In Defense of Zombies

Zombies seem to be de rigueur these days, which is fine by me.  I love just about anything zombie-related, plus I am convinced that the surge in zombie popularity the past few years spells very good things for our culture at large.

Wait. What? Yes. Zombies are good!

For one, zombie themed movies and books tend to be pretty clean. Sex isn’t much of a priority when your friends are being eaten alive. Of course, they do tend to be heavy on the violence, but “violent” here means lots of blood spatter and fake limbs, very little of the actual violence that could be experienced or emulated in the real world. You may have heard of kids imitating violent video games, or music, or movies, but you never hear of kids trying to chew each others’ arms off. The sort of violence encountered in the gangster or revenge genres may disturb, but that is usually because they can reflect reality. After all, gangsters do exist and can do bad things. Your chances, however, of encountering a wrestling match between a walking corpse and a shark are pretty slim.

Zombies also remind us of what is truly important. In zombie fiction, you see the same theme over and over: when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, people return to the simple things. With the distractions of modern life destroyed by the ravaging hordes, the survivors cling to what is, after all, really important: family, friends, loyalty, courage, faith.

It goes deeper: modern materialists tell us that mankind is nothing but the sum total of our parts: blood, cells, synapses, muscle. No zombie aficionado could fall prey to such a line of thought. The zombie fan knows that we are not just the sum total of our parts, we are something more. When your girlfriend has been bitten, you hold her in your arms and tell her you love her. When her eyes glaze over and she stands up despite her multiple wounds to lunge for your neck, you cut off her head with a machete. It’s simple common sense. Your girlfriend’s body contains the same physical properties both before and after her demise. Even her mind continues to function after a fashion, as it is a known fact that the only way to stop a zombie is by destroying the brain. Despite all of these things, the zombie connoisseur knows that the girlfriend, in her essence, is gone. The body is reanimated, but the soul has fled; this tells us something vital, something the materialist has forgotten. As a collection of muscle and bone, there is nothing stopping us from eating each other alive. It is our souls, that nebulous, invisible, unprovable thing that makes us human. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but it could happen. What is certain is this: there are no materialists in the audience of a George A. Romero marathon.

Finally, zombies remind us of an important and hard to face fact: our own mortality. Momento Mori the monks of old used to inscribe over their doorways and walls – remember your death. “Remember that from dust you came and unto dust you must return.” (Gen 3:19) The world is not permanent for us, and it is a good and healthy thing to keep it in mind so that we may train our focus on the things that are permanent. On the other hand, though, it is frighteningly easy to allow the fact of our own deaths to drag us into despair. Thinking of our own deaths, it is a short journey to forgetting that death does not get the last laugh. If you believe in life after death,though, death must lose some of its horror and all of its permanence. This is an easy thing to think but a hard thing to feel, especially in regards to loved ones who have gone on before us. Zombies, with their lumbering (or sprinting, depending on your zombie proclivities,) their groans, their hunger for human flesh, take something scary and turn it into something a little bit silly. They are wonderfully, hilariously ridiculous and they provide an outlet to release our mortal anxieties.

Death, where is thy sting?

Zombie gems:

Night of the Living Dead – a classic!

Shaun of the Dead – a lighthearted twist, but still good zombie action

World War Z – the best zombie book, period.

28 Days Later – fast zombies! Brilliant.

note: This article originally appeared in my Examiner.com column in 09. I am choosing to believe it is not at all a bad sign that I’m already recycling posts on my two-week-old blog.

Big Easy Express, cheap!

My PSA for today:

I just found out that the documentary Big Easy Express is available right now to rent from Amazon for just $1.99!

Directed by Emmett Malloy, the film follows three bands (Old Crow Medicine Show, Mumford and Sons, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) on their whistle-stop train tour.  It’s a love-letter to musicians, a teensy sneak look behind the scenes at three bands who share a passion for earthy music, some grizzled veterans of the road, some on the cusp of making it big time.  Watching it is a pure joy, not unlike sitting back and watching children play on the beach;  these people care so much, and are so on fire for what they are doing, that their sheer enthusiasm is inspiring.

Side note:  The Edward Sharpe guy is so stinking adorable when it comes to his wife that I wish someone would make a documentary just about the two of them.  While watching Big Easy, my husband at one point turned to me and said, “Now there is someone who loves his girl!”  And it was clearly true.

Seven Quick Things I am loving right now

1. Pumpkin Beer Season!

Pumking!

Last year, my husband bought a case of this and I was irritated because he only bought one case.  I rarely remember which beers I like, because he remembers all of that stuff for me, but Pumking I do not forget.  You can literally taste the buttery pumpkin-pie crust.  In the beer.  It’s delicious!

