The Living Dread

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

Zombies are enjoying a pop-culture heyday. You can keep Twilight and Rise of the Lycans. The buzz is all about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Seth Grahame-Smith twist on the Jane Austen classic, and World War Z, penned by Mel and Anne Bancroft’s little boy, Max Brooks, due to hit the big screen in 2010. Or even Bruce La Bruce’s Otto; or Up With Dead People. There are a handful of other signals that zombies are our horror of the moment.

With the way the country remains split, it’s no wonder.

I can’t think of any other time in my nearly 40 years that Americans have looked at each other as mindless hordes existing only to do the other harm. Sure, there was the Vietnam rift when I was a tot, but I don’t think either side of that argument thought of the other as entirely brainless. The “Domino Theory” had some rationale, and so did the anti-war movement. The two sides didn’t like each other, but it was an argument — often between parents and their children who were reaching adulthood.

When I look at the crowds at the tax-day protests, on the other hand, I see very few to whom I relate in any way. I have a hard time dredging up any empathy from my generally empathetic psyche. Mindless crowds who would cause my violent end? Sounds like zombies to me. But that’s quite likely what they see when a band of Code Pink grandmas hoot and holler in front of the White House. I see some spirited women with valid complaints, albeit wrapped in neon-pink boas. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if the guy waving the “Get Barney Frank’s dirty hand out of my pocket” placard doesn’t see feisty activists, but nonsense masquerading as political opinion when we have no time to get sidetracked in our holy war against terrorism.

Then there are the recently released torture memos. To some, the release is treasonous, a humiliating gesture that does nothing but aid America’s enemies. What possible benefit could come from this, they ask. It’s like opening the farmhouse door at midnight to see if the zombie horde is still on the front lawn, when you know they are. To others, it would appear that those memo-release naysayers have so little regard for human rights that they would sanction torture. Violent and mindless, indeed.

Gay folks are another zombie horde to much of America. Dear God, we’ve infiltrated the Heartland. Perhaps we’re feasting on the brains of the Iowa Supreme Court justices. Our inhuman threat may have been checked in California, but we overtook the Legislature in Vermont. Isn’t that just like the undead — or subhuman, at any rate — army to find the weak spot in the boarded up windows? And instead of devouring all our victims, we transform them into yet more cannibalistic foot soldiers, coming to chow down on the America you cannot save. Certainly that’s how I feel when Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) comments on the notion of secession with seeming seriousness. You can keep your guns, but please leave my country intact.

As the fight between the interchangeable armies of the living and the something lesser rages, the secret to the transformation caught my eye. Is it a Resident Evil-esque virus turning my countrymen into monsters I do not recognize? A new and puzzling radiation that raises the dead and makes them vote for Mike Huckabee? The answer rests in Manhattan.

It’s that damned Ground Zero wound. Apparently there is a hold up between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the developer. Thankfully, the dispute that could see some of the buildings intended for the site not built for decades, the Associated Press reported, does not affect 1 World Trade Center, aka Freedom Tower.

In 2007, I got a cheap room at the Hilton-Millennium in New York. The cheap rooms, of course, were those that looked down on this still-gaping hole of Ground Zero. I don’t know what was involved with preparing the site for construction, but I hope that those in responsible positions realize how important healing that wound is to Americans’ collective psychology. There is more tied to this single tower than may be universally granted. That must be the case, considering the tower’s scheduled completion isn’t till 2013.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a horrific day for the world, but particularly for Americans. There will always be a scar. Until there is something hopeful and soaring and healing in that spot where an American icon, thousands of lives and much of our sense of security were destroyed, we’ll be far more likely to react out of fear. With that fear, it’s no wonder we may reduce one another to the equivalent of the walking dead. Being the walking wounded is pretty close.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.