Here we are, in another election year cycle.
In America, we have two political parties. I’m not gonna explain the exact platforms of each party because that isn’t relevant to this blog, and nobody really pays attention to the details anyway. Each side just uses its own convoluted and preconceived beliefs when portraying the other party and that’s the idea I’m going to use here.
Democrats see Republicans as a bunch of gun-toting Jesus freaks and rednecks. Republicans see Democrats as bleeding-heart liberals who want to take everything away from them and give it to poor people who aren’t really into working. Watching the news coverage, each candidate tries to be as appealing as possible to one group of Americans, and as horrifying as possible to the rest.
Whether we follow the political process or not, we still participate in it through pop culture and all it’s attitudes and images. Politics play out most notably in horror movies. That’s where you find our collective social anxieties.
Going back over the last 50 years, it’s all been about zombie movies versus vampire movies, depending on which political party held power at the time. There are exceptions, of course, but I’m talking about spike and proliferation of each genre. If a Republican sits in the oval office, we get more zombie movies. When a Democrat sits there, we get more vampires.
The sixties were controlled by Democrats and we got a whole series of movies starring Christopher Lee as Dracula sucking on the necks of exotic actresses with heaving bosoms. This wasn’t black and white Bela Lugosi stuff, no, this was blood and gore and lots of female nudity in eye-popping color. Night of the Living Dead shambled into cinemas during the Nixon era and created the zombie culture. When the Democrats got the White House back in the late 70’s, we got more adaptations of Dracula. The conservative superhero Reagan era gave us a Night of the Living Dead remake, a sequel, two Return of the Living Dead movies and Reanimator. Clinton’s two terms in office provided Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview With a Vampire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, From Dusk to Dawn, Blade, and about thirty other vampire films. With George Dubya it was back to the zombies with the Resident Evil series, 28 Days Later, and Shawn of the Dead. Obama serves up a crapload of more vampire fare.
Vampires represent a combination of all the things Republicans fear about the Democrats. These fiends are immoral deviants, a breakdown of traditional morality and sexuality, a rejection of religion (there’s a reason you can ward off a vampire with a cross), and the seduction and corruption of the innocent. It’s everything Mom and Dad fear when their little girl goes off to college.
In old folklore, vampires were always portrayed as basically walking corpses. Then Dracula reinvented all that and gave the world sexy vampires that became the absolute reversal of conservative Victorian ideals. Prim and proper English ladies, after being bitten by the Count, became oversexed slutbags who abandoned their maternal duties to indulge in depravity. The motive of the vampire was, of course, to turn Victorian England into the Jersey Shore.
And those bloodsuckers go both ways, biting female and male. Throw those traditional, monogamous, heterosexual relationships right out the window. Anne Rice explored that concept even more deeply with Interview With a Vampire. Her vampires weren’t just sexy as hell, but also not too picky about which warm hole they decide to probe.
Count the number of characters in True Blood who are gay, or at least display bisexual tendencies. You’ll see my point when you run out of fingers. There’s pretty much nothing about the vampire that doesn’t directly oppose the conservative ideal, and although being conservative doesn’t necessitate being Christian, a hell of a lot of American conservative ideals are rooted in religion, as they were in Britain during Bram Stoker’s time.
His Dracula was the book that first took a bunch of campfire stories and cultural myths and constructed the modern incarnation of the vampire. It’s about a guy from Transylvania (yes, a foreigner) who decides he wants to leave his dark, lonely castle at the edge of some obscure European village and enjoy the comforts of Western society. But when he arrives in England, he starts “converting” people into the same kind of monster that he is.
Vampire movies, along with lots of alien invasion movies, tend to crop up whenever immigration and multiculturalism become hot-button issues in America. Vampires tend to have their own language, and with the Blade and Underworld series, their own weird rituals and government. In every incarnation, a vampire is not one of us.
When Rush Limbaugh said that “individualism, to a liberal, is like showing Dracula the cross,” he wasn’t just making a random analogy. He could easily have said that it’s like showing Superman some kryptonite, or like showing Ke$ha a bar of soap. No, right-wing commentators love the vampire analogy. To conservatives, Democrats are vampires, parasites, who suck the blood out of capitalism.
Consider the recent film Daybreakers, released under Obama‘s helm. In it, vampires have taken over the world, and installed their own society and government. But with no more humans to bleed out, the people begin starving in the streets, leading to harsh, Soviet-style rationing and mass vampire riots. It’s the exact kind of bleak, dystopian hell that conservatives fear will happen if the Democrats win another term in office. No one in society is producing, everyone is just bleeding their neighbor dry.
