I love superhero movies. Last weekend I went to see the new Captain America movie and loved every minute of it. I can’t wait for the next Spiderman either. I like the heroes of literature too–Beowulf, Van Helsing and Aragorn. I think it’s an essential character trait of every hero that he or she is usually concerned for the wellbeing of others–often to the point of death.
Zombie movies don’t have heroes like that. Our heroes have changed, because we have.
Literary heroes represent ideals and ideas that are valued by a society–self sacrifice is often one of these ideals, but certainly not the only one. Like monsters, heroes change to reflect their contemporary cultural context.
Like monsters, heroes change to reflect their contemporary cultural context.
Like all heroes, the heroes in zombie films “face crisis situations in which they must assume extraordinary personal responsibility and make exceedingly difficult choices” (Robinson [Fear] 23). The heroes of old, often had transcendent ideals to help navigate difficult choices. The modern hero has to make these choices in a modern world and that means there is no transcendent ideal to guide these decisions. Their choices are often between some moral principle and their survival. The dilemma forces us to question whether or not this moral principle is relevant in the context of the zombie apocalypse. The focus in these moments of crisis is on the agony of the choice, rather than on the sacrificial nature of the hero. And despite the agony, the choice is often in favor of survival. Thus, in zombie narratives, it is not really appropriate to call the protagonists heroes. For with the emphasis on survival, and without transcendent ideals, it is more accurate to call them “would-be survivors.” Simon Pegg, of Shawn of the Dead, points out that “the protagonists of zombie invasion movies are not superheroes or professional monster slayers like Van Helsing – they are common, average folk forced to ‘step up’ and defend themselves” (Bishop 117).
So, just as the zombie is an immanent monster, the hero in the zombie narrative is an immanent hero.