2. Breaking Bad, more addictive than Crystal Meth

We just finished season 4, and I’m planning on saying much more about this amazing series once we’ve caught up entirely.  (We haven’t caught up yet because my husband is obnoxious and insists that we do things like sleep and interact with our children.)  The acting alone here is blowing. me. away.  There is not a single weak actor on this show, and every last one of them has a role teeming with contradictions and nuance.   Jesse is probably my favorite, since I find myself thinking things in Jesse-speak the way a person might begin to think in a foreign language once it is mastered.

Who spilled cheerios in the living room, yo? This is bull$h!#!

 3.  Babel by Mumford and Sons

I’ve already written about my great love of M&S, but I need to say it again:  this band is so wonderful!  I am shocked by how religious this new album is, in the very best way.   Look at these lyrics:

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn

If that isn’t a prayer, I don’t know what is.

4.  This moppet:

When the bus comes for her big sisters every morning, my youngest immediately starts running with all of her toddler might to catch it.  I always grab her right away, but it never stops her from trying again the next day.  It reminds me of a  hamster I once babysat for a few months.  His name was Husserl.  He would spend every day trying to jump out of his tank and it was both funny and sad, the futile way he wouldn’t give up even though escaping the tank was clearly impossible.  Until the day he escaped.  So anyway, I’m staying on my toes every morning.

5. Louie just keeps getting better

I wrote about this the other day, too.  We DVR everything, so I’m often a few episodes behind my favorite series.  We let them stack up and then watch it all at once.  So we’ve just finished the story arc (3 episodes long) where Louie is being considered as a replacement for Letterman.  It was the most ambitious t.v. I’ve seen in a long while.  I can’t believe he (Louis C.K. both writes and directs almost every episode) pulled off walking such a delicate balance between pathos and hilarity.  Those three episodes were sort of like Barton Fink, but better (and I say this as a huge fan of the Coens.)  I could talk about this all day but I’ll stop here:  the soundtrack is unique and brilliant and the pacing of each scene could not possibly be more perfect.  It’s masterful.  My only quibble is:  Jay Leno???  Come on, man, don’t side with that loser.

I did write a fan letter to Conan O’Brien once.  How did you guess?

6. Ora Et Labora Et Zombies

I’m going to write more about this later, but I have to do my part to promote this wonderful project.  When my oldest daughter comes into the house with the mail, it makes our day if we see our favorite envelope in the stack.  There is nothing so satisfying as the feel of a nice long letter in your hand.  I so rarely get those anymore that it almost makes me nostalgic, and when you add to it a tale that is both engaging and delicately, charmingly told….well, you can see why it makes our day.  Have you ordered your letters yet?  What is your problem?  All the cool kids are doing it!

7. Dostoevsky, man.

He’s pretty cool.  I am in the process of re-reading The Brother Karamazov, as I do every few years, and as it happens every time I have to put the book down periodically to process my awe.

I was going to write out a snippet here, to illustrate his  brilliance, but Dostoevsky is not really a pithy writer.  It’s his scope, and his depth, and the way he effortlessly has his characters swing from one extreme to the other, just as it happens in real life and just as almost nobody else manages to convey believably.  So I’ll just say:  Dostoevsky, man.

I will end by encouraging everyone to go read Jen’s Quick Takes even though, as I just started this blog last week, there is zero chance that anyone reading this came from anywhere but there.

Mumford and Sons, lovers of the light

I got into a semi-fight with my parish’s adult RE director a few years back.  I was taking his excellent class on the Church Fathers and enjoying it very much, when he illustrated some point about objective good and evil by using the example of rock music.

Take a good look at my profile picture.  I’m not an aggressive kind of person.  I let people cut in front of me in line and don’t say anything.  Librarians intimidate me.  Meek and mild, I’ve got that down.  But when this man (who does an otherwise amazing job, have I mentioned that?) equated rock music with objective evil, as though it were an unassailable truth, something snapped in me and I could not keep my mouth shut.  Open went my lips and out came tumbling such eloquent arguments as, “blaaargh….language of the angels…layers of sound…Christian music is simplistic…and stupid….I like Pearl Jam!”

He was not convinced.

I wish, now, that I could go back in time and introduce Mumford and Sons into the equation, because then there could be no argument.  They are so clearly on the side of the angels that many music critics (especially European ones, hoo boy!) dismiss them out of hand.  They are so rock-and-roll that tons and tons of people are swept up in the music and find themselves praying before they even know what is happening.

