I had a great time signing books, speaking on panels, and causing trouble generally at Spooky Empire in Orlando over the weekend.
I also finally got to meet Max Brooks, who was a really nice guy. (I was wondering if he had heard of me, and when I introduced myself he cocked his neck like he wasn’t really sure. But then he saw the cover of my book and was like “Oh, you’re that guy!” And I was like: “Yep, I’m that guy.”)
Reg Shoe is a more than a zombie, he is a policeman in his local municipal Night Watch, and an advocate for undead rights. (Full disclosure: There are something like 30 Discworld novels, and I’ve only read about 15 of them.) Reg is also a member of the “Fresh Start Club,” a group that advocates for equal rights for the less-than-fully-alive. (The Fresh Start Club includes zombies, ghouls, werewolves, banshees, vampires, and a bogeyman.)
Reg is never the main character of a Discworld novel, but Pratchett uses him perfectly and hilariously in supporting roles.
If you’ve never checked out Pratchett (which you might not have, if you’re American [In Great Britain, he’s the #2 bestselling writer behind J.K. Rowling. In the U.S. his books do well, but not that well.]) and you’re a zombie fan, then one of the novels featuring Reg Shoe might be a good place to start. My favorites include Night Watch and Men at Arms. They’re delightful. (There’s also a zombie lawyer named Mr. Slant who pops up from time to time in Pratchett’s stories. Like Reg Shoe, he is quite amusing.)
Sometimes I view a sub-par (or downright terrible) zombie film that still has a redeeming aspect or quality to it–a performance, or special effects sequence, or cameo that I think is just great–despite being in the middle of a lousy film. Such is the case with Brian Posehn’s performance in the 2007 Chris Kattan and James Denton straight-to-DVD zombie western, Undead or Alive.
First off, it’s not a terrible film. But neither is it Shaun of the Dead. I’d give it about a 5 out of 10. It’s got a few good jokes, and Kattan is all right. (I always liked his “Mango” SNL character in small doses, and his “Gay Hitler” was funny, even if it was just one joke.) James Denton gets some of the funniest lines, actually. Navi Rawat is ridiculously good-looking as the love-interest, but doesn’t really add to the comedy. The real highlight, however is Brian Posehn!!!
I’ve liked Posehn for a long time. I never watched him on Just Shoot Me!, but I thought his bit-parts on Mr. Show were awesome, and I’ve always liked his stand-up comedy. If you don’t know his name, Google him, and you’ll probably find you’ve seen his face before.
Anyhow, Posehn is born to play a zombie. His natural, lumbering gait is perfectly suited for the living dead. His zombie mannerisms–whether attacking, startled, or biding his time–are just excellently rendered. My only complaint is that there is not enough of him in the film! In the opening sequence of Undead or Alive, the Posehn-zombie decapitates a chicken. Then he’s featured a little more in the introduction, and then again at the very end of the film. Alack! If only he could have been the main character!
Anyhow, watching Posehn’s excellent performance made me think about other actors whom I would like to see play zombies. Here is my list (What’s yours?):
Udo Kier (Has already played every other monster there is)
Most people I associate with are (to my knowledge) not racists. But it seems to me that,
within the category of “not racist,” there are two subsets I think of as “active nonracists” and “passive nonracists.”
Active nonracists note the presence of race (and sex, and class, and ethnicity) when they’re dealing with people, but make a point to be respectful of cultural differences. These people marinate in diversity-seminars, sensitivity trainings, and ethnic history months. These people, it sometimes seems to me, are nonracists by drawing attention to race.
Passive nonracists, on the other hand, don’t even notice race. When they learn that someone is white, or black, or Asian, or Hispanic, they assume nothingabout the person. They don’t even seerace as an issue. (After all, why should it be?)
George Romero, the most famous director of zombie films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead) falls into this second category. However, because he is praised so frequently for his exemplary creative work, people forget to laud him for his breathtaking lack-of-racistness, in an industry (movies) that plays on race-stereotypes to this day.
Romero cast Night of the Living Dead, his first film, in 1968. You’d think, with all the race-riots, bus boycotts, and political assassinations going on during this time, that he would at least be thinking about the race of his lead actor.
You’d be wrong.
As is well documented, Romero cast an African-American actor, Duane Jones, for the lead role of “Ben” in Night of the Living Dead simply because he came in and gave the best audition. That was all there was to it. He was the best man for the job, so he got it. Romero was so not-racist that he didn’t even see that having a black actor would change the way his film was perceived.
The rest of the country was not as enlightened as he.
Many viewers assumed that Ben’s race was part of the film’s message, and interpreted the film’s conclusion (in which Ben is mistaken for a zombie and shot) as an allegory for lynching. Even the purportedly-progressive New York Times, in its review of the film, described Duane Jones’ character as a “resourceful Negro.”
I can almost see Romero flinching as he read that. Ben wasn’t supposed to be a resourceful Negro, he was supposed to be a resourceful man. The character’s race had nothing to do with the plot of the movie.
Perhaps because of this attention, Romero did tackle the issue of race in many of his subsequent zombie films. However, it gives me faith in humanity that, in 1968, someone had such confidence in the ability of humans to transcend petty issues of racial difference, that he could make Night of the Living Dead.
Final thought: It strikes me, as I write this, that there is no word for the opposite of a racist. “Un-racist?” “Not-racist?” “Unprejudiced?” These all negate racism, but with a negative. Where is the word for someone who does not see race as an issue at all? Maybe the word for that should be “Romero.”
People could use it like:
“Dude, did Bill assume you were good at math just because you’re Asian?”