"We are the walking dead!"
February 21, 2013 11:05 AM   Subscribe

The zombie apocalypse. Threads. Pandemic. Doomsday Preppers. Post-apocalyptic pop-culture fiction of doom. What's it about? A Stanford scholar explains.
posted by stbalbach (57 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
People have been obsessing about the end of the world for at least the last 2000 years or so, and probably before that. I've never really wondered what it's about so much as just assumed it was something that, by nature, human beings are inclined to think beginnings and endings are more interesting than the stuff in between. We got there well before we had actual reasons to think that humanity could be wiped out on the whole; before we had viruses and nuclear weapons, we blamed it on gods and demons and whatnot.
posted by Ex-Wastrel at 11:11 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related: The Meaning of Zombies by Naomi Alderman, writer of the "Zombies, Run!" app.
posted by The River Ivel at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


The curate from War of the Worlds came up in the thread on the Spielberg movie the other day. His plans and the whole "Earth Under the Martians" segment of War of the Worlds probably fits in quite nicely as an early example of post-apocalyptic fiction.
posted by Artw at 11:18 AM on February 21, 2013


I've never really wondered what it's about so much as just assumed it was something that, by nature, human beings are inclined to think beginnings and endings are more interesting than the stuff in between.

Or, people see terrible things in their world, and think (in their shortsighted way) that this must really be The Worst Time To Be Alive, Ever. If things are this bad, it must be The End Times!

With some religions, the end will bring about something better, but to get there, things have to go horribly wrong. And if there is something better around the corner, bring on the worst of the worst, and let's get it over with, right?
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, people see terrible things in their world, and think (in their shortsighted way) that this must really be The Worst Time To Be Alive, Ever. If things are this bad, it must be The End Times!

I think of it more like avoiding a series of obstacles.

Passenger: Dude, you are way over the line you better steer back!
Driver: Pfff, you've been saying that every 10 minutes since we left and we haven't died yet. You must just always thing the latest mile is The One Where We Die.
Passenger: No, I just keep nudging you to steer us back on course.
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on February 21, 2013


But, DU, in the case of apocalyptic myths, Passenger really does believe the road ends. Horribly and suddenly.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2013


I'm not entirely sure that Threads was created as a work of entertainment....
posted by schmod at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


From Jess Walter's "Don't Eat Cat":
But here's what I've come to believe. That maybe it's no different now than it ever ways. Maybe it's always the end of the world. Maybe you're alive for a while and then you realize you're going to die, and that's such an insane thing to comprehend, you look around for answers and the only answer is that the world must die with you.

Sure, the world seems crazy now. But wouldn't it seem just as crazy if you were alive when they sacrificed peasants, when people were born into slavery, when they killed firstborn sons, crucified priests, fed people to lions, burned them at the stake, when they intentionally gave people smallpox or syphilis, when they gassed them, tortured them, dropped atomic bombs on them, when entire races tried to wipe other races off the planet? [...]

But this is the Apocalypse? Fuck you! It's always the Apocalypse.
posted by quadrilaterals at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


The road DOES end, extrapolating from the current situation. Discontinuity, or at least non-linearity, is required.
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2013


I'm still hoping for Doomsday Prep School, because Armageddon needn't lack that je ne sais quoi
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the genre started well before the nuclear age, apocalyptic stories pre-dated the end prophesied in the Book of Revelation; the Epic of Gilgamesh for example. The entire dystopia genre has created some great stories.
posted by vonstadler at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2013


But to rebut myself a little: In Debt: The First 5000 Years, by Graeber, the excellent point is made that capitalism seems to need to manufacture/promote a series of catastrophes that function to kill speculatory bubbles. It would be interesting to compare capitalist apoclyptica vs non-capitalist apocalyptica.
posted by DU at 11:39 AM on February 21, 2013


Maybe it's always the end of the world

Yup.
posted by gwint at 11:40 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the article: "The fascination with the end of the world, says Stanford literary scholar Angela Becerra Vidergar, can be traced to the advent of nuclear warfare during World War II."

Like Ex-Wastrel said, this is pretty short-sighted. I wonder if Angela Becerra Vidergar, the Stanford literary scholar, looked at any gauges of how wide-spread the fixation with the end was. For instance, doomsday cults for a long, long time, with some records point to an Assyrian stone tablet from c. 2800 BCE saw the moral degradation of society as a sign of the end.

Related: Siberia's end-times cult (article from The Daily Beast, with photos)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:42 AM on February 21, 2013


People have been obsessing about the end of the world for at least the last 2000 years or so, and probably before that.