That last part is not a joke.  I’ve seen Mumford and Sons live twice now, and both times I was struck by how like an old-time tent revival the concerts were.  (I’m a Steubenville grad, from the time before the big tent blew down, in case you were doubting my tent-revival cred.)  Both times I would look around and see half-drunk frat boys, professional-looking young women with their Trader Joe’s insulated bags tucked under their Target picnic blankets, and dopey teenagers all, in unison, throw their hands to the heavens as they belted out wholeheartedly lines such as:

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

Dude. It’s amazing.  And I’ll tell you what, it feels much more wholesome, much more genuine and healthy, waaaaay less creepy than some actual tent revivals can feel.  Looks fair, but feels foul* comes to mind when I think about some religious gatherings I’ve witnessed, and the Mumford and Sons experience is the Strider to that Black Rider.  Looks foul – look at all these sinners!  Is that one high?  He totally is, and that girl’s thong is sticking out- but, but…look how drawn they all are to the idea of calling on a higher power to transcend where they are right now.  Look at my own hands, also raised.

It gives me hope, about humanity in general, that all these people who would not consider themselves religious-sort of folk, all these people who – at least to me, sitting judgmentally on my own Target blanket, do not look like they’re trying all that hard at life, yet are irresistibly drawn to this band and their call to Something More.

Mumford and Sons new album comes out tomorrow, and as I’ve already heard five or so of the new songs live I feel perfectly comfortable in recommending it heartily.  It’s good music in the fullest sense of the term:  not perfect, but honest and full of heart and touching on life in a way that everyone, seriously everyone, can relate to.

*If you don’t recognize this reference, shame on you.

Louie, Louie, Louie

I can’t help myself. I love Louis C.K.

He can make me uncomfortable. He occasionally says things that cause me to feel actual revulsion. And yet…

My husband and I once stayed up until 2am arguing about one of his comedy specials, and there wasn’t even any late night make-up goodness. We went to bed reconciled but still pretty irritated with each other. And yet…

There remains something about Louis C.K. we find irresistibly appealing.

He has an F/X show these days, Louie, now in it’s third season. The first two seasons were kind of uneven, still good, but uneven.  There were enough moments of brilliance that they got you through the moments that were a little too weird, but the weirdness was jarring. The 3rd season, though, has been exceptional. It’s all come together and the show is now comprised of brief, perfectly executed vignettes that create a vibe that manages to be beautiful in it’s downtrodden littleness.

The main thing I love about this show, and about Louis C.K.’s persona altogether, though, is the virtue he embodies. What? Says Scrupulous Rebecca in my head. Virtue? With all the random hook-ups going on? The masturbation? The foul language? Even the gorging on ice cream!?!

Yup.

Watching Louie the other day, I was struck by how many famous and powerful comedians make cameos on his show. People really like this guy, I thought. Then it hit me: they like him for the same reason I like him. He is honest, so brutally honest that he is willing to openly admit his faults, his weaknesses, his failures. You know what he is? He is humble.

I have this stupid tendency to think of humility as some sort of cringing, abased thing even though I know intellectually that this is false. Real humility, like all the virtues, is attractive. It’s intriguing. It’s appealing because it is beautiful and true.

How wonderful to live in a world where any schlub off the street has access to this kind of strong, deep-rooted virtue even if he is far from sainthood! How wonderful, too, to see all sorts of people responding to that virtue, people who maybe aren’t ready to respond to anything more incitive.

Lots of people can’t help themselves. They love humility.

This is me.

Image Yeah, okay, this is not technically me. This is a living statue my daughters and I encountered on our way to Baltimore’s National Aquarium, and she totally stopped us in our tracks.

“Hey!” said one of my kids, “That’s not a statue!”

And we all turned and watched the perfectly still figure, her face and hands thick with what I could have sworn was plaster.

“No,” I said. “I think it’s just a statue.”

Then something happened: a little boy dropped a dollar into the bucket beside the figure and she slowly turned her head, the tiniest smile warming her otherwise motionless face. We were enchanted.

I gave each of my kids a dollar to drop into the bucket, even my jaded middle-school-er. When they returned to me, we watched her some more.

“Listen,” I said after a moment, gathering my kids closer. “Lots of people would say this girl is wasting her time, doing something stupid when she could be working in a soup kitchen, or making regular money in a regular job. And they could be right, but remember this: whatever else gets done in the world today, this lady just gave us – us, right here, – a little bit of joy and a little bit of wonder.”

My girls all nodded earnestly at what I was saying. Even my jaded middle-school-er.

So this is me.  I might not have the talent to sound my barbaric yawp, or to create something mighty and sublime, but this I have:  I appreciate. I am moved by, and filled with wonder at things of beauty.  I bend down to my children and whisper, urgently: Do you see this? Stop and look at this little thing, there is something important hidden here.

It might be a book or a movie, a television show or a street performer. It might be a beer, or a fancy restaurant, or the perfect, buttery fish my husband cooks on a Friday night. These things all reflect, in some small way, the refracted light of God’s glory and I believe it is important, crucial, to take the moment to see  and say with Him, “This is good.”  This is my attempt to do just that, this is my way to serve him wittily, in the tangle of my mind.

testing still

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hey it’s a koala!