Covid-19 and What it Means for Zombies in Popular Culture

Covid-19 will mark a momentous turning point in zombie films/TV and, for that matter, anything of a post-Apocalyptic nature.

To date anyone making these films/shows only had assumption to go on. What current events are showing is how massively far wrong 99% got it – mistakes that won’t be made in any future productions; hindsight the great teacher as ever.

Tense visits to stores for supplies are staple to the zombie genre; a repeating theme never less scary for the fact.

But actually, it turns out that what’s most frightening is their more-often-than-not lack of accuracy.

Rarely if ever do we see shelves cleared of items

Take the following examples: the shit has definitely already hit the fan, yet that which has been most sought and first to go from shelves in the real world—toilet paper (like anyone didn’t know)—can clearly be found in abundance.

In the first clip below copious amounts of loo roll can clearly be seen at the 22 second mark, while in the second the 1:07 mark (these clips being the first two film results from searching ‘zombie shopping mall’ on You Tube).

To be fair

Not everyone gets it so far from the mark; take this scene from World War Z that, guns aside (currently, at least), is these days pretty standard for a trip to any supermarket:


It still lacks the key component; an obsession with toilet paper in particular.

When this hypothesis was tested in the wild, there was one particular comeback that thought it completely poo-pooed my presence-on-shelves-of-toilet-paper-equals-fail premise:

The speed at which fictional viruses spread leaving no time to rush down the shops for a quick bit of hoarding before things get fully out of control.

While this could explain loo rolls on shelves to a degree, it does nothing to counter the fact every Apocalyptic/zombie scenario also has bad people to deal with on top of anything else thrown at the heroes.

The by far greatest and most poignant example still being the first: the ending to George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead.

From the 3 minute mark on should be plenty for anyone needing a reminder.

Forgive me for sidestepping the seriousness of the film’s point for a second: there most definitely are hoarding types in that scene.

The Walking Dead: a plot twist no one saw coming

I recall early episodes of The Walking Dead where they went looking for sanitary products; taking great risk to do so, but in the process showing their determination to remain civilised despite it all – such were the crazy dilemmas one would be faced with in a world of living dead.

While it suggests the speed-of-virus-spread counter-argument may have some merit, what it really reveals is that by finding shelves full and taking all they could, the show’s main protagonists and heroes—shock/horror—are in fact the hoarders leaving nothing for anyone else.

But it all falls apart again when the hoodlum gangs so often encountered in the genre aren’t after toilet paper first, pasta second. ‘Got any bog roll?’ would literally be the first thing menacingly asked when encountering others; whereas those coming in peace (or at least wishing to appear to – you know how these plots get) would wave one aloft in offer of friendship, it being the greatest gesture of the time.

A lucky escape

Bad enough that Simon Pegg’s character walks around a shop dazed and oblivious to the toilet paper stacked on a high shelf in Shaun of the Dead, even worse the film came extremely close to being the most unrealistic Apocalyptic zombie film ever made!

Up until a few days ago pubs had no financial choice but stay open, meaning Pegg and Co would have found the Winchester welcoming with the hoped-for quiet pint, not a fight where zombies were clubbed with pool cues in time to the music of Queen.

Realising the disastrous impact this would have on the UK film industry’s reputation, Bojo and chums (aka the British government) ordered pubs to close, so saving us from being the laughing stock of the rest of the zombie/Apocalyptic film making world.

Did anyone get it right?

2000AD’s powers of prowess are phenomenal.


In story line The League of Fatties (which, if not mistaken, was first published in the late 70s) the obese—who had ‘belliwheels’ so they could still get about—found themselves in a post-Apocalyptic world short on food, prone to rationing, and themselves reduced to begging for any morsel, while also persecuted for having eaten all the pies.

Uniting as a league, they resorted to criminal activities to obtain extra food. When the Judges realised no amount of time in the cubes would cure them of their need to feed, they restricted all fatties to just four Mega City blocks; only letting them leave when rationing was over.

In general, the premise of Judge Dredd’s world (where Judges take straight to the streets to implement instant justice as judge, jury and executioner) is that no one wants to go out anymore due to overwhelming levels of crime; and with everything deliverable to their door, they don’t need to.

Therefore: anyone outside is a criminal; and if not obviously so, a Judge just has to figure out how.

This not only fits with the current direction of everyone having to self-isolate and therefore anyone outside isn’t, so will attract the attention of the authorities simply for the fact, society—thanks in much part to Amazon—was heading the direction of never leaving the house anyway.

Covid-19 has simply sped the predicted/inevitable along, especially if this BBC report in which Amazon is both benefiting from and abusing the current situation is anything to go by.

While Amazon is yet to say anything officially, it’s likely much to its delight that the already under enough pressure high street now finds itself beneath even more.

From this point forward

To date, no one had the foresight to realise the mass acquiring of toilet paper would be where it’s at.

Post-Apocalyptic post-Apocalyptic films will without doubt address the massive part toilet roll evidently has to play during Apocalyptic goings-ons, so leaving what went before looking dated and redundant regardless of how fantastical in any other regard the Apocalypse is suggested to be.

That already made will become the next generation of silent black and white films no one but the uberest of geeks will watch, kinda thing.

Except for one

Sure, some CGI would be needed, plus a couple of changes to dialogue. But given it was released dubbed in most regions in the first place, and the necessary CGI is so straightforward I’m surprised someone who knows how to do it hasn’t run with the idea already, it’s hardly major changes required for the desired result.

Watch the clip below and imagine the following:

  • the baby is CGI-ed into an eight-pack of luxury Andrex toilet roll – the one with the cute puppy on.
  • Jessie Rockatansky happily exits shop, having finally found toilet paper; this is so momentous, she’s even bought not one but two ice-creams to celebrate: who needs to worry about the lactose intolerance now?!
  • bikers unable to afford exorbitant prices now charged for toilet paper, but still wishing to keep their bums clean—despite being bikers—stake the place out knowing there’s some in there.
  • obviously, it’s a film, so they can’t just run up, snatch the bog roll and be gone; instead they act like a mean pack of stray cats, meowing from rooftops, toying with their prey.
  • Toe-cutter even helps himself to a lick of the celebratory ice-cream, which is a very cat-like thing to do.

Watch the whole of Mad Max (1979) while mentally replacing all and any babies with toilet rolls, and it’s pretty much job already done.

Mad Max II not quite as straightforward, tbf, though am sure ‘Just wipe away’ can be made to work somehow.

Other nonsense that might help pass the corona-lock-down time:

Thanks for reading 🙂

N. P. Ryan.


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