When I decided to marry my wife, I didn’t realize I was marrying her research. I guess I’m just lucky that my wife’s academic research is equal parts fascinating and super cool. My wife has a PhD in film studies from USC and her doctoral dissertation is a cultural history of zombies. That’s right, zombies. Scoff if you will, like many things in life the study of zombies is deeper than you think.
From the vodoo zombie of Haiti, to the Romero zombie of “Night of the Living Dead,” to the modern day video game zombie, zombies have changed with the times and are a metaphor used in media to represent race, gender, sexual orientation, and so much more. Zombies are what you want them to be, whether they are unstoppable harbingers of death or societal outcasts looking for acceptance through assimilation. So, being married to my wife means learning this through years of watching every new movie or TV show featuring the undead, not to mention countless hours of videogames. Despite the seemingly innocuous subject matter, the research is as intellectual as it is fun.
Another part of the research has been zombie walks. That’s right, fans of zombie culture get dressed up in varying stages of decaying flesh and gather to walk the streets and freak out the squares. And after years of taking pictures and commenting from the sidewalk, we have finally become zombies ourselves.
Yesterday we participated in Zombie Walk Detroit. I still can’t decide if a zombie walk in Detroit is ironic or redundant, but like most zombie walks this one was organized for a good cause with all zombies asked to donate five canned goods or $5. The 1,000 or so zombies who assembled meant it was a good haul for the local food banks.
For our first zombie walk, my wife went with her favorite black hoodie and disheveled hair. My costume was a Hawaiian shirt that I was going to donate to Goodwill, which my wife costumed through dirt and strategic tears. We highlighted our costumes with the traditional white make up and black eye shadow, which evaporated off of me in the seventy degree weather within an hour. So, we arrived as fairly garden variety zombies and were quickly impressed by the array of ingenious costumes and pain-staking makeup on display.
Another aspect of zombies that has developed over the years is the fact that in becoming a member of the undead you are a part of a mindless collective, but you still have a unique personality based on what you were wearing/who you were when you were turned. So, just about every zombie walk is a collage of characters with the three most popular zombies being zombie bride, zombie doctor, and zombie in PJs (because when you are undead, you need to be as comfortable as possible in flannel and bunny slippers). My favorite zombie from the yesterday’s walk was a hockey fan wearing a Blackhawks jersey who was impaled with a hockey stick.
The gathering area also included “free blood” to help freshen your look, which I partook of. I quickly learned the key to a successful zombie look is dried blood, where my fresh application was turning me into “Massive Headwound Harry.” I also noticed how jovial and friendly these gatherings really are. You get to watch lots of families with kids in strollers who are properly zombified and people taking the opportunity to share notes and ideas with total strangers. It’s like watching a pleasant community gathering with makeup by Tom Savini.
And then the walk began. It was a fairly non-tradtional walk, in that these zombies weren’t interested in staggering and portraying their undead characters. Maybe it was the seventy degree weather, but this zombie walk was a surprisingly brisk one. It was like being on the convention floor at Comic Con, but with a lot less pushing and shoving and no chance of collecting schwag. We walked around Hart Plaza towards the COBO, and looped around Woodward, zombies out about town. Some of the zombies had fun with cars stopped at lights and the drivers were game with cellphones drawn, taking pictures of “the carnage.” I was half-tempted to participate in terrorizing drivers till I realized I am Hispanic in a “Stand Your Ground” state. See, being a zombie is more and more about individuality and remembering who you really are.
The walk concluded and all gathered for a group commemorative photo. The most fascinating aspect of the day I found was the brandishing of smart phones by the participating zombies. Whether it was taking a call or posting their locale on Facebook or taking an endless amount of “selfies,” I soon realized just remove the makeup and its just any other gathering of modern people. We already are zombies, we just don’t know it yet.
I had a lot of fun on my day as a zombie. After all, being a zombie is about a complete loss of vanity. There’s nothing like leaving the house without your wife pestering you about how she looks. As for me, no matter how much I tried to muss up my hair, it kept going back into place. Being a zombie is both liberating and tough work at the same time. I guess the coming apocalypse won’t be much different than life now, in that regard. But if there’s no 3G, I will be a very cranky zombie.