All things zombie goes mainstream
Zombies aren’t sexy like vampires or complex like Star Trek characters.
Zombies are mindless, soulless, lumbering creatures who rise from the dead with one mission: to eat human flesh and make more zombies.
They’ve now hit the top of the pop culture chart and couldn’t be more alive.
Along with the expected Zombie-themed movies, novels, electronic games, an AMC cable television series and web sites, the movement has gone even more mainstream — and is in full display in the Pikes Peak region.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention latched onto the trend in May. Five days before a predicted Rapture, the agency posted a blog titled: “Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” The entry used the premise of a zombie invasion as a “how to” stepping stone for preparing for hurricanes, pandemics and other more likely scenarios.
In July, much to the consternation of state transportation contractors, computer hackers altered road construction signs in Colorado Springs and Pueblo to flash: “Zombie Invasion! Run!!!”
In Woodland Park, multitudes of teens are hot on playing zombie apocalypse, an outdoor variation of tag and war.
On Saturday, Tejon Street will be filled with what organizers hope are hundreds of the walking dead during a Springs Zombie Pub Crawl. More zombie fests will happen in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs in October, for the fifth year.
Despite being what University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sociology professor Jeffrey Montez de Oca calls a symbol of dehumanization and alienation, zombies have become a community builder that attracts the masses.
“People are taking the image of the zombie we have created in popular culture and making it their own, using it to make friends and socially interact,” he said.
Fifteen-year-old Kasey Allen discovered that a few months ago, when she helped organize a new game. About 30 teens showed up to a park in Woodland Park one dark Friday night, armed with Nerf guns, wooden swords and other “weapons” to fight zombies. Social media promoted the fictional zombie apocalypse.
Especially interesting, Allen said, was that kids from all cliques — the popular crowd, jocks, the drama kings and queens, druggies, band geeks and nerds — participated.
“Zombies aren’t really just for one group. Everybody, across the board, thinks they’re pretty cool,” she said.
They aren’t just for kids, either.
Rick Bongiovanni, is 45 years old and hooked on zombie-themed video games and movies.
“It’s a fantasy world where you can do what you want. Culture has decided it’s OK for us to kill zombies in brutal and heinous ways, but if you took a human and did that, it wouldn’t be acceptable,” said Bongiovanni, a former Hollywood makeup artist who moved to Colorado Springs in 2008.
Transplants Samantha Lawrence, 22, and Mitch Nielsen, 25, also brought their fascination with horror to Colorado Springs after recently relocating here. The city they came from, Fargo, N.D., has a well-known zombie pub crawl that attracts more than 500 people.
“We wanted to do something similar,” Lawrence said. “The downtown scene gets boring. It’ll be awesome to see Tejon as a zombie infested street.”
Eleven downtown bars and restaurants will welcome all things zombie on Saturday night with specials on drinks and food. Lawrence and Nielsen also have gotten tons of donated freebies, such as T-shirts and magnets.
“It’s just fun to dress up when it’s not Halloween and all be the same,” said Nielsen, a self-described zombie nut.
It’s not by chance that zombies have bumbled into popularity now, some say.
Zombies represent the breakdown of society, Montez de Oca said.
“The mindless attacking the living symbolizes humanity folding in on itself, and that’s what’s happening,” he said. “There’s tremendous insecurity in people’s personal lives, and people are using the metaphor of the alienated zombie to negotiate their anxiety and turn it around.”
Bongiovanni goes so far as to say that life has become like a zombie movie: “A lot of people are in survival mode, trying to make ends meet and under constant fear of possible attack.You’re trapped and surrounded by people who want to eat you.”
The current fan phenomenon grew out of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” The movie rose to cult status after it was made as an independent black-and-white film in 1968. A color remake debuted in 1990. The plot: Seven people are trapped in a farmhouse and surrounded by flesh-eating zombies.
Another theme began to emerge in the late 1970s with Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” Centered in a shopping mall, the movie makes a statement about consumerism, Montez de Oca said.
“These movies are always about what our society does to us: dehumanize us,” he said.
Bongiovanni said zombies are the epitome of Americans: “We do nothing but eat and consume. And we’re a little brain-dead from the daily grind.”
Nielsen, who has been fascinated with horror since he was a child, said he buys into the theory of Max Brooks, who in 2003 published “The Zombie Survival Guide,” a manual dealing with the potential of a zombie attack.
“His theory is it’s a way to personify our fears. You can’t shoot the financial empire in the head, but you can shoot a zombie. And they look like humans,” Nielsen said.
For some, the appeal of this supernatural ghoul is best left unanalyzed.
Teenager Allen can’t put her finger on why she’s interested in zombie games and zombie fashion: “I have absolutely no idea why I like them. They’re just so cool.”
What: Colorado Springs Zombie Pub Crawl
Where: Meet 4-4:30 p.m. at Acacia Park downtown; crawl starts down Tejon Street at 5 p.m. Zombie dance and party at midnight at The Mansion, 20 N. Tejon St.
Details: Participating restaurants and bars will offer food and drink specials. Some will have free admission to zombies. (Tony’s, the American Legion, Jose Muldoons, V Bar, Rendezvous, Gasoline Alley, Blondie’s, The Mansion, Cowboy’s, Thirsty Parrot and The Red Martini)
Freebies will be handed out.