Why we love Zombies is exactly why they are the silliest of monsters.

13 Mar

I’ll admit it. I love zombies, and so, too, do a whole lot of you out there. Of course, many of you are sick to death (pun intended) of these shambling threats to life on earth, as they have saturated culture so completely that I’ve actually heard a large number of young people (I’m a parent of five, and a teacher to hundreds more) say not ‘if’ the zombie apocalypse happens, but ‘when‘. The big question is, how did these moronic monstrosities achieve such status in our collective unconscious?

Could it be the fact that in our capitalist society we feel reduced to the state of imbecile consumers, who groan and follow the hoards to attack box stores every November? Possibly. Or, perhaps, as we have been trained to do, we accept the capitalist concept that the masses are just that, mindless consumers, and we, the point of view of the survivor, must struggle against them and compete with other survivors for the scant resources left available. Thereby, we bemoan our state as survivors of the capitalist rat race while at the same time reinforcing its inevitability. Although I believe there are elements in that, I fear that it is just too darned cynical.

Could it be that we as a post-industrial and largely secular society, our concept of life after death has become so muddled, that perhaps all we are in the end is a biological imperative of hunger and reproduction? After death are we subjected merely to rot and the task of carrying on the cycle of life in some obscene, unthinkable and unconscious way? Yeah, totally, I think. Except, both of the above aspects of zombies: Being a consumer and having only that to look forward to- are legitimate fears, and truly horrific and nihilistic prospects. It is, I believe, a much more hidden and subconscious aspect of zombies that really keeps us coming back for more (brains!).

If zombies served as merely a critique and a reminder of the limits of our consumer lifestyle and the spiritually and purposefully void experience such a lifestyle demands, then I think we wouldn’t be so attracted to it.

Take vampires for instance, their power resides in their liberation: liberation from life, the mundane  and ordinary existence of day life and the circadian rhythms. They are often depicted as even being free of gravity, free of remorse, free of consequence largely. Of course, the argument could be made that vampires expose our addiction to the mundi, the world and how we haunt it, becoming addicts to each other and to cruelty, death and a parasitic lifestyle without God. However, it is really the freedom, especially sexual, that arouses the desire to suck blood and be sucked. I mean, thousands or perhaps millions of goth teens can’t all be wrong.

But, coming back to Zombies, what is it about the Z-heads, walkers, voodoo victims, virus-bearers, or what ever you call them that make them powerful, yet seems to make no logical sense at all?

Zombies are ridiculously good-natured to each other. They seem to be able to sense what is zombie and what isn’t. We know that the virus cannot truly be sentient, and yet, even in otherwise intelligent science-fiction films this little tidbit is overlooked. Someone gets infected, becomes filled with mad and senseless rage, infects another, or perhaps just runs into another infectee, and just teams up, like it is the most natural thing in the world. WTF?

Hordes of the undead will chase down a group of struggling survivors and then gather around to eat up the unfortunately slow without attacking one another. We don’t even act so nicely on Thanksgiving (which has ominously become Black Thursday). Why doesn’t a lame or particularly slow zombie who has arrived too late to feast on a squealing co-ed just take a chomp of the zombie in front of him?

I suppose you could come up with some kind of excuse that every time there is such a virus or supernatural outbreak, that the very thing that resurrects these bodies rewires them to sense and eat only living food. Ok, I get that, but really, these things can’t manage door knobs, usually. I mean, wouldn’t they at least get feisty with each other and greedy over the few survivors left?

I believe the true answer lies in our basic nature, which the zombie reveals. Stripped of all but a his basic hungers, the zombie represents that which is left after the ego and all else has been dumped. This means that at their core, humans (which is just a zombie ready to be born) are communal, tolerant and cooperative creatures. I know it’s a shocker, because it goes against everything that we are told by the very nature of the philosophies with which our society is run. This horrifies us.

How come we never ask why the zombies aren’t eating each other, or at least having Jerry Springer like show downs over the fat office worker who was left for bait by the people more adept at surviving in a dog-eat-dog world. Only it’s not a dog eat dog world, and this scares us to death.

Lets go back and look at the seminal classic: The Night of the Living Dead. I still love this movie as pure entertainment in all its shlocky and black-and-white glory. We are going to move into spoiler territory but if you are reading a blog post about zombies and you haven’t watched the movie yet, I don’t really know what to say to you.

The survivor of the little pack of refugees inside the old farm-house is an african american male. The zombies really wanted to bite him and let him join their crew. Zombies do not discriminate due to color, sexuality, gender, size, age, or anything. If you want to moan and shuffle along, they’ll be glad to have you. In fact it is this capacity which gives them their power: numbers and mass effort. And they are the bad guys! How does that make you feel?

Ironically the black hero of The Night of the Living Dead survives the night’s onslaught of zombies only to leave the house alone and is shot by a mob of gun-toting white men who then apparently lynch him and pose for pictures with the corpse.

Just as ironically, we are afraid of zombies because they are what we are not, but always say we should be. They are a bunch of rotting hippies, with their relatively peaceful (at least internally), tolerant, and cooperative lifestyle. We resent them, we fear them.

I could go into a diatribe about how the zombie is really a counter-subversive genre of entertainment. We think we are making fun of the foils in our society, but instead are demonizing the very behaviors that might improve it.

But what do I know? Keep on munching popcorn while your eyes glaze over and the hordes munch on brains. Keep telling yourself that the squabbling, petty, and divisive survivors are the heroes. But, if you want, ask yourself why the zombies are so well-behaved. Or better yet, (and perhaps most frightening of all), ask yourself why you’ve never asked yourself that question before.


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