Youth Culture Window
This week Mark Oestreicher interviews Jonathan McKee about America’s obsession with the zombie genre.
MARKO: This past TV season Walking Dead was the number one watched show on television. We see even more zombie movies emerging: Warm Bodies, World War Z… Why is America so obsessed with zombies right now?
JONATHAN: It’s funny, when I was in high school I remember watching the original Dawn of the Dead. The zombies were slow and clumsy… but I was hooked! Not because I liked watching blue and green dead people walking around, but because I liked watching a group of people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The original Red Dawn had the same effect on me.
I don’t think it’s just zombie movies that are the fad right now… it’s survival against adversity. The Hunger Games provided this, and Divergent will as well. Young people are intrigued with tales of surviving against the odds. The zombie genre provides this in generous portions.
MARKO: World War Z is the newest in the zombie genre to hit the theatres. Should people go see it?
JONATHAN: I really enjoyed it. My daughter Alyssa (17) and I saw it on a daddy/daughter date. It was suspenseful and intelligent. Brad Pitt’s character cared about his family and was dedicated to do anything necessary to save them.
The film provided a few unique elements we haven’t seen before—that’s not always an easy feat. The most original was the way the “dead” moved and climbed.
I saw a review from one guy ripping on the film because it didn’t have any gore (the movie easily kept to a PG-13 rating, with no sex, nudity or gore of any kind). This film was actually a little milder than the Walking Dead TV show. But I don’t think the lack of on-screen violence dumbed it down in any way. The film provided moments of off-screen horror where your imagination was able to paint the picture of what was happening. Sometimes that is far more terrifying.
I thought it was a very creative entry to the genre.
What did you think of it?
MARKO: I totally dug it. Saw it with my wife and 15 year-old son. I mean, it wasn’t the “movie of the year” or anything; but it was worth the price of admission, for sure.
MARKO: Can you see youth ministries using this zombie or “survival against adversity” trend for good?
JONATHAN: I think it’s wise to use pop culture as a springboard to conversations about Biblical truth. This doesn’t mean saturating ourselves in this culture, but it does mean noticing what people are intrigued with and using that to jumpstart dialogue about truth, in the same way the Apostle Paul used the idolatry of the people of Athens as his discussion-springboard for his famous speech on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Like your free “YouTube You Can Use” discussions each week.
Young people are looking for answers to deep questions. They’re facing more dilemmas each day. Characters from shows like The Walking Dead make life or death decisions every episode and face immediate consequences. This is something young people never got from Jersey Shore. Walking Dead is a great discussion piece.
MARKO: What’s your pick for the best zombie movie ever made?
JONATHAN: That’s a huge question.
When I grew up, one of George Romero’s films would have been at the top. But now we have talented directors like Zack Snyder doing remakes. The first 5 minutes of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was probably one of the most terrifying survival film moments of all time. Shocking visuals. Terrifying film.
But then we have some candidates who might not even label their films “zombie” films. Take Will Smith’s battle against the “infected” in I Am Legend. Does that count? Or how about director Danny Boyle’s truly frightening film 28 Days Later (a film released in 2002, which has a beginning soooooooooooooo similar to The Walking Dead, whose first comic was released in 2003, it would be hard to deny giving 28 Days Later the credit for originality on that one)? 28 Days Later, although bleak, was one of the first films offering an explanation for the disease and a possible cure.
So if I were to include all those possibilities, even including the 1979 movie Zombie with the famous shark scene, I’d probably go with 28 Days Later.
Marko: Given all these entries to the zombie genre, what’s unique about your ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR TEENAGERS that is in our store this month, and what can we expect from it?
Jonathan: I guess the most unique element in this guide is that it’s a devotional. Whodathunkit? A zombie devotional. It’s very unique in format. It feels like a fiction book, but then it pauses for moments of reflection and scripture.
It’s also unique in the story. As a fan of the “survival against the odds” genre, I wanted to create a realistic story about three teenagers enduring hardships. Yes, they’re on a daily quest for water, food and shelter, but even more daunting is their emotional battles as they face the loss of their loved ones and they encounter the worse kind of adversary… selfish human beings.
As I wrote the story I made myself a promise: I’d keep it real and relevant. I never forced anything into the story that wasn’t real. That’s probably why a few publishers turned it down. The story is gritty. Never gratuitous, but very raw and real.
But the book is also so relevant to real life today. The story consistently reflects to life before “the havoc” (which occurred on March 18, 2019), back when teenagers could lie around their rooms listening to their headphones, walk into their kitchen, open the refrigerator and pour themselves a glass of fresh lemonade. The contrast between surviving in a post-apocalyptic world and… wanting a new case for our iPhone 5 is eye opening. That’s where the discussion questions I provide at the end of each chapter get really interesting. These scenarios get young people thinking about real life.
I think young people will relate to it.
Marko: I agree. It’s so much more than a Young Adult Fiction book; it’s a unique devotional for teenagers. Yeah, a Zombie Devo. That’s part of what I really loved about it.
Jonathan: It was a fun project. I actually had a group of teenagers “screen” it in its final draft and give me feedback. They really liked the questions and thought I talked about issues that many people were afraid to tackle. I’m glad to see a publisher taking a “leap” on something this edgy.
Marko: Well, I’m stoked other publishers were too afraid of Zombies to publish this, because I’m really pleased to have it in The Youth Cartel’s catalogue of outside-the-box, fresh resources for teenagers, youth workers, and parents of teenagers.
Jonathan: Thanks for this opportunity to dialogue.
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