James Turner over at Forbes.com has an interesting piece up examining the relationship between countries and their favorite brand of movie monsters. Godzilla, he posits, was born directly of Japan's post World War II paranoia that, in dropping nuclear bombs on their nation, scientists had irresponsibly forged a new kind of monster out of man's meddling with technologies beyond their control. Though the giant, irradiated mutant is still iconic today, Godzilla's relevancy has taken a bit of a dive in recent years, but for decades the monster reigned as Japan's reminder that man's carelessness with awe-inspiring technology has consequences that are literally too large to ignore.
However, America never developed the allegorical infatuation with Godzilla that Japan did. Half-way around the world, Godzilla was little more than an entertaining man in a suit stomping around meticulously designed sets and wrestling with other men in rubber suits. But that's not to say that the US of A lacks its own personification of science gone wrong. Ours, Turner counters, is merely a fear of endless hordes of friends, families and neighbors transformed into mindless cannibals.
Ever since Romero gifted the world with Night of the Living Dead, America has had a fascination with scientific fumbles that bring about the undead apocalypse. Crashing satellites, bungled lab work, mutated viruses, escaped experiments -- these are all our Godzilla. That said, though, Turner does point out a crucial distinction between America's brain-eaters and Japan's city-destroyer:
"But there's one major difference between Godzilla and the attack of the zombies: Godzilla fought scientists and the military (and maybe the occasional band of adorable children), but zombie battles usually are a person-to-ex-person struggle. While Godzilla swatted at planes and crushed tanks underfoot, zombies are done in by weapons such as shotguns, hand grenades and the ever-handy chainsaw.
Americans must like the idea that, as out of control as our hubristic science might become, a good machete and a 12 gauge in the hands of a competent man or woman can always save the day."
Now that, I find, is an excellent insight as to the true nature of our love for zombies, even if I think it works against Turner's notion that they are our Godzilla equivalent. Sure, the American zombie film often has some kind of failed experiment as its catalyst, but the obsession has little to do with uncontrollable technology and a lot to do with America putting the self first and everything (and everyone) else second. Save for the odd exception, most zombie films make no attempt to combat the science, to find some kind of cure that will reverse the affliction; it's not about managing and preventing the problem (as Godzilla is), it's about out-living it longer than the person next to you.
So what say you? Are zombies a reflection of science gone wrong or are they a simple "Who can kill a friend?" scenario?