Musings of a disaster freak

Published October 29, 2021, 10:30 AM

by AA Patawaran

Zombies are the perfect metaphor for human greed, our tendency to devour everything in our path because we want more, more, more and we can’t help ourselves

IN DUE CORPSE Movie poster of Filipino zombie film Block Z by Mikhail Red

I don’t know why I am obsessed with zombies. I’m not a zombie geek, but I must have seen them all, from The Night of the Living Dead to World War Z, not to mention the TV series The Walking Dead and Z Nation, as well as an old ‘70s Filipino film called Supergirl, which starred the forgotten Pinky Montilla and then super-idol Walter Navarro as a dead man walking (and desperate to die again).

Even as a kid, I had a fascination for disaster. It’s a taste for danger, I think, but thankfully, it was only in my choice of entertainment. Growing up, I had been lucky that I was not alone in my preference. Disaster movies were all the rage when I was young—Poseidon Adventure, Cassandra Crossing, Towering Inferno, Airport, and such. Count in Superman, especially Superman II, and King Kong.

Conversely, the topic of death in my household was taboo, still is. It’s like if we don’t talk about it, it will never happen. Around age seven, I dreamed of my mother in a coffin and I sat on it and looked down at her face through the glass. I woke up crying. An aunt told me before I could tell her about the dream, “Sssssh, don’t tell me what happened. Tell it to the door.” So I did, whispering the details of the dream to our front door, believing, as she did, that if I shared it with an inanimate object, the dream would lose its power to make itself happen.

It did happen. My mother died decades later. It was something that hung over me like a disaster waiting to happen, but when it happened, there was a moment of peace and acceptance. I expected the worst, worried myself sick over it for decades, and when it did happen, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I have survived her loss.

GHOUL GALORE Movie poster of the 1973 Filipino film Super Girl

My family has had many pets throughout the years, from our lovebird Missy, who didn’t want a partner, to our stray cat Ingga, who never grew up, just grew long like a dachshund, from rabbits, of whom my favorite was one I called Sebastianni, to the dog Mathilda, who went mad, and a capricious Black Moor I named Hugo. I even had a pet owl once upon a time.

Most people don’t believe something can happen until it already has. That’s not stupidity or weakness, that’s just human nature. —Max Brooks

To have lost them all, one way or another, had been a study in grief. Some people say animals have shorter life spans, but the lifetime we spend with them leaves us with enough lessons on love and loss. They teach us about how transient everything is and that, in the end, we must be prepared to lose them.

Still, death is a topic so uncomfortable that we choose never to talk about it. It’s not just a Filipino quirk. I guess that is what Voldemort represents in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels or Hastur the Unspeakable One in the Cthulhu Mythos, a shared mythical universe based on H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction. I guess that is what horror is about, and disaster movies, and zombies.

ZOMBIES COME TO PLAY Scene from the film World War Z

To watch death in the movies, or to read about it in a book, is a study in acceptance in the same way that, to me, reading biographies of people whom I regard as larger than life—Babe Paley, Jack Kerouac, Diana Vreeland, the Duchess of Windsor, Truman Capote—allows me to see them as no different from you and me on the page.

As for zombies, I am awed by the metaphor, the very idea of man against man or, better yet, man against his own greed that eats him up body and soul. In the end, if we keep going this way, eating away at the very fabric that our life is designed to be in the beginning, a life with trees, a life with animals, with free air, with free water, with food for all, with enough room for everybody, we will end up like a zombie, unmoved by the death and destruction around us, animated only by an insatiable appetite, in a world so infinitely sad, dead yet walking, alive yet soulless, eating, consuming, devouring everything in our path, until there is nothing left, not even us.

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