Teenage (or lack thereof) Wasteland

WARNING:  The following blog may contain spoilers regarding AMC’s The Walking Dead and other awesome stuff.

There’s a big fad dominating modern media; moving across the landscape like a swarm of driver ants.  Movies and games leading the charge, authors followed up alongside other forms of media (even memes… oh god the memes) in a wave of the walking dead in pop culture.  Zombies, man.  They creep me out.

Since the epochal “Night of the Living Dead”, the zombie is has integrated itself into our pop culture– be it a passing fad or a permanent indent in our cultural psyche– and it’s interpretations are endless.  Slow zombies, fast zombies; dumb and smart; there are endless versions, unique to each creator.  But there is one common element to all of them besides headshots and the ever-present danger of the horde:

There’s hardly any teenagers.  Hardly any survivors are in the adolescent stage of growth.  Now, approximately 7.2% of the U.S. population is between the age of 15 and 19 (thanks http://www.census.gov!).Sure, Carl of the Walking Dead ought to be about 13 by now, but he started the show off around 12 (and looked 10… No offense, Chandler).  Beth Greene of the same show was 17 in Season 3 (as played by 28 year old Emily Kinney, so she half counts)- so the Walking Dead gets a passing grade.  Even when there is the odd teen lying around, they’re either next to useless, a background character with no development, or a walking plot device (CARL!  STAY IN THE DAMN HOUSE!)… or some combination thereof.

And here’s the kicker:  We teens are a target audience for this genre.  You would imagine that there would be a slightly higher than proportionate number of teenage characters getting development in these stories, that there would be characters for our age group to relate to.  It’s not exactly like there isn’t proof that movies targeted at our age group are licenses to print money- take a look a Twilight’s Box Office haul (and then come back when your done emptying your stomach.  I’ll wait).

So, if the problem isn’t selling the product, maybe it is about how we would actually handle it.  No one expects a 110 pound fourteen year old to do well toting an M60 through Vietnam in a war movie; maybe the nature of the genre requires a more robust character?

Well, that doesn’t quite work, does it?  Physical strength does not tend to be the game-winner in a Zombie Apocalypse.  When the protagonists aren’t elite soldiers (*cough* RE5 *cough*) the characters are, often as not, average Joe, working class stiffs stumbling their way through it by blind luck.  Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead hardly a physically imposing figure (No offense, Simon).

So, if there is an in-universe case to be made for why there are so few teens in the zombie genre, perhaps it lies in our behavior, and how that would work against us in a zombie apocalypse…

There’s a case to be made against us, to be sure.  The common pre-existing image of us is shiftless, lazy, ignorant, lazy, self-obsessed adolescents; addicted to cell phones and the latest social media site.  Those of us that actually do go out of the house without being buried in a text message are self-control lacking barely civilized hooligans doing the latest fad drugs (I’ll leave the bathsalts jokes to you, intrepid reader).  

We’d think ourselves entitled to our easy lives, that we’d simply shirk the day’s chores, or maybe go completely nuts when denied access to our technology.  The easiest word to throw at us would be irresponsible.  We teenagers would be the ones who would leave the gate unlocked; it would be us who would fall asleep on guard duty.  We’d go run off to have premarital sex and die ironically like it was a slasher flick and not a zombie apocalypse; we’d begrudge the hard work and toil necessary to survive.

In short:  We’re reckless, irresponsible, lazy and entitled.  Or at least that’s the perception:

To touch on our reckless behaviour, here’s a good news stat for you.  Teenage drinking, drug use and smoking is all declining (the exception being Marijuana, or as us kids call it now, Coloradan Salad Garnish)  Check it out for yourself.  Nobody’s perfect, but we are getting better.

As for my generation being irresponsible, Lazy and Entitled:  Well now, that’s a little harsh.  I’m not going to say that it doesn’t fit some members of my generation.  At different times, we’re all a little like that.  But everyone get’s like that sometimes.  We’re not the only ones stuck with this label (which only some of us truly deserve).  The “Millennial” Generation, which corresponds to just about everyone born from 1980 to 2000, and would include everyone who falls under the category of teenager as of right now, get’s the same label of being listless, apathetic slouches as regular old teenagers.  The Millennials comprise about 80 million Americans these days; that’s over 1/4 of the country.  Now, the older half of the millenials get a fair shake- Glenn and Maggie from The Walking Dead, Columbus and Wichita from Zombieland.  All bad-asses in some form or another, all from the same overarching age group that includes teenagers, all slapped with the same labels.  Shaun of Shaun of the Dead fits the label of the Millenial perfectly, even if he doesn’t quite fall under the birth date cutoff.

And if you want to talk about us feeling entitled, try and get a politician to campaign under the idea of cutting spending by slashing social security “entitlements”, and see what happens.  We all get a little selfish some times.

Perhaps our tech addiction will be our downfall?

A common problem I notice fellow High School Students have is when they forget their cell phones at home, or they run out of battery life, and they’re stuck at school, bereft of their precious devices.  Luckily, we have some methadone on hand to help keep them under control and reduce “the shakes” until they can get home and get their real fix.

