“Night of the Living Dead” was made by zombie-aficionado George A. Romero in 1968. You’d think the genre would have died off (no pun intended). But our obsession with zombies is still going strong. There are zombie comedies like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland”. There is zombie romance like the movie “Warm Bodies”. Now your necrophilia is not as shameful. And lastly, there are still lots and lots of zombie stories that are supposed to scare the shit out of you. Whether it’s on television (and in comics) with “The Walking Dead” or in movie theaters with the “Evil Dead” remake or “World War Z”, zombies are still the monster that we get freaked out by.
It’s normal to imagine scenarios on how to survive a zombie apocalypse. It’s not crazy to already have some sort of game plan for when the undead rise. But has anyone planned against swamp monsters? The rise of mummies? What about witches? Of course not, because these monsters have either been forgotten or made irrelevant to our fears. Witches and wizards aren’t fearsome after the world’s love of the “Harry Potter” series. We didn’t want to hide from wizards, we wanted to join their schools. And even vampires and werewolves have taken the romantic side a bit too far, turning into brooding boyfriends instead of monsters of the night. Whether it’s “Twilight”, “True Blood”, or “The Vampire Diaries”, the fanged creatures have tipped the scales from hellish abominations to pasty lovers.
So why have zombies outlasted all the monsters? My theory is that their scare factor is timeless and adaptable. There are many psychological reasons to fear zombies. For example, zombies represent a fear of crowds and overpopulation. Zombies come in swarms, crawling and trampling over everything. They take over cities so that rural areas appear to be the only place of refuge. It’s an anxiety we have, but that we find inappropriate to encourage. Shouting at people about ‘population control’ makes you sound a bit like fascistic psycho. I have three other hopefully not-fascist theories about why zombies are still fueling our nightmares.
1. Zombies represent infection. No matter how much we advance in medicine, we always seem to be a step behind. Viruses and diseases evolve. There are new sicknesses surfacing every year. As advanced as we think we are, the world is still vulnerable and could be severely screwed by a new plague. This is one of the reasons I’m scared of zombies, because my hypochondriac brain can’t handle the idea of mass infection. Instead of being spread by coughing or sneezing, the zombie virus is spread by biting and scratching. And as you’ve probably noticed, it doesn’t take long for the virus to spread.
2. Zombies represent the loss of control. It’s a classic scenario in a zombie flick – a loved one is bitten and their group has to make the hard decision to kill them or trust that their heart will fight their new monstrous nature. The monster desire always wins out. Love doesn’t matter. Memories don’t matter. Transforming into a zombie means being transformed into something that has only drive, never desire. There is no control or emotion, just hunger.
3. I feel like this is pretty obvious, but it has to be said anyway: zombies are our fear of death. It’s simple, but true. Zombies are a walking persistent reminder that one day we will die. Our personal selves and able bodies will be destroyed to become rotting hunks of meat. We can fight as long and hard as we want, but the inevitable will happen. We will all die.
Sorry to be such a bummer. Try not to think about it too much when watching those zombie flicks. Just enjoy the bloody show.
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