Tuesday, January 8, 2008
The Great Zombie Debate

About a decade ago, I started writing a humor column for the local paper. It started as a fake advice column, and over the years it became.... I don't know what. Somewhere for me to make crude jokes about monkeys and pontificate on whatever subject was currently holding my attention.

I can't say why I started doing it. Boredom and ego, I guess. Plus I liked writing and making people laugh. What makes even less sense to me is that after almost a decade, I'm still writing it. I don't get paid for it, and over the years the column has landed me in more trouble than anything else I've ever done. That's the problem with satire, if it's done properly, it pisses people off.

Here's how it works. I make fun of clowns, and you laugh. I make fun of frat boys, and you laugh. Then I make fun of Buddhists. But you're a Buddhist. Suddenly you're not laughing.

Have I suddenly become unfunny? No. It's just that now I'm poking fun at your personal sacred cow. But that's my job as a satirist, I expose that which is ridiculous in the world. I'm a sacred cow tipper.

Anyway, I when I was out at the Fantasy Matters conference a couple months ago, I had do do a reading directly following Neil Gaimain. I knew that I couldn't hope to match him in sheer mythic storytelling awesomeness, so I decided to go for some cheap laughs instead. To this end, I read a column I wrote a couple years ago called The Great Zombie Debate.

Surprisingly, people liked it. So I thought I'd post it up here for those of you looking for a cheap laugh or two.

Dear Pat,

My social group is fiercely locked in the fast zombie vs. slow zombie debate. While I'll admit that 28 Days rocked, I still think slow zombies are much scarier than their faster counterparts. Can you shower us with your wisdom? I fear this debate will cause a schism in our group that may never mend.

John S.

Thanks for the letter, John. It's always nice to hear from a guy who's not afraid to use the word "schism."

Though not many folk know it, the fast vs. slow zombie debate goes all the way back to the early days of the church. It was part of a disagreement between James the greater, and Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. You see, James believed in salvation according to works, slow zombies, and that watching two women kiss was, in his words, "wicked cool."

On the other hand, Paul believed in salvation according to faith, fast zombies, and the fact that women were "kinda icky" therefore two kissing would be, "double icky."

Now normally when there was a disagreement, they turned to Thomas. But Thomas thought it should be faith AND works. And he'd never actually seen two women kiss and didn't believe that sort of thing really happened. As for zombies, well... the thought of people getting up and moving around after they were dead was just too much for him, and he told the other disciples that he had better things to do than sit around and listen to them tell silly stories.

And so the issue remains unresolved to this day, stirred up by recent fast zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days.

So let's lay this to rest once and for all, shall we?

Now to a certain extent whether you like fast or slow zombies is simply a matter of personal taste.

It's like sex. Fast sex is different from slow sex. But they both have their good points. A quickie is fun. It's a romp. It's exciting. Slow sex is different. It's an experience. It's an adventure. It's an African safari which necessitates the use of a special type of hat.

But while they both have their selling points, the fact remains that slow sex has a lot more style. More room for finesse. More opportunities to wear exciting hats.

The same thing is true with zombie movies. Everybody who isn't all a total tightass enjoys a good zombie movie now and then, fast or slow. But ultimately, a slow zombie movie has a lot more style. More finesse. The purpose of a zombie movie is to scare you, and ultimately, slow zombies are more frightening.

Now before all you fast zombie advocates get your knickers in a twist, listen to me. Slow zombies are frightening. Fast zombies are startling. There's a huge difference, let me explain.

You know the part in the horror movie when the young co-ed is looking through the attic with a flashlight? It's dark, the music gets real dramatic, then BAM! A cat jumps out from behind a stack of boxes.

Pretty scary, huh?

No. No, that was not scary. It was just startling. It's cheap. If you don't believe me, just think of a whole movie full of nothing but cats jumping out at people. Would that be a scary move? No. It would just suck. The same goes for a movie full of nothing but fast zombies jumping out at people, or, come to think of it, relationships full of nothing but fast sex.

That is, unless you're having a relationship with a slow zombie that wore an exciting hat when you had sex with it. That might work, I think.

And with that bit of wisdom I will leave you for now. I'll be back soon, and posting more consistently now that the holidays are past. I'll tell y'all how the Boston Signing went, and I'll be making those announcements I promised you a couple weeks ago.

Plus, I have some delicious fanart that I've been dying to show you....

Later all,


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol funny stuff pat. But isnt it Islam thats agaisnt eating/killing cows. Or are they the ones that don't like pigs?

January 8, 2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger KYDS3K said...

i don't think he was using "sacred cow" in reference to the Buddhist. that term is used broadly to refer to any "untouchable" (i prefer "unfuckwithable") object or idea . . .

i still think that fast zombies are more scary. personally, if i were being chased by slow zombies . . . well, i'm a pretty fast runner. it's the FAST zombies that scare the bejeezus out of me, because they usually also exhibit more cunning (IMHO).

for a really funny blog on zombies, read hipstomp

January 8, 2008 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Kalligenia said...

