Contributing author Alfredo Torres is an adjunct professor of communications at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA where he wrote his master’s thesis on the metaphoric representation of zombies in the films of George Romero.
How The Walking Dead is like Metallica’s Black Album.
George Romero set the zombie world abuzz with his latest interview in which he called the hit television series The Walking Dead a “soap opera with a zombie occasionally.” He has had issues with the show in the past, but for some reason this interview with The Big Issue is really taking off. Many podcasts, including my own Torres vs Zombies and the Zombie Research Society’s associates DeadMen Talking have tackled Romero’s harsh criticism, with zombie fans falling on both sides of the issue. What I believe, is that the zombie genre has reached a watershed moment. Zombies have officially become mainstream.
We have been leading up to this moment for a while. Some might believe we have already been here, but I believe that this is the moment that all “true” zombie fans have dreaded. The Walking Dead is officially Metallica’s Black Album. Now some of you already know what I mean while quite a few of you are saying; “Torres? WTF?!?!” Well, hear me out.
Metallica, for those of you who do not know, were one of the heaviest metal bands during the 1980’s. Albums like Kill ‘Em All, Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets established them as metal gods! Plenty of angry teenage boys in the 80’s loved the fact that there was a band outside the mainstream that they felt belonged to them. Metallica then release the album …And Justice for All with the hit song “One.” This song got plenty of airplay on radio and MTV (which actually showed music videos at the time) and was able to reach a much larger audience. Some of their fans began to get concerned. They didn’t want newcomers listening to what they perceived as theirs. Finally came The Black Album with the hits “Enter Sandman” and “The Unforgiven.” Suddenly, mainstream music audiences took to the band and their original fans felt left out in the cold. Many turned their back on the band as Metallica quickly achieved world-wide success and acceptance.
Now lets take a look at the zombie genre following this model. Everything up until the year 2002 is equal to Metallica’s early stuff. The world pretty much ignored it while zombie fans absolutely loved it. Zombies belonged to their hard-core fans, and the rest of society be damned! Then Max Brooks released The Zombie Survival Guide, Zack Snyder (who is also the subject of Romero’s wrath) released a big budget remake of Dawn of the Dead and Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright released the successful comedy Shaun Of The Dead. This would be the equivalent of …And Justice for All. People outside of the community took notice, but it was still pretty much something that most of society simply didn’t get. But now, here is The Walking Dead… and that is The Black Album. Zombies have officially become part of our pop culture, and the hard-core zombie fans are beginning to shout “Sellout!”
It’s easy to see how this has happened. Mainstream culture will grab hold of what it deems relevant and elevate it to the point of over saturation. What we, as zombie fans, must understand is that it’s really just the natural evolution of things. It was bound to happen. We secretly wanted it to happen. Zombies could have gone away if we would have let them. We kept the genre alive. And just like Star Trek, Spiderman and Metallica, the hard-core fans can either accept its pop culture status, and deal with the new takes on their object of fandom, or we can turn our backs on the object of our affection. If that is what we choose, were we ever really fans? No one said that you have to love The Walking Dead. But like it or not, it is now part of the legacy and cannot be ignored.