “berserkers” (full-speed baddies with the strength of lepers and no concept of self-preservation) in order to up the physical threat. While The Walking Dead has done a yeoman’s job of bringing the themes of the comic book of the same name to a general audience, the overwhelming conflict there is primarily a Hobbesian Dilemma (this is intentional and an explicit theme of the original author’s work).
Which is why I’m very happy about the upcoming World War Z adaptation. It will be terribly flawed from the perspective of the book (which use an episodic documentary narrative to brilliantly exploit the Zombie Apocalypse as an exercise in geopolitical reasoning) but I’m VERY happy to see it upping the ante both physically (“zoombies” with emergent “swarm” behaviors) and emotionally, with Adult Fears.
I can’t figure out how to embed the second trailer directly, so here it is.
Pay attention particularly to seconds 0:18-0:20. Synopsis for those of you who can’t link Youtube for some reason:
You’re having breakfast with your family and happily ignoring the local news broadcast, until you hear one of your tiny miscreants pipe up with “Daddy, what’s martial law?”
The theoretical “narrative of your day” has just Stopped. On. This. Dime.
Of course, we can sit back, pop some popcorn, and worry about things like “having a zombie plan” because we live in a safe place. As opposed to these guys, who need a Hezbollah Plan, and they’re Not Fucking Around. Neither is the Vietnamese China Plan fictional.
Now, this isn’t a post about more-adult-than-thou posturing or pumping up the fear of geopolitics. For the record, I’m not all that concerned about geopolitics. China’s starting to figure out that being the neighborhood asshole isn’t making it any friends. Radical Islam? Sure, but I live in Texas. I help defeat radical Islam around here every time I treat some random niqabi woman more politely than her devout husband ever will. Al Quaeda and the takfiri crowd don’t create anything useful or worth caring about — two-thirds of the time those jackasses can’t even invent their own ideologies. They’re still running around with the ideological equivalent of dirty underwear most of the west threw out sixty years ago. Islamofascism? Really? Fuck those goons: if you’re not living in their neighborhood, they’re an inconvenience, not a threat. COIN sucks, but COIN works. Or, for those less interested in bothering, “More rubble, less trouble” equally applies. The arc of history bends decidedly towards the good guys, simply because being one of the good guys works. Just ask Myanmar: they’re doing a heel face turn, granted, as slowly and with as little effort as they can get away with, because being globally isolated and dependent on a known regional bully sucks.
If only the Norks could figure that shit out, but their inbred little Marxist Aristocracy doesn’t look like it’s going to cut it. They’re making a lot of noise now because everybody in the room knows that in another couple years the Norks won’t even be able to GET to the DMZ, let alone flood across it.
Iran? I went on the record six years ago saying that Iran’s a temporary problem. Doubled down on that recently: Spengler is simply wrong. There’s no need whatsoever to bomb Iran. The Iranian people are, by and large, totally awesome: they don’t call Persia The Land of Poets and Roses for nothing. (Nerd bonus: “paladin” comes from “pahlavan,” and the original has more or less the exact same ethics as you’d expect.) While the IRGC is seriously into the habit of murdering people all over the globe, your average Iranian wants none of that business, and it’s only a matter of time before the majority of the population can come up with a modus vivendi that brings it back into the global mainstream on terms that work for them. All we in the west have to do is kick the can of open conflict far enough down the road until the Bastards in the Basij are no longer an issue.
More-adult-than-thou? Come on, here? I barely qualify as an adult on Monday mornings.
This isn’t even really a post about zombies. It’s about adult fears and taking care of your kid. Or really, it’s more a post about Archilochus.
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
There’s a big thing coming up, and it’s called negligible senescence. It’s a world where we print artificial hearts and cure cancers with about the same sense of concern as we treat tuberculosis (as opposed to what the 18th and 19th century thought of tuberculosis, which is remarkably similar to how we think of cancer today: a death sentence). The bright boys and girls who are working on this problem aren’t screwing around: they’ve got George fucking Church working on it. They want to let humans enjoy “classic car” longevity: when something wears out, just replace it with a custom part and keep on cruising. As opposed to what we have now, which is millions of people being killed every day by nothing more than a combination of economics and our woeful biological ignorance.
The speed at which it gets here is unknown. If I’m lucky, it gets here early enough for me to enjoy it. Otherwise, well, we all know what happens. Decrepitude, death, crapping out, a funeral. If we’re really, REALLY lucky, it gets here fast enough to help out the Boomers, and instead of collectively living a miserable and poor retirement, they never need to retire in the first place. Dislocations resulting? Sure.
But probably, my little girl will be burying all of us, and barring disruptions, hers will be the first human generation where death is synonymous with either “shitty politics” or “bad luck.” I can’t predict the future (though I am willing to place bets on some of it), and I have no idea what will be the real burning issue of the day 35 years from now. As a medievalist, I can tell you that whatever you think of as your day’s truly hot-button issue, that’s usually NOT what turns out to be the really important bit. It’s usually some little economic advance that nobody’s ever heard of that changes everything. Like, you know, DARPAnet.
I worry a little bit about the Happychick turning into a shallow brat, but that’s just a typical Daddy thing. And we’re of the Nerd Tribe, which gives us a few minor issues, but some tremendous strengths: style-over-substance never really cut it in the Nerd Tribe, and isn’t likely to start. I’d worry about loss of freedoms and the rise of barbarian paternalists, and I do, but that trend is going in the right direction anyway — the youths are strongly libertarian, and no matter how nanny-state the governments get while they’re busy wrecking the currency, there will be no sheeple on the High Frontier. I probably won’t get to go garden in space (though, believe it or not, I know how I’d do it, protein included!), but that ought to be an option if things keep going the way they are. And they will — snag the right asteroid, and the metals inside it will instantly make you a trillionaire.
No, what I really worry about is something much more basic: whether the Happychick can adapt and spend her time on the useful and awesome things, and not waste her time on shitty unimportant crap (like, you know, zombie comedies) unless it’s absolutely amusing for her to do so.
Minimize your therbligs until it becomes automatic; this doubles your effective lifetime – and thereby gives you time to enjoy butterflies and kittens and rainbows. — Robert Heinlein
“Therblig” is a real term, by the way. Google it, and you’ll see that RAH wasn’t just pissing around. He’s onto an important truth. Here at Chez Happycrow, we advise minimizing your “cost of existence,” and economically, that also involves “effort of existence.” All around me what I see are men and women living the quiet real-life equivalent to a horror movie, of their own devising, simply because they haven’t given themselves permission to do things the easy way and the smart way.
Granted, they still need to save. But all around me I see people treating themselves worse than a bad man treats a dog. Getting fat and beating the shit out of themselves for it. Screwing up relationships. Being afraid to get into relationships. Working like a dog, for no apparent reason. Being haunted by the effects of some really crappy decision-making. “Indefinite lifespan” is a long time to suffer the consequences of bad decisions. We could go all philosophical about good decision-making, but that’d make a really boring post, especially when you still don’t get a guarantee just because you made all the right choices. Drunk drivers happen.
You can teach a kid what he really needs to know (“decisions have consequences”) by popping in Aliens. It’s less depressing than real life, and a hell of a lot more fun than preaching, too.
The problem with the school of hard knocks is that first you take the exam, and then you learn your lesson. — The HappyDad
Let’s learn from some somebody else’s examples. And if they’re fictional, and nobody’s REALLY getting eaten by a giant space monster, so much the better.
Hell, we’re off to a great start: she already knows who Rodan is.