Saturday, February 28, 2009
The Best Undead Creature
Apparently, I was ahead of my time. Or I was right on with my time. Or I actually set the pace. I can't decide which it should be. If I was ahead of my time then that means that I did something that nobody is yet able to recognize as genius, like the guy who invented Zero candy bars, which have been around forever but which are underappreciated, even by me, considering that last night I was going to get one when we were out running errands but then I thought Am I really ready for a Zero bar right now?
I really did think that, and then the answer was No, I'm not. However, it wasn't so much that I wasn't ready because Zero bars are ahead of their time, but instead because I'd eaten a lot of pizza for dinner and then gone and tried on pants because they were on sale, and I'd had to get pants a whole size larger than the pants I just bought in January, which dismayed me and made me opt not to get a Zero bar after all. Still, Zero bars are like something from the future, and they'll be heralded as great candy as soon as society is ready.
If I'm not ahead of my time, if I'm not the blogging/writing/should-be-working-a-lot-harder-at-his-real-job equivalent of the Zero bar, I'm at least setting the pace, I figure, because back last February, I began a little side project of mine, a blog that was going to be a "Web novel." (K know. Eccch. Right?) I began it because I wanted to practice doing a little writing of something less serious than the novel I was working on, but still different than the usual blogging I had. That, and I needed the money.
So I was driving into the office one morning and thinking to myself, non-Zero-bar related thoughts, and what I was thinking was that I'd try maybe writing something kind of humorous, sci-fi-y, serialized, adventurous, funny, and weird. And also that it should have some kind of monster in it as the main character, a monster I would try to make sympathetic. I tried to figure out which monster would be hardest to do that with, which monster was most in need of some kind of repositioning -- putting this monster into a place where the public would see it in a new light, would say, hey, I never thought of that before, and would decide hey, this is neat!
You know, the writing equivalent of putting the Zero bars higher up on the shelf and marking down the price. (I'll try to stop mentioning them now. But I really regret not getting one.)
I came up with Zombies, which had been made over already by the movie 28 Days but which could still use a little revamping, I thought. Zombies needed a little more push into the pop culture, I decided, because even with the fact that they were faster and meaner and scarier they were still... gross and stupid and scary and easily killed.
Vampires, werewolves, Swamp Thing, they've all had their moment in the limelight as positive role models -- vampires, especially. To quote Sweetie not even a week ago: Who decided that vampires were sexy? I had to admit I didn't know. 12-year-old-girls and Anne Rice, I guess. Vampires just have always been deemed to be sexy, whether it's Kiefer Sutherland biting your neck while Good Times by INXS with Jimmy Barnes plays, or that guy with all the hair in the Twilight movies not biting your neck because, hey, girls, he's hunky and cute and sweet and he DOESN'T want to touch you or anything, so come have a look.
Werewolves, too, had their time in the limelight, being American in London, ordering beef chow mein at Trader Vic's, now fighting Kate Beckinsale in that video game or movie or movie based on a video game or whatever it is. Maybe Kate Beckinsale's a werewolf. I don't know. I haven't seen it. But there are werewolves in it, I know, because I know what the word lycanthrope is and I know the latest movie was subtitled Rise of The Lycans, so I know (a) there are werewolves in it and (b) they had to shorten lycanthrope to lycans in the title because otherwise you kids these days would get bored reading the title and go off to do crystal meth instead of seeing the movie, and there would be a class action suit against the studio for properly spelling a word.
So I hit on zombies as the monsters most in need of making-over, as the monsters most unlikely to ever be a sympathetic protagonist, as the monsters that would constitute the greatest writing feat if they were to be the star of a story and be zombies and yet still somehow be sexy and fun and interesting and likeable and maybe played by Rachel McAdams in the movie version of my Web Novel. (Still. Ecch. I know. But maybe we'll all get used to that the way I got used to the word 'blog.' Why does everything on the Internet have to have such a dumb name?)