One of those sentences was a joke.  You see, while there are some of us who are far to attached (addicted, really), for the majority it is simply a way of communicating and passing idle time.  It’s a distraction, but it’s not like we could not find distractions elsewhere.  In general, we’re more than capable of overcoming our addiction to tech.  Meanwhile, my father is a step away from sewing his Blackberry onto his hip, and frequently zones out of conversation in order to stare at a screen that is quite frankly far too small for anyone over forty.

 

And on that note, we break into the advantages a teenager would have in a Zombie Apocalypse.

One of the negative side effects of our supposed tech addiction is a noted lack of attention; hyperactivity disorder diagnoses are booming.  For starters, much of this is due to better diagnosing in general we are noticing this phenomenon more.  In my parent’s childhood, it wasn’t “ADHD”, it was “Sit-the-f*ck-down”.  But, there is some evidence to suggest that video games, internet and constant cellphone use is rewiring our brains to an extent.  It is making us change gears rapidly.

This might not be the disadvantage it would seem in a zombie apocalypse.  Nothing displeases me more when I see a zombie- slow, stupid and shuffling through leaves- sneak up on a human being.  This happens anytime someone focuses on one task for too long.  With a mind in overdrive, and a corresponding lack of attention paid, it would mean that your typical teenager would actually be *less* likely to get randomly eat-murdered by a wandering zombie.  This is truly in part thanks to our propensity towards multitasking.  When you’ve mastered playing the latest overpriced first person shooter on one half of the screen, watching a movie on the other, having Facebook, internet comedy and other less-than-savory online tabs open, all the while texting back and forth, suddenly changing a spare tire (sadly a skill far too few people know these days) while watching your back for zombies isn’t quite so hard.

Now, there is a demographic also worth mentioning:  Small children.  Anything from birth to teenage, really.  They too seem to be somewhat statistically underrepresented in the genre, but when they do pop up expect them adults around them to go to the ends of the earth to keep them safe.  Now, this isn’t to say that means anything for their survival rate (The Walking Dead confirming both points… Sophia being foremost in mind) because children are, frankly, small, weak and kind of self-destructive.  (CARL, STAY IN THE DAMN HOUSE!) However, the protective instinct of parents lends another plus to the survival rate of teenagers.  You see, while we are *almost* adults, we’re still very much considered children.  And that means that your given teen will still have parents looking out for them-and willing to die for them- even though in pure physical terms, we’re nearly there ourselves.  We’ll be afforded much of the protection given to small children, while being far closer to adults in terms of physical fitness for survival.  (I know full well that the overwhelming majority of 35 year old men would destroy me in a physical confrontation, but I could fight off a small mob of seven or eight year old kids.  Teens are closer to the adult end of the scale than children)

While the physical strength of a teenage guy might not compete with that of a grown man, the fact remains that not all threats can be beaten.  Sometimes you have to run.  Now, obesity rates are rising across the board, and this is an especially depressing trend in children.  Poor fatty children.  But the truth of the matter is, more teenagers are ready to go run than adults.  Including the track coaches, there are maybe ten out of one hundred plus staff members at my high school that could reliably outrun me, and maybe a few more in my league, but in all possibility thirty percent of the student body could.  (I am not all that great at this whole “running” thing, either in terms of speed or endurance).  We’re lighter, more active overall thanks to sports and gym class, and as a general rule have yet to run into the knee and other joint problems that plague active adults.

We’re the Velociraptor to their T-Rex; they can take us in a fight, but we’ll be long gone when the shit hits the fan.  Meanwhile, small children (who seem to pop up everywhere) are the Compsognathus or “Compys”, if we were to keep following the Jurassic Park metaphor I started there.

Speaking of Velociraptors, do you know what they did in those (amazing) movies?  They made plans.  And that is exactly what we teens do.  More than once I’ve had conversations about what would be done in a Zombie Apocalypse.  While this is in the spirit of entertainment, the fact remains that I and my close, trusted friends have ideas of what to do, where to go, who to go with.  I have other allies outside of my family that I can trust, and that have useful skills… but on the topic of skills:

We are, as a rule, rather lacking in the “survival skills” category; with a few exceptions (i.e. the avid hunters I’ve recruited for my Zombie Apocalypse Team) most modern teens are ill equipped in skills necessary to live off of the land or make a new home in the barren post-apocalyptic world.  However, what we are good at is learning.  Our still-developing brains are ripe for learning new skills and abilities; and I guarantee that when our lives are on the line, we’d be quick studies.  We are only beginning to approach our physical and mental peak in our teenage years; our malleable brains and quick-healing, adaptable bodies would rapidly switch into perfect survival mode.

 

In summary, it seems that there is an unjustified dearth of useful teens in the zombie genre, a genre one would think would be rife with them, both in terms of marketing and survival logic.  It’s okay to buy into the B.S. that gets said about us teens.  A lot of it is based on a grain of truth.  But if the dead start walking, don’t count us out.

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