Okay, now let’s take a look from the opposite side now. The more conservatives come to power and prominence, the more the zombie phenomenon rises.
In the wake of the debt ceiling crisis, I watched a left wing commentator warn that Tea Party zombies are loose in Washington and that their secret mission is to raze America to the ground and create a “second great depression.” The left have even called conservative economic theories, zombie economics.
In the recent video game Tea Party Monsters Must Die, you grab a shotgun and march through a trailer park, picking off shambling undead rednecks, climate skeptics and Fox News personalities.
I guess when someone from the left sees this:
. . . what they really fear is this:
It’s a liberal belief that conservatives are just a mindless, stupid mass, aimlessly ambling forward and devouring everything in their path.
Think of the Resident Evil series that came out during Dubya’s presidency. The culprit is explicitly some giant, evil corporation that unwittingly turns the world into zombies through its products.
Dawn of the Dead was a metaphor for mindless, mass consumerism. It’s even set in a shopping mall. The survivors who barricade themselves in the mall immediately fall victim to the allures of capitalism. They greedily loot the place, and in one telling scene, the once hard ass strong-female character, Fran, is seen pampering herself with perfume and lipstick in front of a mirror, and in the next scene, is shown cooking for the men. At one point, one of the characters looks upon the zombie horde and laments, “They’re us.”
Unlike the minority vampires, zombies are always the majority. You’ve never seen a movie in which a group of survivors battle one or two zombies. An essential part of the whole trope is that the dead quickly outnumber the living. They’re everywhere, and all they do is consume. They have no other mission but a massive consumption of human brains.
That’s why conservatives call the liberals elitist. Because Democrats see themselves as the last thinking, enlightened individuals surrounded by a brainless horde.
Part and parcel with the zombie concept is the zombie apocalypse. Other monsters may threaten individual humans, but the zombies threaten the entire human race. The only goal that zombies have, if they can be said to have a goal, is worldwide assimilation.
Ever wonder why the hell zombies don’t just attack each other?
In 28 Days Later, the zombies actually starve to death in the end, as it apparently never occurs to them that they can just feast on each other’s flesh instead of trying to track down the remaining five or so uninfected humans. Turning everyone into a zombie is apparently more important than individual survival.
It’s not just an American thing. The Irish band The Cranberries released a popular protest song against British imperialism. The title? Zombie.
But the fear of right-wing, white, American consumerist culture taking over the world is a large part of what the whole zombie thing is all about. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Latin, Asian or Eskimo, the zombies will come, and soon you’ll abandon your personality and individualism for the kind of living-dead non-culture that zombies represent.
So when you’re watching a movie about mindless zombies eating up the world, what you really fear, deep down, is the idea of the mainstream. You’re afraid of your parents sitting in their recliners watching American Idol. You’re afraid of McDonalds and Wal-Mart. You’re afraid of Facebook and Justin Bieber.
You’re afraid that capitalist, zombie corporations will come into your home and eat your brain.
Part of the threat that the right represents to the left is this mass adherence to conformity. When boiled down to the simplest stereotypes, conservatives are in uniform dark suits with red ties, liberals are hippies in wild, non-conformist tie die t-shirts. The association of conservatives with religion is part of that.
Consider that the core of Christianity is based upon the story of a man who rose from the dead and started converting people. Zombies represent the critique of the religious because it is seen as the suppression of critical thinking. And it‘s viciously evangelical. They come to your door, and suddenly you’re a drooling religioid.
But it also goes beyond religion. Part of conservatism is a passionate adherence to stability and tradition. The zombie apocalypse is the ultimate vision of a perfectly stable society. Zombies never attempt social reform or try to shoehorn amendments into the constitution, they just shamble about, moaning and bumping into things.
That actually brings us full circle, with what these fears have in common. Specifically, that both zombies and vampires have the ability to turn our children, friends and people we love, into one of them. And we’ll be next.
That’s the most terrifying concept.
There is this other point of view that we find so ridiculous and inhuman, and it is somehow contagious. If we’re exposed to it we might be forced to see the world in a different way, whether we like it or not.
And neither a vampire or a zombie can be cured. Once converted, you never go back.
And that’s why they must be destroyed.
And that’s why politics have gotten so divisive and vicious.