Recent zombie-like cannibals attacks in Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, and Miami have left many thinking of the possibility of a “zombie apocalypse.” The American fascination with zombies can be credited to the following:
- Movies such as the, “Night of the Living Dead”
- Books such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
- The AMC TV series, “The Walking Dead”
- Games such as 2.8 Hours Later and Zynga’s Zombie Swipeout
- Zombie viral video spoofs
- The new smart phone app for runners called “Zombies Run”
And the zombie obsession is far from over—there are several films already set to debut within the next couple of years, including “Warm Bodies,” based on Isaac Marion’s book and dubbed as the next “Twilight,” Disney’s “Frankenweenie,” and “World War Z,” starring Brad Pitt.
The Americanized zombie emerged into pop culture out of African-Caribbean myths circulated during slavery. The legends of zombies can be traced back to the 1920s when they began to percolate into pulp fiction by authors like H.P. Lovecraft, followed by the first zombie movie, “White Zombie,” in 1932. In the late 20th century and early 21st, zombies became the rotted flesh version of unruly robots, rebelling against slavery by losing their minds and biting everyone. So what is it about this zombie archetype that Americans love so much, and what does it say about us?
Though zombies have been hot for a while, they are now the new vampires. Vampires were popular when AIDS came into the popular consciousness because vampires traditionally were about disease/plague, and post-Dracula, were also about sex. America has seen resurgence in modern zombies especially after 9/11, with a number of references to the terrorist attack made in the UK zombie film, “28 Days Later.” Because of the rise of zombies in American culture following the 9/11 attacks, some intelligentsia believes Zombies represent America’s fear of bioterrorism.
One thing we know for sure is that what all of the zombie stories have in common is a shared origin in mass historical trauma such as slavery, war or plague, which is why zombies travel in hordes. For example, Max Brooks, the author of World War Z discusses the history of class warfare in America, and references the Great Depression and World War II. In a world plagued by inadequate food, racial inequality, and the economic downturn, humans turn into mindless animals willing to kill anyone to survive. In order to survive the horrible reality, they must be willing to overcome their fears and come together to work for survival. With the growing economic crisis in Europe, the recent chain of events in Greece and Italy has given the rebirth to new fears and the zombie obsession in our society. When people are unsettled about things beyond their control like a recovering recession, they look to metaphors like the zombie.
Survival is a big theme that has emerged within the zombie genre, including in the popular AMC series, “The Walking Dead,” which is about how far the small, battered band of humans will go to survive, and whether they’ll retain the better part of themselves or become hardened and heartless.
In fact, zombie survival has become a wildly popular business in the US. Last fall the financial website, 24/7 Wall Street, estimated that these mindless, slow and clumsy living dead creatures pumped $5 billion into the U.S. economy through the sales of Halloween costumes, books and novels, comic books, magazines and TV, video games, music, etc. Here are some prominent non-traditional examples of how the zombie apocalypse is being woven in the cultural fiber by some well-known companies:
- One Ace Hardware store in Nebraska features a “Zombie Preparedness Center” that includes bolts and fasteners for broken bones, glue and caulk for peeling skin, and deodorizers to freshen up decaying flesh.
- The site, uncrate.com, too, offers survival tools such as the Mossberg pump-action shotgun and a Cold Kukri machete.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that prepares people for viral epidemics like the bird flu, got in on another type of virus action, the zombie apocalypse, in order to attract a younger audience to its emergency preparedness blog.
What do you think of America’s recent revival of the zombie craze?
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