Three years ago the Silver Spring Zombie Walk was started by a few local bloggers who decided to invite the readers to show up as zombies. Since I wanted to see the turnout inspired by these blogs and I always enjoy a fun time, my husband and I doned some white powder and makeup and ventured back to our old Silver Spring neighborhood. Doing our best to appear to be the walking undead, we dragged our legs along and observed. Much to our delight, everyone was friendly, talked, and a great camaraderie grew. We were immediately part of the group even though we didn’t know anyone. The spontaneous gathering attracted between 100-200 people.
With big crowds lining the route this year, the 3rd annual event grew to over 2,000. If you’ve experienced the Zombie Walk, you know the reasons why. If you see the pictures and wonder why anyone would ever do this, here’s what’s going on! The Silver Spring Zombie Walk mixes interactive theater, creativity, community, and straight-up fun for a out-of-the-ordinary escapade.
Community. People come to meet friends and see their costumes/makeup. Almost everyone walks with someone they know. The main focus is being together to share the smiles and laughs. This is something you definitely talk about around the water cooler or over the backyard fence. This year, while looking for one group of friends, I lost track of my other friends. I found myself completely alone and the Zombie Walk had started. After looking around at the crowd, I realized I’d be fine by myself because everyone in this massive crowd was in this together. You become part of a broader community.
Creativity. Dressing and pretending to be a zombie allows participants to express themselves creatively. Being a zombie goes beyond a typical Halloween costume because you need a personality too. If you don’t perform on stage or act in some capacity, you most likely don’t have many imaginative outlets in your daily life. Being a zombie allows innovative commentary about our society, our flaws, and our icons. Santa, Yogi, Superman, and Politician Zombies populate the wonderful craziness of this pretend world.
Breaking The Norms. In society we share expectations of how we all should behave. Stepping outside these learned behaviors is a treat. During the zombie walk, our norms are disregarded which results in an exciting, unstructured event. The freedom to growl, scream, and flail at strangers is certainly an attraction, but seeing others behave as zombies is just as thrilling.
Interactive Theater. The Zombie Walk is a live, free, ad lib show. This year a Zombie Hunter walked with a working chainsaw protruding through an unsuspecting zombie. A pretend policeman used his club to defend the innocent crowd. A very authentic looking Jesus attempted to bless and save lost zombie souls. If you are a zombie, each step brings an opportunity to act. These on-the-spot performances are a rare occurrence worth experiencing. When in college I did gorilla theater to create awareness about Apartheid, so I’ve always loved spontaneous theater.
Spontaneity. During the first zombie walk, almost everyone in Silver Spring was unsuspecting. The blogs informed their readers but the general population was unaware. The unsuspecting reacted. Managers locked business doors and everyone moved away from the windows. A lone security guard bravely ran toward his office building doors to lock out the chaos. One woman in a restaurant window was visibly shaken. This year the event had regional newspaper coverage and WTOP was even given traffic advisories to avoid the area during the Walk. People at outside restaurant tables had obviously planned their ring-side perch. Only one woman reacted unfavorably to the knife through my head as we walked to the event early in the evening. Although a more institutionalized and planned event can quash some of the radical uniqueness, individual behavior can always bring it back.
Escapism. If people go to see zombie movies as a form of escapism, then a live zombie walk has to be even better. When you are at a zombie walk you escape in much the same way as when you see a movie, except you are the movie. Whether zombies snarl at you when you are standing on the sidewalk or you actively participate by defending yourself from zombies or you scrape by as the undead, you are automatically participating. When bystanders hold up their phones to take a picture and the zombies react, they are brought into the performance. With so many hundreds of zombies, it’s difficult not to begin to imagine the situation is real, or could be real, while the movie rolls all around you.
Shared Experience. A professional photographer commented, “I wish they would all put down their phones so I can get a picture.” Because of the great excitement and fun, people constantly took pictures and video. Even a police officer blocking an intersection for the Walk had a gigantic smile on his face as he snapped photos nonstop with his phone. You could tell he was having the best time on duty. The Zombie Walk is not something you can keep to yourself.
It’s impossible to have this much fun and keep it a secret. Step into the zombie world and live.