Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Obsession with Zombies

Periodically someone will ask me what the deal is with zombies. Why is our culture so obsessed with shambling hordes of undead? When asked, I do my best to explain with abstract examples. No more. I found a great article that illustrates my key point with brutal clarity.

Why zombies? Well, each monster myth represents something, a fear or frustration that torments humanity. Vampires (traditional) represent carnality. Werewolves stand for the primal, uncivilized desires of mankind. Mr. Hyde is the baser part of us we silence, to be able to fit into society. Frankenstein encapsulates the horrors of man playing God. And zombies...well. What a zombie represents depends on when the myth was made. This is true to some extent with all the monsters, but with zombies most of all.

The driving force of a culture determines what the zombies mean. Put another way, the pop culture vehicle that carries the zombies expresses the culture that fueled the idea. In old black and white movies zombies represented demented love, the kind that existed when the villain believed control was needed and emotion should be forced. Zombies have stood for mass consumerism, failures of government, fallacies of science (similar to Frankenstein), and threats from other galaxies.

But why is there so much about zombies in the culture now? What is driving the fascination? I think the key to the answer lies in the comic book series, The Walking Dead. Unlike the vast majority of zombie stories out there, the Walking Dead lexicon doesn't explain what made the zombies. Virus? Government experiment? Radiation? Don't know. The story isn't about what made the zombies. It's about the living and the undead.

To create monsters without a cause is to say that anything could have made the monstrosities. And this idea resonates with the culture, as does the zombie myth, for one reason: as a culture, we don't believe in or trust anything. Schools? No. Journalism? Nope. We have Twitter now. Although we don't really believe in it either, we just use it. Church? Um, no. Government? No.

When you don't believe that anything can protect you or save you, you start to believe that anything can harm you. Anything can turn you into a zombie, and nothing can save you.

It's the sad realization that we believe in nothing, that fuels the zombie myth in our culture today. It's believable, accessible. That's the answer to 'why zombies'.

In the past, I've had a hard time explaining the loss of faith that's growing in our culture. Then I read this article. If you ever wanted a brutal run-down of our crumbling institutions, read this. If you ever have a friend ask you 'why zombies', send them the link. As long as real stories like that of Johnny Whitmire are with us, zombies will stumble through our books and march across our screens.

Until we find something to believe in, the zombies stay...and multiply.