Sacred cow tipper! *LOL* Somehow I'm seeing a new D&D character class. A bit of a monk, priest and rogue all in one!

Gods... I'm such a geek!

I have been trying to explain to people for the longest time that startling is NOT scary. They're two different things. I'm glad to see there's someone out there that agrees with me. I second the motion that slow zombies are scarier!

If I didn't have such a ginormous head, I'd wear hats, but none ever fit. My style comes from... Well... Okay. I don't have any style.

January 8, 2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree, having sex with a slow zombie wearing an exciting hat is workable.


January 8, 2008 11:17 AM  
Blogger Brian Blomlie said...

No way, a fast zombie wouldn't be smart, it'd just pounce and kill cheerleaders.

Now a slow zombie has to be cunning, OR working in a big group to catch even a nerd...

What would be scary would be a cute zombie that looked harmless, which made the cheerleader go "Aww... cute" and the nerd go "Fascinating! I must study and befriend it, and then I can become the greatest necromancer since Ner'zhul!"

Then it would snuggle up against them, and then bite.

January 8, 2008 11:22 AM  
Anonymous dlauthor said...

As a side note, I saw Diary of the Dead last year at the Toronto film festival, and slow-zombie fans are in for a treat.

Me, I'm agnostic. Anyone who thinks fast zombies only startle needs to watch the opening 15-20 minutes of the Dawn of the Dead remake more carefully. Also, the scene in I Am Legend when Will Smith follows his dog into the darkened building. And hell, the scene in 28 Weeks Later when the fast zombies get into the evacuation center.

It's a different kind of scary, but it's not just cats-jumping-out-of-the-dark. Sometimes it's "oh crap, I just walked into the tiger cage at the zoo and they're going to pounce in a moment" or "I know there's a sabertooth somewhere in this dark maze, but where is -- oh God what was that shadow over there?" And those are scary.

You could just as easily say that slow-zombie movies tend to fall into familiar tropes. The character who thinks he's safe because they're so slow and gets grabbed because he's careless is every bit as hoary as jumping-cat-of-boo.

Fast sex or slow sex, it's all about how you use what you've got.

January 8, 2008 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Valentina said...

Thanks for the great laugh, Pat. I recently wrote an article at Mindsay.com covering the subject, "Do the Undead Poo?"

Hopefully I can gift you with a cheap laugh like you did me:


your old friend,

January 8, 2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger King Sheep said...

Sorry Rothfuss, I just can't agree that slow zombies are better (at least not in film). In other mediums, such as Robert Kirkman's graphic novels-The Walking Dead, slow zombies are far more interesting because it is a story about life with zombies. Their slowness makes sense as a present and constant threat, always waiting to bite careless characters. However, in a movie, pacing and momentum are far more important, which supports that fast zombies are more suited to film because they can speed up the action and suspense at the core of the horror/action/survivalist genre.

I agree with dlauthor, that the first 15-20 minutes of the new Dawn of the Dead is one of the strongest arguments for fast zombies. The feeling of helplessness is far more pronounced when you simply can't get escape fast enough. Since most modern movies lean towards zombies being explained as a bi-product of a viral outbreak, zombie speed correlates to the speed of infection. An immediate airborne infection is more terrifying than one spread by touch or blood, hence if zombies are viewed as a viral outbreak, the faster they move, the more helpless we feel.

January 8, 2008 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well well well. Zombies. Weird coincidence that I just rented and watched the new resident evil movie and then discover pats zombie conundrum (it would be more of a conundrum if I spelled conundrum right). Resident evil was a fast zombie movie that wasn’t good , wasn’t scary but for some reason still very entertaining. I mean it really doesn’t matter whether zombies are fast or slow. There still not scary. Just entertaining. A smart zombie would be scary but that’s an oxymoron. I mean if the zombies smart why the fuck is he zombieing around like an idiot.
…And now I know Im going to be watching some previews before a movie and theres going to be some zombies in suits debating the laws of relativity and im actually going to turn into a zombie myself.(the dumb slow kind...hows that for a run on sentence?) -chris

January 8, 2008 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well in real life slow zombies would'nt be as scary becuase I could just run away from them (duh!) but fast zombies would be wierd and scary (unless I was in a car.)
In movies (which have never scared me) slow zombies are scarier becuase the characters, instead of running away poke around to see what's happened to thier friend on the other side of town, and then they get stuck in a zombie trap.

January 9, 2008 10:40 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Slow zombies create a sense that no matter where you run or hide, they will eventually find you. Despite their pace, they are inescapable. It's a lingering sense of doom that hangs perpetually over their victims. With slow zombies, the writers have more time to build suspense.

