If this idea hasn't been pitched to a Hollywood studio executive yet, I'm sure it will be soon: "Downton Abbey With Zombies." Because we all know that everything is better with zombies. And vampires. And werewolves.
How soon before we get "The Price Is Right With Zombies"? Why would you ever watch the plain old "Price Is Right" if you could watch it with zombies? Or "CNN With Vampira"! The ratings would go through the roof. Instead of saying, "Let's go live to Wolf Blitzer," they could say, "Let's go dead to Werewolf Blitzer."
Adding the undead wouldn't help every program. "C-SPAN With Zombies" would be pretty much the same as it is now, as would most golf tournaments. But the real question is, why have zombies and vampires and werewolves taken over the entertainment business? We have "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "World War Z" and "Shaun of the Dead." And on TV, there are several versions of "The Walking Dead." "True Blood," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Penny Dreadful" and "The Strain" are all hits. This summer there was a show called "BrainDead," where Washington politicians' brains were being partially eaten by alien bugs -- basically alien zombies.
Zombies are everywhere. Well, not everywhere, like in your basement, but everywhere in pop culture -- in books, movies, games and TV shows. Why now? Why zombies? Why are brain-eaters so popular? These shows must be ringing primal chimes or there wouldn't be so many of them. I don't think anyone is really afraid that monsters will come eat our brains and turn us into zombies, but we have no trouble believing that our cellphones and laptops are doing the job. Many of us believe that the lives we live are turning us into zombies. That kid living in your basement: What's the difference between him and the things he watches on TV? Is he the living dead, sitting down there in the dark, playing first-person shooter games where he kills -- you guessed it -- zombies?
Hollywood's mission seems to be to scare the pants off us, as if the nightly news doesn't do enough of that already. If it's not the undead trying to eat our brains, movies about the future always show it as incredibly dismal. Think of "Mad Max" after some kind of nuclear war. Or "The Road," based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. There have been dozens of movies with set pieces featuring asteroids, tidal waves and aliens destroying landmark buildings around the globe. I have seen the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Hollywood sign and the Space Needle destroyed so many times by so many different calamities that it is hard to keep the titles straight.
The effects are kind of cool, but hardly worth the 90 minutes of angst about the world coming to an end while a valiant team of scientists who don't play by the rules try to save the Earth from complete destruction. It's hard to be too upset when the human landmark, Bruce Willis, dies a brave, noble death, because we've seen it so many times before.
Why do people assume the future will be worse than today? Just in the last hundred years, we've gone from outhouses, horse-drawn buggies and ice boxes to indoor plumbing, electric cars and central air. Life is demonstrably better. Heart transplants, antibiotics, pain-free dentistry ... Most of us wouldn't even want to live the way we did 20 years ago. Dial-up internet? Fax machines? MySpace? I think I'd shoot myself.
They say that we are always afraid of the wrong thing. Like shark attacks. Yes, they are scary. But the reality is you are much more likely to be injured or killed in a car crash than by a shark. But few people are scared of cars. Lack of exercise and too much sugar in your diet will kill you, but few people are scared of candy bars and couch potatoes. You'll probably never see a movie called "Sugar: Run for Your Lives."
Unless it has a zombie in it.