Why is it that so many die-hard fans of certain genres are obsessed with this idea of staying true to the genre? You know the people I’m the talking about. They’re the one who always seem to have this handbook in their heads that’s loaded down with rules for whatever specific topic they happen to be interested in. And they stick to these rules with an unforgiving strictness.
These are the kind of people who know every way to kill a werewolf and won’t accept any slaughtering of one that doesn’t adhere to what they already know. They’ve studied the peculiar feeding habits and diet of vampires and scorn any deviation. And of course, they know zombies aren’t fast. They see themselves as defenders of a particular lore as if it were bound by some unwritten parameters. It’s all very noble work to some degree, but I can’t help but think some of these people have lost sight of the fact that these genres are fiction…the rules they swear by were made up! They can be broken. In fact, I’d argue that they should be broken.
I can almost hear some people shouting Blasphemer! as they read this, so I’ll try to explain my position.
My run-in with the genre police belongs in the ever-murkier realm of zombie lore. A wide rift has divided the zombie camp ever since Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s groundbreaking 28 Days Later challenged a lot of the previously accepted rules of the genre. They dared to create zombies that were fast. And if that weren’t bad enough, the zombies weren’t so much living dead as they were infected people living in a near-death state. It was enough to make members of the Zombie Genre Police flip their gourd. It was scandalous and shocking…but most of all, it was really, really good!
Zombie revivalists embraced the new zombie. World War Z by Max Brooks and host of other books (including my own) reinvented the zombie. The new zombie is more ruthless, cunning, and dangerous, but equally as hungry for brains and flesh. While purists shun the evolution of the creature, I tend think it’s been a revelation. The slow-moving, dim-witted zombie of the past had gone as far as it could go. They’d reached their pinnacle in the Thriller video. Their brand of terror no longer holds weight in our fast-paced world…there’s just too many ways to stop a foe like that.
Thanks to these updates, the zombie genre is alive again (no pun intended) and exciting and producing great entertaining stories…and isn’t that point? Isn’t that worth bending the rules a little? By demanding a genre stick to the established rules, I believe the life gets slowly sucked out of it. Using the same elements will eventually provide only the same story over and over again. Sure, it will happen to different people in different places, some of which may very well be intriguing, but essentially you’re reading the same book you’ve read before or seeing the same movie you’ve already watched countless times. I’m aware that’s exactly what some people want, but I for one personally can only sit through so many copies of The Night of the Living Dead.
In the end, the genre police usually come around. It’s the fan instinct to resist change. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Zombies, for instance…you can only beat a dead corpse so many times. It’s time we all embrace the new zombie—but not too closely, they are flesh eaters after all.
Brian James is the author of several notable books including Pure Sunshine and Dirty Liar. He lives in a small town in upstate New York that may or may not be overrun with zombies. His new book, Zombie Blondes, is now available from Square Fish.