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Now that we are at the mid season break for Walking Dead, I figured this would be a good time to say something about this particular subject. I might have written it up back in October but, since there was already plenty of zombie stuff flying at the time, I figured, well, it was a timing thing. In fact, I had debated writing on this subject at all but, how often is it that the very person you have ventured your opinions about, comes right out and tells the world that you were dead on the money.
Who are we talking about here? Well it isn't a British monarch and his last name isn't Lucas. That about covers the better known King's with the moniker of George. No, I'm talking about the King of the Undead, George Romero. Recently, the television megahit, Walking Dead, offered Romero a chance to direct (maybe even write) an episode for next year's season five. Romero did not just turn them down, he found every reporter that would listen to him and told people why. Walking Dead has done a lot to pay homage to Romero and this goes back to the Kirkman comic, predating the television show. Kirkman even went so far as to say that his story was like a Romero movie only it just keeps on going. Kirkman isn't the first guy to do this and, believe it or not, he isn't the first guy that Romero has slapped sideways for paying him some respect. Funny way to appreciate people who appreciate you.
You might think it would be enough that Romero told Walking Dead a simple and polite, "no." Instead he told reporters he absolutely refused because he did not think much of the show and said, "it's just a soap opera with zombies." If Romero had even left it there, well, understandable since even Kirkman has said as much about his own work. No, Romero had to go that one step further and, actually, I'm kind of glad because he proved my point. Romero said that he uses his zombies as characters to make social commentary. His entire interview left one with the distinct impression that if you aren't doing that, then you aren't really making zombie shows. Really George?
Now, one might think that, in reality, Romero's stick up his ass is more about a cranky old man, that has seen the new kids come in, and do him one better with his own baby. There might be some truth to that. After the movie Shawn Of The Dead, there were stories flying all over the internet about how Romero had called Simon Pegg and congratulated him on his movie, and said things like "Shawn was a worthy successor." When Pegg and his co-writer, Edgar Wright, were invited to be zombies in Romero's next movie, Land of the Dead, that seemed to confirm the rumors. Then you might have taken the time to watch the Pegg video diary on the DVD. You might have even found a few interviews with Romero about that. In all of it, not only did Romero deny the rumors, he did his best to snub Pegg and Wright when they visited the set. Again, it was not that he did it, it was that he made sure he did it on camera. Romero wanted it on record, for everyone to know, that he didn't care for these upstarts.
None of this is really all too surprising when you realize what Romero calls "social commentary." Now don't get me wrong here. Some of Romero's earlier films were some of my favorite of all time. Dawn of the Dead definitely hits in the top ten and Martin and The Crazies in the top twenty-five. That was not because I thought they had anything to say about society. It was simply because they entertained me and this is what I think King George has never quite figured out. As I have stated before, for a long time, Romero was the only one who could get any kind of budget to do zombie films. As a result he nearly killed the genre because he thought of movie theaters as his own personal pulpit. That's bad enough and then you actually look at what he's trying to say. Then you realize how it is not only hypocritical, petty, and ridiculous but, it goes so far as breaking down the logic of the world in his movie.
In Dawn of the Dead, Romero picks at his favorite thumping boys. He's not really making any constructive criticism, he's really just purposely trying to insult people he does not like. Obviously Romero is quite leftist in his politics so he hates consumers and the greedy evil rich people they empower. Hmm, I guess his buddy Stephen King is poor? I don't think Romero himself has to go stand in any bread lines and I am pretty sure he doesn't live in a cave which means he's been shopping too. Dawn was making fun of shoppers by comparing them to zombies. Then, of course he took a shot at his favorite whipping boys, people who live in rural area's, like guns and hunting, and probably even drive pick up trucks. To put it simply, red necks. I never got why he tried to portray how awful it was that these people went out and killed zombies. What else are you going to do with zombies? They're trying to kill you! Are you going to give them flowers while they rip you apart?
Of course, if it were just Dawn of the Dead I would be nitpicking but, with Romero, these are very common themes in all of his films. Quite often, they make no sense in relation to the story. In Land of the Dead (the last movie that anyone trusted a real budget to Romero for a film) the main plot point revolved around a guy trying to use a stolen weapon to blackmail money from the evil rich guy. Wait a minute? Exactly how are dollars any good when the government that prints them no longer exists? Why would this guy, with an anti zombie tank, need to get them from the evil rich guy when there would be plenty of deserted banks, in ruined cities, where he could just pick up all the dollars he wanted with little problem at all? When lots of people die and all their money is still left around, for anyone to pick up, that creates a situation called "inflation" and makes the currency worthless. When the government that ensures that money's value is gone, it makes even inflation pointless since about all you have is rough toilet paper that will stain your bum. This is social commentary? If Romero can't even understand something as simple as that then I really doubt any comments he has on our world is all that, "relevant."
Sure, Walking Dead has a lot of soap opera too it but, unlike the conventional mid day soap, it isn't about who is romancing who. It's a story about people dealing with the problems that they face, not the ones that we do. The world changed and they are struggling to change with it, all the while, trying to hold on to their humanity in face of a brutal existence. If you read Kirkman's books you'll be far enough in the story, now, to see this is about how civilization recovers, not falls apart. That kind of story is about what really makes civilization and there is more relevance in that, than any sixties march slogan. I think, ultimately, that's what Romero hates the most even if he doesn't understand it and, I suspect, he doesn't. I think he really believed all those slogans from his days in college. I think he formed an unshaken view of the world based on a few cynical ideas and he never noticed that the world changed while he did not. People are no longer content to think that this or that might be wrong, they now want to know why. We can see that in our entertainment when shows like Walking Dead can have complex characters and not only survive but, thrive in pop culture. On that note, Kirkman is a far superior story teller to Romero. He isn't just chanting slogans. He's trying to understand the material he uses and in doing so he's crafted a smart story. It can say a lot about who we are and that's what makes "relevance," not just insulting people you don't like because you think they are what is wrong with the world. King's always think they know better than everybody else and, on that note, I think Romero has won the crown ten times over.