The cult of zombie

What is a zombie?

Dead
Irressible hunger/consumption
Mass/Horde
Emotionless
Rotting
Mindless
Loveless
Without society
Chaotic
Madness
Unstoppable
Contagious
Unintelligent
Mute
Disease
Rage
Monster

But most of all, the zombie is in our image. They are another form of us, an evolutionary byproduct, a mutation. That’s the scariest part of all.

Zombies have been singled out as representing a lot of issues or societal fears:

  • Aids
  • Terrorism
  • Racism
  • Consumerism
  • War
  • Disease (a bit of an obvious one)
  • Obesity in the Western World
  • Technology
  • Aliens
  • Religion
  • Capitalism
  • Politics
  • Refugees

I was discussing on twitter with a mate yesterday about what makes a zombie a zombie. Must they be undead? Must they be mindless? They definitely don’t all eat brains, actually very few do (there is Return of the Living Dead, whose zombie going ‘Braaainnns’ I have as my sms tone on my phone…because I can). Almost all are cannibalistic, and their disease is highly contagious, whether by blood or bite, but that’s not always been the case as zombis (without the e) from Haiti were sorcerer’s minions.

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Away from zombies for a moment, what do zombies mean for humanity?

People must forget emotional bonds in order to survive, kill their loved ones if bitten/infected or else risk undeath themselves

People can’t afford to work against each other (which often isn’t the case in many zombie works). Trust is important as people are forced to work together if they want to survive.

People are more equalised during a zombie invasion. Of course, those who can wield a weapon or shoot are of the most important, but other’s can help to scavenge supplies or keep a look out.

Things become so petty. Money, position, power. Of course, not everyone is willing to give those things up.

George Romero has said in an interview that it’s not so much the zombies and what they represent, but what the humans do, how we react, that is what is really important. Humans don’t always do what is best for themselves, and in some cases (not that rare), are actually quite stupid. I’m one of those people who yell at the TV “Don’t do that!” or “I bet she’s going to do X…oh yeah, there she goes, screwing it up.” My sister is worse than me, although her focus is on vampire evolution (and she is the B-grade movie queen).

We can’t always think straight under pressure, and a zombie apocalypse is a lot of stress for anyone, but in a lot of cases it is the society we have at the moment that is the basis for our not surviving well in the future (near, far, wherever….). We’re too comfortable at the top of the food chain, we value that which isn’t essential (gold, money, etc), we are selfish and self-righteous. Some texts even ask: are we worth saving?

The Other

“For there to be an ‘us’… there has to be a ‘not-us’”

Edward W Said, quoted in Science Fiction and Empire by Patricia Kerslake

As my delightful colleagues said in reference to my first post, the Other is not unique to zombies. You could almost say it exists in every text.

Without the outsider, we cannot define what we are. We need an alien, a foreigner, a stranger, a zombie. Something that we can relate to enough to feel for them, whether envious of their technology, fearful of their brain nomming, or disdained for their lack of civilisation. They are enough like us that we can sympathise, depending on how the text bends. Through the Other can we see ourselves. A reflection of what was, may yet be, or what could have been. Peter Barry, in a chapter on Post-Colonial Critique in Beginning Theory writes “states of marginality, plurality and perceived Otherness are seen as sources of energy and potential change”.

Zombies are an unlikely candidate for sympathy.  Cannibalistic, animalistic, and just gross, they shamble across our screens and pages with no distinction or honour between them. There are texts however that seek to change this, just as with any other Other. Something I’m considering is whether the loving zombie is just as zombie as the murderous zombie. Whether it is defined by what it is called. Both are undead, are still beings that were raised or arose from the ground after bodily death. Is the vampire still a vampire, even if it sparkles? (I wouldn’t ask Anne Rice that!)

Are zombies a catalyst for humanity to pick itself up from the petty bickering of currency and politics, and once again prove itself as the dominant species? Or are zombies a chance for humanity to open its arms to something new and strange, yet not so different?

A very good looking zombie : Warm Bodies

Is it the monster we fear, or are we our own nightmare?

Horror appears when fear comes a little too close to home

Gothic by Fred Botting

One idea that is prominent in cultural studies is that texts contain either conscious or unconscious relevance to the state of social anxieties and culture. The zombie subgenre in it’s exploration of cultural anxieties has proven itself to be a “timely, popular, and relevant narrative form…” that has “both great cultural significance and lasting social value” (American Zombie Gothic by Kyle William Bishop). Zombies are the fearsome Other – the anti-thesis of the thinking, cultural and social human. So often in zombie fiction, the threat isn’t so much of what is out there – the zombies – but what is within the survival groups, the hierarchies they create, the inequalities, the tension and the strive for survival at any length. Perhaps what we fear about zombies is they they are a reflection of those living humans who survive, where the animal is let loose, society goes to hell, and discrimination is no longer important.

So I put to you, you are the zombie.

This blog is an experiment and exploration of the wide, wide world of zombies – from the gut-eaters to the fast ones to the alien parasites to the romantic hero. It’s often hard to convince people why zombies are so damn cool – and especially hard to get people to read zombie romance novels (although I have a brave co-worker willing to try it). Regardless of the dead passion for them, I think they are fascinating, and will continue to pursue them (in study and research).