Sure. But I'd say what's different today is the absence of a countervailing force. In Chrsitian escathology, the apocalypse brings about the millennium; disaster followed by utopia. In the Sci Fi world of the 20th century, for every HG Wells you've got your Jules Verne as well --- technology is terrifying but also inspiring.

In the past ten or fifteen years, though, it kind of feels like we've chopped off the inspiring bit, at least in fiction. Especially the last several years, almost all escapist fantasy seems to be about trying to figure out how humanity would survive in the abscence of technology (because zombies or asteroids or and EMP weapon) and very little about how it would be to live in a society much more technologically advanced than our own. (The only near-future big budget high tech society movies I can think of off hand are AI and Minority Report, both Speilberg joints and you know what he's like).

Apocalypse is the theme of the teens the way alien abduction was the theme of the 90s...where have you gone, Mr. Roddenbury, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you...
posted by Diablevert at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, with a lot of the preppers, I hear "zombie apocalypse" as code for "race war". I don't know how true that is or not, but I've got a little urban farm and chickens and people think they can talk to me about these things since I appear white and with that comes the white privilege, obv. (Of course, I have horns, but xtians can't see them, also, blood libel and queer to boot). I'm not a prepper. I love my little farm - I used to live on a kibbutz and this is the closest I will ever come to living on one again.

I've stopped using the phrase "zombie apocalypse" because of the creepy, racist leanings I've been subjected to. If people ask, I am prepared for the big fucking quake (BFQ). We're overdue for one according to the Lucy Jones' and the Kate Huttons. I expect 3 weeks to 2 months of little or no services and I'm not going to be the one trying to get to the Staples Center for water and food.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:47 AM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's something a la what SK said in Danse Macabre; in the face of nuclear annihilation, a zombie lurching down the street is comforting. Now that we are looking at climate change, a movie like Threads is comforting in an Aristotelian way, in the nature of catharsis. Oh, we say, so we don't have to eat raw irradiated sheep to survive in order to have a child that will then go through horrors, because humans, in the end, were rational and not self-destructive.
posted by angrycat at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2013


Like others, I agree that the fascination with the end of the world goes way back, probably originating with some devastating event and being a foundation stone for religion. With WWII and nuclear weapons, however, that fascination became a hard reality. With the push of a button, humans could easily wipe themselves out.

What is more fascinating to me is the fact that once that fear settled in to our collective psyche, it became easy to repackage it and sell it back to us as entertainment. Now we are like moths drawn to the light from the flame of the candle. The idea of extreme devastation is enticing. Underneath it all, I think there is a desire to be the ones who witness the end (although some of us will survive, like myself, of course).
posted by perhapses at 11:50 AM on February 21, 2013


Unfortunately, with a lot of the preppers, I hear "zombie apocalypse" as code for "race war".

Oh, for fuck's sake, not this again.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:00 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Saying that "the end of the world has always been nigh" may be true, but it's also a bit facile. The real question is "Why zombies?"

In the 1950's the expression of this fear came in the form of radioactivity and "monsters" (i.e., Godzilla) that were hatched by this technology. As we moved into the space age, alien invasion grabbed the popular imagination. So what is it about society that's bringing zombies to the forefront of the zeitgeist?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2013


Unfortunately, with a lot of the preppers, I hear "zombie apocalypse" as code for "race war".

Wait, there are preppers that actually literally say they are preparing for a zombie apocalypse?
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's not a "not this again", that's a whole new level of weird.
posted by Artw at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2013


He always says it with a tongue-in-cheek grin, and he never says whether it's because of peak oil or zombies or war or whatever - but a friend of mine has made a pact with me that whenever the apocalypse hits, I am to report to a certain point in New York that he has ascertained is easily defensible and well stocked with weapons.

The fact that he even jokes about this is telling.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2013


Pre-taped Call In Show. Absolutely. The term is bandied about constantly.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:19 PM on February 21, 2013


Geiser's article seems very shallow; it sounds as if Vidergar glosses over an awful lot of history to make her case, and no, the whole "while disaster fiction has existed for centuries" brush-off won't cut it. I'll see you your atomic bomb and raise you your bubonic plague, which wasn't a terrible possiblity; it was the reality on the ground. We're talking if you take a look around you right now, count every third person and they're dead, so everyone knew significant numbers of people killed by the plague. Families were wiped out. Whole villages disappeared off the face of the earth.

Whole industries were wrecked and took a long time to recover; some never did, such as the building trades--the experts were dead, or were so few in number that they couldn't train enough new ones. We can tell when the black death happened by the sudden crash in quality of joinery. Tile decoration went from crisp and intricate to ham-handed overnight and stayed that way for a very long time.