That was how I began writing Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!: That was the entire concept behind that story at the outset: zombies will be my stars. That and what's the exact opposite of zombies, in terms of sexiness? And the answer to that, the answer to the question If zombies are the least sexy thing in the world, what's the MOST sexy? was, of course, lesbians.
I began writing it with that concept in mind: I'm going to write a story about a Lesbian Zombie. I kept plugging away at it for a year now, getting readers along the way and building it into a story that's grown way beyond anything that I could have imagined -- especially because I have refused always to plot it out, so if you read it [NOTE: I AM AWARE THAT THIS WHOLE POST IS TURNING INTO BLATANT SELF PROMOTION AND YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO LIVE WITH IT.] if you read it, you should know that each entry is entirely made up on the spot without any thought given to where it's going.
Then, the other day, I stumble across a story that there's going to be a book released in March, called Breathers, or something, and this book is about zombies. Living in the modern day and having lives and falling in love and being sympathetic and stuff. I don't know what it's all about because it hasn't come out and because as soon as I heard that, I thought to myself what any red-blooded American would think: Can I sue that person?
Then I got a little more information and I realized that the book was maybe not that close to my own Web Novel (Sigh. Can I just call it a story? No? Why? Never mind...) and I calmed down and decided that the similarities really were that both of us were calling our characters zombies, and if we were to go around getting ourselves into lawsuits over that, then we'd both probably be sued by the estate of Mary Shelley, and I don't need to get myself into more lawsuits, anyway, because I've got like six going on for me personally already, and one of these days my boss is going to figure out that I really am not doing anything but my own legal work and that will probably result in an uncomfortable conversation between him and me.
Besides, I realized, my own zombies are less like "zombies" the way people think of them and more like the original zombie, and Best Undead Creature, and character whose introduction I foreshadowed in that last paragraph (see, Mr."Breathers" Writer? Can YOU use literary techniques like that? I'll show you!), Frankenstein.
Now, having called it that, I will no doubt hear from people who will say the monster was not called Frankenstein, blah blah blah.
Don't you hate people like that? If there were a list of people I find annoying, in order it would be:
1. Diablo Cody.
2. People who claim (truthfully or not) they don't watch TV.
3. People who remind you that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster.
4. Tina Fey/The guy whose house I'm stalking who now pulls down his blinds so that when I drive by I can't see inside the house (Tie.)
But here's what I'd like to say about that. I know that in the book, the monster didn't have a name and "Frankenstein" was the doctor. Or at least, I know that's what I've always been told, by annoying people, and I take their word for it because I've never read the book. (Nor do I want to read the book, but I'll get to that in a moment.)
People who insist on that, on saying things like the monster was not called Frankenstein, are not only annoying, but they're wrong and they don't understand how pop culture works. Have you seen how "ironic" is changing its meaning, all thanks to Alanis Morissette and her horrible misunderstanding of irony? Thanks to her, a generation of people thinks that rain on your wedding day is ironic instead of just kind of a bummer.
Side note: the other day, The Boy correctly noted that it was ironic that by setting our DVR to tape every episode of Battlestar Galactica, I had taped over the most-recent, as-yet-unseen Battlestar Galactica episodes because a Battlestar marathon came on. So there's hope for the future, I suppose.
Side note, 2: Unfortunately, I initially told him it was not ironic, then had to concede that it was, so I lost a little parenting authority there.
Side note, 3: I assume I didn't miss anything in not watching those last two episodes. I'm sure, even without seeing, that the plots could be summarized as Everyone and everything is actually a Cylon! And a human! Hey, an asteroid! Shoot that woman! Starbuck, kiss this!
Because of Alanis Morissette, the world has come to accept that things that are annoying in a coincidental way are ironic, just like we now accept that flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. That's the way society works: There are facts, like Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster, and then society says Yeah, but I'd really rather say that Frankenstein was the monster, and then annoying people spend 82 years trying to point out that, no, society's wrong, but society eventually stops returning those people's phone calls and moves on without them, and doesn't friend them on Facebook, and after a while, the monster just gets to be called Frankenstein.
