I mentioned it as a joke last week, but this week we’re going for it.
I’m so sorry.
Zombies have long been used as a means to comment on the perils of consumerism. Mindless hordes doing things without thinking for the few capable of independent thought to stand up against. Zombieland takes the conceit one step further, within the film self actualization is only possible in a world free of the shackles of traditional consumerism.
Much of the conflict in Zombieland takes place in the ruins of grocery stores, downtown areas, and, climatically, a theme park. The main characters too exist outside of the established economy; Columbus and Tallahassee loot and rob cars in the post-apocalyptic wasteland (the titular Zombieland) and before the outbreak Wichita and Little Rock were con artists, stealing rather than working jobs. But it’s now that they’re no longer part of a consumerist society that they are able to really come in to their own.
When Columbus and Tallahassee meet up with Wichita and Little Rock there is a great deal of distrust. Distrust that is primarily due to them fighting over guns and a car, of which there are not too many. Their strife is born of competition over limited resources — the backbone of a consumerist society. It’s because they’re holding on to one of the principle tenants of a pre-Zombieland world that they fight; as long as they live by the rules of consumerism they won’t be able to truly develop a friendship.
If one of the central themes of Zombieland is that people need other people — it is after all a movie where survivors come to realize they’re stronger together than separate — then that true friendship is only possible when they no longer subscribe to traditional views of consumerist culture. This is made clear when they finally do become friends. It’s not when they’re fighting a horde of zombies together, this is far from a battle-forged friendship. Rather, they only truly bond when they utterly destroy a gift shop together. Unlike many of the other locations visited by the survivors, this gift shop is in immaculate condition. All the gaudy trinkets and shiny rocks are still on the shelves, nothing’s out of place, even after Tallahassee dispatches of the lone zombie in the shop.
It’s in this place that Columbus first stands up to Tallahassee, a significant character moment as it shows him beginning to come into his own. Immediately after that character moment, however, he knocks something over by accident. Then another deliberately. The others join in and a montage of them destroying the stores contents ensues. It’s a blithely irreverent destruction of private property and also a rejection of the need for silly tchotchkes that have worth just because they’re supposed to. The act of destruction unites them and marks a shift for the characters bonding and sets them on the path to self-actualization.
According to Zombieland, it is in this post-consumer landscape that real relationships can thrive. Where before Columbus only knew his neighbor by her apartment number, now he has people he trusts — and he learns Wichita’s real name too. Wichita and Little Rock put aside their grifting ways and Tallahassee finds space in his vengeful anti-zombie agenda to care for other people. All they needed was to be free of the consumerism.
There! Did it! It’s a little half-baked and there are some ideas that could be explored more (in the climax Wichita and Little Rock are stranded in an amusement park ride, trapped by their want for the vestige of consumerism that is Pacific Playland; Tallahassee wants a Twinkie which he only gets after he’s learned to be content with other people and not need something mass-produced), but, hey, this was more for fun/to prove a point than anything.
Also I’m so sick of the word ‘consumer.’