This catastrophe didn't just make problems for the physical world, but for the mental and spiritual as well. Everyone's minds dwelt on death and the fleeting nature of life and youth. The arts reflected it in the images of the danse macabre, animated skeletons cavorting with the living, conducting them to the grave all unready in their youth and finery. The writings of the time are deeply stained with the knowledge of death, real and personal, too.

Zombies. Pfft. I'm a Cold War kid--heck, I was fully grown before it "ended," so I think I have some sense of the enormity of that dread, but if you think living through a significant round of the bubonic plague didn't develop a healthy apocolyptic sense . . . well.
posted by miss patrish at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yes, Virginia, the zombie apocalypse is a boringly common advertising trope in the US gun market, particularly for hi-capacity magazines.

Yes, the gun culture has a very substantial white supremacist wing.

What I want to know is where did the advertising/PR money come from to rebrand "survialist" as "prepper?"
posted by warbaby at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sophie1 I too get this a lot with our little farm where we have chickens and rabbits and 2 acres of Veggies and bees. My Wife and I also do woodworking, spinning fibre and weaving. Prepper types CONSTANTLY as me about bugout spots and if we have weaponry to defend the land etc. It really creeps me out especially when normal types ask me it. I too have heard people use Zombie apocalypse for race war as well but more common outside of where I live. It is like self sufficiency is the new doomsayer it is very weird.
posted by mrgroweler at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The zombie apocalypse is such a fictional draw for me, not necessarily because it harkens the end of the world as the link suggests, but because it embodies freedom in all its raw, terrifying form.

Surviving for survival's sake, against uncertain odds, allows me to shed all the laws and etiquette of a normal structured society, and live as free as the animal I am at my essence. Gone are the commutes, credit scores, bank accounts, 401k funds, and college funds. Gone are the important business degrees, skill with a computer, or any "higher education" knowledge, at least at the chaotic beginning. Gone are all those little frightening whispers of anxious thoughts I have at night about growing older and success. It is merely about hunting, gathering, and escaping danger, which I think at our core we are still hardwired to do. From the comfort of my current air conditioned (in Florida) office chair, with a full stomach, and a bottle of soda next to me, this seems like an exhilarating and terribly wonderful freedom.

Another draw for me is that the normal social conventions that those with the most money, looks, and/or education are the most successful would be turned on its ear. The initial kings of a worldwide disaster would be, in the fictional mind at least, the ones with the weapons, water, food and the means to produce more, which draws to the part of me who can feel stymied within the constraints of the "predictable success" of my life. To stock up on essential items and train in survival skills, waiting with 'bated breath for the Disaster, to be able to end one day as a nobody, and to emerge the next, from the ashes of a global tragedy, as a proverbial one percenter, is an enticing thought.

Whenever there is a big hurricane predicted, I always stock up on food, water and supplies. Mostly because this is what we're supposed to do, but there is a part of me that fantasizes about those faceless masses in shock and left scrambling because of their lack of planning, while me and my family ride out the storm in total comfort.

However, I am almost certain that if there is ever a terrible apocalyptic event, I will probably be: a) instantly vaporized, b) miserable and die alone and afraid, or c) Patient Zero.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:32 PM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I always figured the popularity of the zombie thing, particularly among young people and people in certain (particularly geeky) subcultures was a sort of wish fulfillment fantasy combined with a sense of alienation from the culture at large. I'd even connect it to the popularity of Ron Paul style libertarianism. Bear with me a minute.

So you have a large portion of the millennial generation who're feeling increasingly alienated from what they see as mainstream society. The seeming stupidity of normal people, whose actions seem arbitrary and come across those groups in waves-- bad music, stupid opinions, stuff like that. The same kids who think a hands-off government is somehow going to liberate them from having to "take care" of people with taxes (whether or not that's actually true) find a sort of appeal in survivalism. Zombies just add an extra layer to that, because the people who were stupid enough or slow enough to succumb to the virus (and it's always a virus, these people never go for the raised from the grave kind of zombies) are actually attacking you and trying to get you to join them, the same way it can feel like the "mainstream" is trying to suck you in. As an added bonus, they get to blow these people's heads off in a way that is completely morally okay.

Zombie scenarios push certain buttons, buttons that are shared by a lot of things, from libertarianism to punk music, but I think that that particular apocolyptic fantasy has a lot to offer for people who're alienated from what they see as the mainstream-- anyone who thinks of fellow humans as sheep of one kind or another.
posted by NoraReed at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm sorry, that was an unhelpful remark. Let me try to do better.

