No "Zombies" but Plenty of "Mullet": What Does Pop Culture Look Like in the World of The Walking Dead?
Cracked.com housed a recent article on pop-culture word origins called "6 Everyday Things You Won't Believe Famous People Invented." Coming in at number three was the hilarious obsession that the Beastie Boys (pictured below in the 1980's glory) had with with the long in back short in front hairstyle they coined as the "mullet." Besides creating a song by the name of "Mullethead;" their magazine, Grand Royal, hosted the first ever written appearance of the term in it's 1993 issue. So, it seems, the Beastie Boys coined the term mullet and even rocketed the term into popular use. Cool tidbit.
So how, you may ask, are the Beastie Boys related to The Walking Dead? Well, in the most recent season of The Walking Dead (Episode 5, Season 5) almost every character takes a jab at or mentions Eugene's unique and out-of-date hairdo. They might even use the word "mullet" more than they use the word "walker" in this episode, though I didn't count and don't wish to prove it. The point is in The Walking Dead world the Beastie Boys existed (probably pre-outbreak because, let's face it, the remaining members wouldn't want to be walkers without Adam Yauch, so they'd inevitably be walker food). My husband suggests that if the Beastie Boys did exist in The Walking Dead universe, Daryl would have to have known about them and possibly been a big fan. I tend to agree there. I mean, just look at him. He listened to the Beastie Boys. Next to Eugene, he is the character whose hair wears most like a "mullet," too, so it just makes sense.
One popular culture term, however, has no place in the world of The Walking Dead. The fact that "zombies" don't exist in this world is a necessary requirement. Robert Kirkman, the comic creator and TV series producer, explained on Talking Dead: "This isn’t a world the (George) Romero movies exist, for instance … because we don’t want to portray it that way, we felt like having them be saying ‘zombie’ all the time would harken back to all of the zombie films which we, in the real world, know about." The characters of this world, he confirms, are supposed to be completely surprised by the outbreak and the ways in which "walkers" operate. He wanted the terror to be fresh and hellish to deal with, and all new. The way the characters stumbled about in the first few seasons in dealing with the living dead confirms that they'd never faced the idea of "zombie" before. I mean, come on! Burn those jerks! They will die, wake up and eat you! I couldn't help but yell, "Burn em', Greenhorns!"
Since "zombies" don't exist but "mullets" do, however, fans can get a pretty good idea about what popular culture looked like in The Walking Dead world, and the Beastie Boys most definitely would have had their time in the spotlight. But who wouldn't?
The easy answer: Rob Zombie would have never made it in The Walking Dead world. I mean, this is a man who based (and still bases) his entire career on the idea of the undead. Since there's no White Zombie band, does that also mean that there was no Bella Lugosi fame? Lugosi's most popular movies, are, after all, Dracula and White Zombie. And I think it's not too big a stretch to assume that if there are no "zombies" this world is also without "vampires" because wouldn't that be what you called a living dead person who preyed upon living people, if you had no reference to the word "zombie"? I'd certainly search for the best comparison I had in my experience with the monstrous, if I didn't know what a zombie was. I'd think, Well, maybe they're sort of like vampires or Frankenstein's Monster. But that reference is never made, that I know of. No vampires means no Dracula, means no Anne Rice Queen of the Damned, means no Twilight, means no 50 Shades of Grey (stop cheering, people). No Frankenstein's Monster, no Mary Shelley. No numerous B+ horror movie takes on that book. As you can see, the impact is endless and a bit horrifying.
My husband and I started to think of the even more terrifying concept of a lack of zombie pop culture entertainment, and we couldn't help but think of the King of Pop Culture, Michael Jackson. Thriller was released in 1982, and though his fame was already set with the previous album Off the Wall, this album can certainly be said to have kept the King of Pop on the charts. The Thriller album is the best-selling album in history, and the copycats that have stemmed from that one video are too numerous to count. What would the pop culture world have been like without Thriller? Would Jackson's success had been as unstoppable without his best-selling album? Is there even a Michael Jackson in the world of The Walking Dead? Is it even a world worth fighting for without the music of Michael Jackson? Sure, you have the Beastie Boys, and that's nice, but not everyone can get down to white boy rap.
I can tell you one thing that would never have happened without Thriller, this writer would never have had endless nightmares of decaying Jackson chasing her through dark, damp side-streets. That video terrified me, as a kindergartner, but in an "I'm weirdly exited to be afraid" way. I was a thriller and horror reader growing up and I owe that mostly to Jackson and Goosebumps. Speaking of Goosebumps, there'd be a sizable gap in that series of books without zombies or undead beings, as well. Our pop culture is full of references to the undead. This little amusing list might only touch on the big names, but you, reader, can only imagine the implications of taking such an element out of our popular culture history. So, in the world of The Walking Dead, what else would be missing from our characters frame of reference? You tell me. And tell me this: would it really be a world worth fighting for? Just kidding. Sort of. I guess life itself is worth fighting for, even if you don't get to listen to some solid tunes when you come out on top.
H.M. Jones read far too much Goosebumps and Stephen King when she was in elementary school and junior high. She wrote the dark fantasy Monochrome, which upsets many people. She is the author of the short story "Tiptoe Through Time," which upsets no one, since they haven't read it. She is also a contributing author to Masters of Time: A Fantasy and Sci-Fi Time Travel Anthology. She writes poetry, blogs entirely too much, and is an English M.A. who still likes to research things and make strange references. Her husband encourages her to do so, if just to keep her busy.
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H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.