Which is where we have arrived at, right now: I'm calling it: Frankenstein's monster is officially just "Frankenstein." The monster's name is Frankenstein, now, and anyone who says otherwise is a loser.
I can say that Frankenstein is the best undead creature even though I haven't read the book, and I don't want to read the book. I don't want to read the book because it was written centuries ago, or might as well have been, and I have learned in my life that I don't like reading most books that were written long ago. I gain nothing by reading the book, I've learned, in most cases, at least. What's gained by reading Shakespeare's plays in the original? What's gained by reading Moby-Dick? What's gained by reading almost every single book written in the 1600s or whenever and trying to muddle through archaic language and dated references, when I already know the gist of the story? There is a reason we no longer talk like Mary Shelley and Herman Melville and that one playwright whose plays I had to read in college and who had all his characters talking about the auld wyblfighse or something so that I had to keep turning to the footnotes and wondering why he couldn't simply write midwife, and that reason is that all that old language looks like Welsh. It's incomprehensible and takes away from the story. There are very few works of literature that stand up to time, and for those that do, too often the language makes them impenetrable and not worth trying, just like David Foster Wallace's work.
So I'm not going to try to read Frankenstein, and I don't need to because it's soaked into the pop culture enough that I know all the points I need to know: Man creates monster. Monster is misunderstood. Crowd kills him. That's the story, right? Am I missing anything there? I know all the themes, too: Science can be misused. People suck. Little girls always know the truth about everything. I don't need to read the book.
The enduring power, and culture-seeping ability, of Frankenstein demonstrates why he was The Best Undead Creature, but only in part. Yes, it takes a truly great undead creature to be written about in a novel and then to infiltrate nearly every part of culture over the next century plus...
... look, I'll just admit that I don't know when she wrote the book, so I'm going to pick a date and say 1861...
... becoming not just a movie monster but a beloved family man and a cautionary tale about the dangers of gene splicing but also, I believe, a pop song or maybe a group, and so on, slowly soaking into our collective subconscious until we all instinctively know exactly what it means to be a Frankenstein...
... not the doctor. I said that's over. It's the monster...
but it's not just the enduring power of the idea that makes Frankenstein The Best Undead Creature. It's the fact that he had so much farther than everyone else to go. Vampires, werewolves, the Mummy, these guys all had a head start, in that they weren't made up of pieces of dead bodies. And if you're going to be trying to make a dent in pop culture, if you want to win the love and admiration of the public and become an iconic character, then let's face it, it's always an advantage to not be made up of corpse bits. Yeah, sure, it helps to have the cape and the castle and the sexy female vampires. It helps if most of the time you're human, or if before dying you were a powerful pharoah or something. It can even be a benefit if you're from a black lagoon, because women always like foreigners. But all those monsters didn't need those advantages to pass up Frankenstein in our minds; they were set up to do that just by, you know, not being sewn together from dead bodies.
Frankenstein had that to overcome, just to get us to notice him. I respect people who have to work hard to overcome their handicaps (remember, I also recognized Paris Hilton for doing just that)(It is quite an honor, Paris, to be mentioned as having also achieved what Frankenstein has, isn't it?) Frankenstein started behind all the others, and yet passed them up, becoming an iconic undead creature and becoming something we no longer feared or loathed or tried to burn with stakes or tried to convince people was not called Frankenstein, transforming instead into something that was called Frankenstein, that could hug and be loved and do the Mash and sit there in our minds comfortably, that could be adapted to a new generation as a loveable lesbian zombie having all sorts of fun, crazy, really interesting, adventures that could easily be made into a series on, say, the Sci-Fi channel, if you're intersted A monster who could, by his very nature, become more or less whatever we wanted him to be -- a monster created from pieces of us who eventually would come to symbolize pieces of us, who would be fierce, or loveable, or both, a monster who, like us, became more than the sum of his parts, who rose from the most humble circumstances imaginable to become The Best Undead Creature.
A monster who would make, by the way, an awesome spokesperson for the Zero bar.