Fast zombies require immediate confrontation. The struggle is a rapid progression of intense, adrenaline-pumping action. Usually writers resort to scenes where victims are crawling through the darkness, waiting for zombies to leap out at them.

The difference between zombies is like the difference between the two parts of a roller-coaster: while plummeting down the hill is both thrilling and exciting, the climb UP that first hill is really what builds the fear... the gradual cumulation of utter terror (not udder terror: that's the fear of cows).

The Resident Evil movies may have had fast zombies, but the most terrifying parts of the game were when zombies were lumbering toward you, you were running out of bullets, and the bastards just wouln't die. I think I even peed myself once.

January 9, 2008 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lol I know what you mean. I was about 8 when playing a game called silent hill (at least I think it was silent hill) and yeah, running out of bullets near slow zombies is **** scary.

January 9, 2008 2:17 PM  
Anonymous LaughingAstarael said...

To anon about the smart zombies:

Watch I Am Legend. I'm not going to give it away, but the sense of horror as you realize that these aren't your run-of-the-mill durrrHUMANFLESHdurrr zombies is delicious.

It might also help that the emotion of the movie itself is fantastic.


January 9, 2008 8:04 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Though I respect your opinion, I must disagree. Having watched hours and hours of slow and fast zombie movies, I have come to the conclusion that fast zombies are scarier.

Let me explain. I'll start by saying that I'm a fat guy, therefore many fast zombies can outrun me (SCARY!). I could probably manage to weave my girth in and out of a horde of slow movers, but I wouldn't last in a sprint. I would be sweating and having chest pains long before they closed on me.

The only upside is that I might die of heart failure before they actually got to devour me.

Also, I find the phrase "Delicious Fanart" disturbing on some deep level, though I'm not sure why. Just thought I'd put that out there.

January 10, 2008 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Exadius said...

I couldn't decide which witty commentary to go with so I just put all three...

1) Everyone knows in a race, the Turtle beats the Hare...

2) In my day, zombies had to slowly walk up hill both ways just to trap an innocent co-ed; now these fast zombies just want instant kill/satisfaction, it's just not right...

and finally,

3) In the movies, fast zombies get there faster, but then, as a result, die faster; ergo, slow zombies "live" longer and have the chance to make it till the final scene where either: the army comes in and kills everyone, scientists cure the desease (and they live!), or the planet blows up...

guess I'm thinking it's better to be a slow zombie!

January 13, 2008 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Bjorn694 said...

Stylistically, I get your point. Hitchcock put it best when talking about the bomob under the table. It shocks you for about 10 to 20 seconds if you don't know its there when it goes off...but it freaks you out with suspense if you know its there and they don't. You can be waaay creepier with slow zombies.

But fast zombies...they just stick in my head. The IDEA of turbo zombies is scarier to me...while the EXECUTION of slow zombies is far more unsettling. Did the capitalization seem patronizing enough? I need to be sacred cow-tipped.

I would also like to hear Joss Whedon's take on this.

Cheers on the fantastic book that I just finished reading. No hard feelings on the publishing date. Good luck to your dad. :) Glad he is doing well.


January 23, 2008 1:33 PM  
OpenID lem24601 said...

I've only ever seen one zombie movie (I Am Legend)the fear was still built up with the fast zombies. In fact, there was so much building up that by the time the zombies got there...that's it? You have me scared of these guys for 45 minutes and THAT'S ALL THEY ARE? (and that's saying something because I'm a flaming scaredy-cat; my friends carried me into I Am Legend and I got them back by cutting off circulation in their arms throughout the movie). so I think that slow zombies make better movies, but fast zombies make scarier realities. because face it, which would you rather fight: sluggish zombies that you can escape given intelligence and a way out or fast zombies that you CAN'T GET AWAY FROM BECAUSE THEY'RE RIGHT BEHIND YOU IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE!

Come to think of it, I'd rather just not be in a situation fighting zombies.

February 17, 2008 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this is going to be a "Great Zombie Debate", rather than just a good one, I think it calls for a pro-zombie outlook.

Why does everyone assume that zombies want to kill them? If a zombie was walking towards me with its arms outstretched, I'd be open to the notion that maybe it just wants a hug.
They're not all bad, zombies. They can even be useful. They'd make excellent lifeguards, and they could be used as soldiers in that they'd unlikely be affected by chemical warfare.

There's always the argument that they hunger for human flesh/brains. Well, there's a clever way to circumvent this. Take a beach-ball, uninflated, and feed it down the gullet of your chosen zombie. Then, once inside, inflate it until it just stretches the stomach slightly.
There, now it will never be hungry again.

People should just give zombies a chance. You never know, you could make a new friend or two if you do.
Remember - zombies are people too.

February 21, 2008 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


February 26, 2008 11:14 PM  

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