I watched Dead Set (written by Charlie Brooker) over the course of last week and a pretty decent slice of black satire it was too. I can’t think of a better way of reflecting on the inanity of reality tv by lampooning it with zombies!
I think that is what the zombie genre does very well, allowing us to take a step back and look at ourselves and our society objectively. What we see when we do that is not flattering. Especially if you look through the eyes of the master of the genre (George A. Romero) who criticised Vietnam-era America (and race) in Night Of The Living Dead, tore into the mindless consumer society with his classic Dawn Of The Dead, and took a dig at the military in Day Of The Dead. In all these movies the zombies are, well, us!
In Dead Set the zombies (despite having learned to run) reflect upon our obsession with reality tv as they all congregate around the Big Brother house to bay for blood during the movies climax – just as the living gathered to clamour for a sight of the contestants during the opening scenes.
And now in a further display of zombie-like behaviour people are working themselves into a frenzy about a Jeremy Clarkson joke. The joke was perhaps in bad taste and bad taste will always offend someone. The worst thing however is that many of the complaints being made in this instance were only made after the offensive nature of the joke was published in the press. This indicates that people are complaining not because they were offended (I bet many of them didn’t even watch that episode of Top Gear) but because they are being told that they should be offended. They are becoming the mindless zombies from the movies – all that is missing is the cannibalistic hunger for living flesh.
And that neatly fits in with what Charlie Brooker had to say in his assault on the Daily Mail in the wake of the Brand-Ross-Gate affair (to coin a phrase). Humour can be offensive, it’s supposed to be offensive – not all the time, of course, but enough of the time to make us stop and think, to release some tension and to break new ground. Without the groundbreaking stuff that comes along once in a while we would all have become zombies long ago! As Brooker says:
There’s an endless list of comedy shows that would qualify for the Mail’s hall of shame. How about Monty Python, which in 1970 included a gloriously tasteless sketch about a man eating his mother’s corpse, then puking the remains into a grave? If Python had been banned, we’d never have seen Fawlty Towers or heard of Andrew Sachs in the first place – problem solved. Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Porridge, Not the Nine O’Clock News, The Young Ones, Have I Got News For You, Blackadder, The Day Today, Little Britain, The Thick of It … by the Mail’s reckoning, each of those shows surely deserves a place on the list too. Hundreds of hours of laughter you’d never have had.
We need comedians to rip the piss out of our lives and ourselves. We need satirical outbursts like Dead Set. They may not be to everyone’s taste, may offend some and may even make you sick but remember, life’s like that!