…this will be the movement for those tired of the unrelenting imperialism of zombies in horror–and now other–fiction. The writers’ position will be that what started as an invigoration (one hesitates to say ‘revivification’, in this context) of an antique trope has viralled to the point where its ubiquity makes it ambulonecrotophile kitsch. Zombies that once stalked the cultural unconscious like baleful rebukes are now cuddly toys, dead metaphors (ba-boom) at which we can’t stay mad. Paradoxically, out of very respect for increasingly degraded zombies, Zombiefail ’09-ist writers will either explicitly undermine their banalisation by melancholy mockery of them, or refuse to write about them at all, instead plundering various mythoi for more neglected monsters with which to end the world.
I’m not sure I can jump on the “fewer zombies” bandwagon, however tongue-in-cheek, and even if we maybe are reaching a saturation point. Books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are supposed to be surprisingly good, Plants vs. Zombies is great and addictive fun, and there’s no end of intelligent discourse on zombies to be had. Just because there are zombie toys, that doesn’t mean that zombies can’t also be scary. (I’d maintain that those zombie Legos are pretty darn creepy in their own right.)
Still, Mieville isn’t wrong; their ubiquity maybe has undermined some of what made zombies so frightening in the first place. Certainly it’s happened with other boogeymen, notably vampires. As Zach Handlen writes in his reivew of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s new novel The Strain:
Vampires aren’t scary anymore. Blame Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer, Hot Topic, whoever; whatever the reason, blood-sucking fiends lurking in the shadows no longer carry the same old skin-crawling cultural cachet. Which presents a problem for writers who still want to use them.
But every problem is a challenge if you look at it in the right light. I have no doubt there are still new and inventive takes on the zombie still waiting to be created. Even 28 Days Later, which Mieville includes among the “negative influences” his movement will shun, can be seen as a reaction against the sort of campy Romero knockoffs that dominated zombie pop culture for most of the’70s and ’80s. No doubt something — or many different things — will come along to react against the camp that’s since followed it.
Then again, even in Romero’s movies, it’s rarely the zombies who are the most frightening people.