I am frustrated because there's nothing inherently racist about the zombie myth, and yet well-meaning not-racist people are turning it into a racist thing by repeating this idea. Keep associating zombie apocalypse myths with racism, and all the other well-meaning not-racist people will start avoiding these myths so as to not be thought racist, and then the only people left still talking about zombie apocalypse myths will be the people who don't mind being associated with racism - hey presto, you've turned zombies into racism!

The way to shut the racists down is not to avoid anything they taint with their racist ideas - they are happy to taint everything with their racist ideas - but to marginalize them and deny them the power to define the terms of our culture.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Re: apocalyptic fiction and World War II - After London - 1885.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:46 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


miss patrish, based on that theory, I wonder if the AIDS pandemic may have played a part in the whole zombie fetishization. I've been working in the field for 23 years and great swaths of my generation of queers were wiped out. My dearest dead friend Jeff, rest his obnoxious soul, once called me a death junkie.

Puts things into perspective quite suddenly.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2013


I appreciate your reframing Mars Saxman and in essence I agree with you, however, I have decided to be a lot more specific about the reasons I do what I do because while everyone can have a good laugh at a "zombie apocalypse", earthquakes actually happen and they don't have warning systems like superstorms and hurricanes do. I fear that quite a lot of Los Angeles and the greater Southern California area is totally freaking unprepared and that is worrisome.

I mean, with some preparation and time (with all the gaffes) look what happened during Katrina and Sandy. Imagine a 7.7 earthquake hitting Los Angeles today. Most people have absolutely nothing in place and while I am personally happy to help my neighbors all I can, I hope at least some of them can contribute and/or make it on their own.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:54 PM on February 21, 2013


| I'm still hoping for Doomsday Prep School, because Armageddon needn't lack that je ne sais quoi

Your MRE fork is the one closest to the plate.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 1:12 PM on February 21, 2013


| So what is it about society that's bringing zombies to the forefront of the zeitgeist?

Correlating your nuclear threat/monster invasion to the current hot-button zombie menace, I would say peoples (unconscious?) fears of genetic mutation, chem and bio-warfare.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


there's nothing inherently racist about the zombie myth

Suspicions about slaves and Haitians and all that. Totally not racist.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think a big reason for the popularity of zombies is pretty simple: deep down, we'd like to be able to kill people. The guy at work who gets that big promotion instead of you, the guy who steals your girlfriend, the guy who cuts you off on the freeway, or just random strangers you don't like the look of -- consciously or unconsciously, our caveman brains know what we'd like to be able to do with those threats.

Oh, but wanting to kill people is wrong! It's bad, terrible, unacceptable behavior, even in the privacy of your own head. It's a thought crime.

But what if the other people weren't really people? Then it'd be okay, wouldn't it? Well, sure! Go to town!

It used to be easy to find people who weren't really people. Just pick someone who was a different color, a different nationality, a different religion. It was okay to want to kill them. But now even that's become unacceptable, too, gosh darn it, political correctness gone mad. What to do?

The only socially acceptable way left to dehumanize the enemy is through this imaginary process of zombification. If our streets were filled with the walking dead, you'd just have to kill them -- it's self-defense. And really, you'd be doing them a favor -- returning them to their natural state. Man, if only it were the zombie apocalypse, then you'd finally have a chance to grab your shotgun, go wading out into the madding crowd, and start killing indiscriminately. Wouldn't that be great?
posted by webmutant at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


webmutant eponisterically nails it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:22 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


People obsessed with the end of the world -- and I'm including the religious nutsos -- aren't afraid of the apocalypse. They're afraid the apocalypse won't happen. They just can't stand the idea of the human race having to go sustainable and deal with the consequences of our own actions. A lot easier to think the Mighty Hand of God and/or nuclear war will wipe the whole slate clean BUT (and this is the important part) allow themselves and their loved ones to survive.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Zombies and Nazis are the last video game villains left that we can machinegun by the busload without ever thinking about the ethics of the situation.
posted by klangklangston at 2:57 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, yeah, I've been thinking a lot about how benign futurism seems to only show up in indie flicks anymore.
posted by klangklangston at 2:58 PM on February 21, 2013


Suspicions about slaves and Haitians and all that. Totally not racist.

