Listen out, there are zombies about

Image of Tyler Brûlé

In case you haven’t had enough of Brad Pitt posing as the rather curious, somewhat haggard face of Chanel No. 5, there’ll be plenty more of him on our screens this summer when he plays a fictional UN employee in the film World War Z.

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, World War Z is a mega-budget, post-apocalyptic zombie thriller that, if the reviews turn out favourable and there are enough rainy weekends in late June and early July, has all the makings of a boxoffice success.

If the film stays close to the Max Brooks novel that inspired it, audiences will be treated to a complex, wonderfully far-fetched geopolitical romp that will delight staffers at defence think-tanks who spend a lot of time thinking about various doomsday scenarios (perhaps complete with zombies), as well as lovers of computer-generated sequences involving tens of thousands of vacant-looking beings terrorising mild-mannered citizens in urban landscapes.

Many film pundits are hailing the film as a welcome comeback for zombie flicks – a genre that has been languishing in low-budget B-grade territory since the mid-1970s. I could almost go along with this were it not for the fact that a) zombie films have been doing just fine in many corners of the world; b) the genre is dynamic and constantly reinvents itself; and c) zombies are a very real threat and are in our midst.

That’s right dear reader, you might be smirking at this claim but peer out beyond these pages and survey the people in the café/restaurant/train around you. Of course, everyone looks normal enough but I can promise you there’s a very real chance that there are at least two or three zombies within 20 metres of where you’re sitting. Luckily for you, there’s little chance of these creatures attacking you, as they represent a new generation of the living dead that has only recently been identified and which experts are only now coming to understand. Better yet, they’re very easy to pick out in a crowd.

I picked up on this new strain of zombie-like behaviour about three years ago in the US, while ordering a coffee at a well-known global chain. Where once there had been an automated smile accompanied by a chirpy, “Thanks so much and have a nice day”, now the motionless visage was matched by a monotone voice.

At first I dismissed this as service fatigue but I soon noticed that this monotone pattern of speech was cropping up everywhere. In the lobbies of hotels, at the end of phone lines, in aircraft cabins and on busy streets, flat voices without the slightest hint of emotion were humming in my ears. “I’m really excited ... I’m really sad ... I’m so happy ... I’m so mad ... I’m over the moon.” No matter what was said, it sounded the same.

For a while I thought this was perhaps a temporary phenomenon, little more than a hangover fuelled by too many slacker films and TV shows. I also thought that it was something that belonged to North America and was highly unlikely to go global. How wrong I was.

Just as World War Z portrays a global pandemic that obliterates whole nations, we’re now faced with a very real problem whereby millions of people could soon die of boredom if they’re left in the company of Generation F – “F” referring to “flatliners”, those twentysomethings who’ve somehow been struck by a curious ailment that has sucked all the humour and passion from their veins and vocal chords and rendered them walking corpses.

When, early last year, I suggested to several colleagues that we start screening for flatliners during interviews, it was met with a few raised eyebrows but, after several more months, there was a growing recognition that Generation F was a very real problem not only in the workplace (how can you run a media company when the next generation of employees could all slay listeners/viewers/clients with their deathly boring style of delivery?) but also for civil society in general.

With the help of a wonderful Welsh presentation professional we’ve managed to do our bit to correct this terrible tide in our own workplace but it’s clear there is an urgent need to figure out how to get more excitement and range into the windpipes of millions of others who are giving a whole new meaning to the word “drone”.

Fortunately, there might be an easy fix. Rather than expressing emotions via a keyboard and screen with silly symbols and exclamation marks, Generation F needs to return to basics. This could be as simple as plucking up the courage to talk to someone face to face, or picking up the phone and having a good old rant. I’m quite convinced that clinical evidence will soon prove that many are in danger of becoming terminally dull because they’ve forgotten how to express their emotions the good old-fashioned way. Zombies be damned.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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