I was shopping for clothes the other day and a mother and son were browsing novelty shirts nearby; the mother came across a shirt emblazoned with a zombie. “What’s the deal with zombies?” she said. I overheard her and thought of answering her question, but then I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t think of a straight answer and I asked myself: why have zombies become so popular lately?
We’ve had movies starring zombies, and we’ve recently had video games, TV shows, conventions, clubs and sports devoted to them as well. Zombie remakes of classic movies and books, music groups, t-shirts, clothes and costumes are also easy to find these days. Nerf released a line of zombie-themed toy guns and weapons, and I saw blogs and polls wishing for a zombie apocalypse when 2012 was still sensationalized as the end of the world. Our culture appears to be into this zeitgeist craze in which we are in the spirit for the living dead.
The zombies’ rise in popularity could be attributed to the idea of an anarchic America; order has collapsed, laws and rules mean nothing anymore if it inhibits survival, and nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. In our perfectly ordered world governed by rules and technology, a little chaos seems attractive. We’re so bored with our ordered lives and our ids feel constrained. A life of zombies seems attractive because it offers escapism, a life of unpredictability. Dylan Meushaw, member of the Humans vs. Zombies club, explained, “Everybody wants to get out and shoot something—desire to get to blow stuff up. Zombies make the perfect opportunity because they’re not human.”
The idea of fighting monsters that once resembled loved ones and people we knew is a primary source of fear. Their horror comes from our own horror, whether it’s having to survive from day to day in a collapsed society, possibly losing a loved one in the fight, or they could serve as a reflection of our own times. “They’re as humanistic of a monster as you’re going to get; you know they were once family and friends that you knew,” Meushaw said. “It’s really disheartening to fight them—breaks your spirit when you kill them.”
However, returning back to my interest in the world wishing for a zombie apocalypse, Humans vs. Zombies organizer Orion Kimberlin explained, “It gives us a chance to survive—it seems the most easy alternative and the most probable.” Fiction provides a number of useful ideas, and over the years we’ve gotten really creative in zombie scenarios. An outbreak could be the result of mutant virus strains to neurotoxins; science could evolve in creating a formula that reanimates the dead or advanced nanotechnology. Even last summer, game developer Naughty Dog released survival horror game “The Last of Us” wherein their zombies were the result of an outbreak of Cordyceps, an actual parasitic fungus that grows from inside the body and hijacks the brain.
Aside from the numerous fictionalized ways a zombie could be created, they seem to be the ultimate allegory regarding sociological fears. Every monster in existence has some sort of allegory representing our unconscious fears. For example, godfather of zombies George A. Romero wrote “Dawn of the Dead” as an allegory for economic consumerism due to their instinctual drive to consume. The zombies in “Warm Bodies” were the result of people disconnecting with others through technology and social media, like the joke that cellphones are zombifying our youth. In “World War Z,” the most recent zombie film, it is overpopulation due to the zombies’ sheer numbers that they are portrayed as indomitable.
Whatever seems to be the appeal of zombies these days, it can be said that they are the most creative monsters of our age. They’re that flexible. In the meantime, I’m waiting for when H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos” starts gaining momentum, maybe serving as an allegory reflecting our time’s thirst for knowledge and information, and in light of recent surveillance scandals, things we weren’t meant to know.