WHY ARE THEY SO POPULAR?
The zombie is one of our most enduring monsters. Why do we keep telling stories about dead people who come back to life? We see a wide range of them, from the super-slow and easily-killed (Night of the Living Dead) to the fast-moving and super-powerful (I Am Legend, the 2007 version). What is the deal with zombies? Here are four thoughts on the answer to that:
1) Zombies are a warning to us: stop living mindless lives of consumerism! They are so scary because they represent an exaggerated mirror image of us – a fear of what we ourselves are becoming. Zombies remind us that most of the time, we’re just mindless drones, plugged into our earphones, eating prepared foods, standing on treadmills that go nowhere, shopping for clothes to go shopping in, etc.
“Zombie movies force us to figure out what, if anything, differentiates us from the monsters on the screen,” writes Douglas Rushkoff in a recent Discover magazine article, “What You Can Learn from Zombie Movies: Lessons on science, consumerism, and the soul.” Zombies force us to confront ourselves. “What is life? Why does it depend on killing and consuming other life? Does this cruel reality of survival have any intrinsic meaning?
2) Fear of infection: zombie-ism is AIDS in disguise. The original concept of corpses coming back to life sprang from accounts of poisoning in the Caribbean. Poisons derived from certain frogs could induce a corpse-life state, and buried Haitians woke up and came “back to life” in several cases. In other cases, “the individuals who had been branded zombies by terrified peasants turned out to be victims of epilepsy, mental retardation,
insanity or alcoholism,” according to Bernard Diederich in his Time magazine article, “Do
All those faces beyond our reach. In the “night of the living dead,” they come back for us. We are revisited by the forgotten.
Zombies Really Exist?” The medical records of rural doctors show plants and toads that produce “hallucinogens, powerful anesthetics and chemicals that affect the heart and nervous system,” writes Diederich, and fish that contain a deadly nerve poison, tetrodotoxin.
Diseases can do these same things to us, and the modern plague is AIDS. It can turn perfectly healthy people into zombie-like creatures in a matter of months. While we may be able to cope with this in our conscious minds, our subconscious is going nuts! Zombie movies are our subconscious nightmares of infection jumping onto the big screen.
3) Zombies represent our collective guilt over all the dead people we could not save.
Those 55 people killed in a bombing in the Middle East you heard about on the radio this morning, the thousands of refugees starving due to that African rebellion, the schoolchildren lost in that Chinese earthquake or the typhoon in Indonesia – we do not forget these images. This theory holds that we actually record these reports of terrorism, famine, disease, and warfare, all the innocent people whose deaths we see on television – we just push them down into our subconscious. We carry around a dim memory of all those faces beyond our reach. In the “night of the living dead,” they come back for us. We are revisited by the forgotten.
4) Zombies represent the erasure of “borders.” Civilization depends on clear boundaries – between nations, between home and school, good and bad, between the living and the dead. This concept emphasizes our fear that we have lost control of modern life – planes are crashing into buildings, the family unit is falling apart, our jobs are moving overseas, our friends’ disembodied faces appear on our computer screens, babies can be manufactured in test tubes. Where are the borders, people?
The zombies therefore represent our worst fear – that the line between the living and the dead is now erased. All borders are meaningless. All rules are gone. Zombies stand at the gates of lawlessness.