Eh, I think contemporary depictions of zombies don't borrow anything from voodoo zombies besides the name. The whole point of contemporary zombie stories is the idea of a mass of mindless enemies, and zombiness is passed like a plague virus. Voodoo zombies are a lot more Manchurian candidate --- one mindless person under the control of another, a condition deliberately created in an individual through an elaborate ceremony.
posted by Diablevert at 2:59 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been playing Lollipop Chainsaw, and there's a random line where she says something like "Zombies are like people, but its okay and fun to kill them!", which really gets to the heart of why they're so popular in games. Its pretty disturbing.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:10 PM on February 21, 2013



I've never really wondered what it's about so much as just assumed it was something that, by nature, human beings are inclined to think beginnings and endings are more interesting than the stuff in between.

Or, people see terrible things in their world, and think (in their shortsighted way) that this must really be The Worst Time To Be Alive, Ever. If things are this bad, it must be The End Times!


Nope, it's a way to give the world meaning. You're going to die, so you hope everybody will die too so you're not the only one. Thing is, EVERYBODY does this. Religious types sure, but in any environmental thread people will say we're at a tipping point and unless we cut the population or make drastic changes THE WORLD WILL END IN THE NEXT GENERATION. I used to have elaborate fantasies about ending it myself when I died, like Lex Luthor and the villain from Spawn did. It's just part of human death-fear.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think Afroblanco is on to something there: apocalypse fantasies are fun because they are freeing. Imagine the whole giant machine of civilization collapsed, all the complexity gone, life reduced to the essentials. No more jobs, no more bills, no more credit reports, no more giant corporations ripping us all off; just a few friends, a few family members, and the immediate task of survival free of long-term consequences. It's scary but it's easy to imagine it as a relief.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:00 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I have heard that some militia types refer to potential looters after an apocalyptic event (giant asteroid, nuclear bomb, epidemic, alien invasion) as zombies, but never heard that it was code for specific races.

I associate zombies with the rising concern from biological and chemical weapons. For a while, we had an anthrax scare in the states, and we were actually told to put duct tape around the doors and windows in case of poisonous gas, etc., and zombie interest seemed to really start to spike up after that.

That's pretty much why World War Z appealed to me. The novel did a great job of pointing out how a potentially deadly virus could spread so easily in modern times. My kids have an app for a game where the object is to try to infect the entire world with a virus or plague. They have determined that when or if we have a global infection, Greenland is the place to go, because when they play their game, it is always the last place to get infected. ;)

And then zombies appeal to the less rational among us, as well. It seems like the zombie mythos has become more popular with the rise of the anti-vaccination movement, and with all the talk about gun regulations, the militia types (who I guess we are now calling preppers?) also eat that stuff up. Both groups get to feel smug about their perceived preparedness when compared with the general population at large.
posted by misha at 6:03 PM on February 21, 2013


If there is a plague, you go to Madagascar. It is known.
posted by BeeDo at 7:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been a student of apocalypse fantasy ever since seeing Chuck Heston pound sand in the final scene of Planet of the Apes. Mostly, I enjoy how fragile societies fall apart and are (sometimes) rebuilt.

Zombies are just the latest in-fashion scenery for these stories.
posted by dacbeerpig at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There can be something oddly comforting in a depressing way about apocalyptic fantasies. Like the way I spent hours reading an alternate history where W.W.III happened in 1983. Completely apart from hoping it would happen, there's the mixture of relief that things could be worse, and the horror of thinking of how delicate the veneer of civilization might be.

It's an odd sort of comfort to think that in the bottom line it's every man for himself, and evidence from actual disasters seems to show that people act more altruistically in emergencies. But we like to fantasize that people are fundamentally bastards. Go fig.
posted by happyroach at 9:45 PM on February 21, 2013


I blame videogames for zombies. They're the ultimate Generic Enemy, and I realized that they're a boon to lazy programmers since the AI can just be 'move toward the player'. No need to program complicated strategies like you might need to for more intelligent enemies!
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:12 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Suspicions about slaves and Haitians and all that. Totally not racist.

People have been afraid of corpses rising from the dead for thousands of years, and that fear predates Haitian Vodou by millennia.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:38 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, people see terrible things in their world, and think (in their shortsighted way) that this must really be The Worst Time To Be Alive, Ever. If things are this bad, it must be The End Times!

Well, Methane Clathrates do come to mind from time to time. Hard to prep for that.
posted by y2karl at 1:11 AM on February 22, 2013


BeeDo: "If there is a plague, you go to Madagascar. It is known."

Yes, it is known.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:22 AM on February 22, 2013


Some of the theories put forward in this thread are problematic.

1. The moral theory. This is any theory that makes a moral judgement eg. racism. Inherit in these theories is an attempt to use zombies to morally attack other people. Such theories don't really hold up any more than saying HIV is God's scourge on homosexuals. Any theory that sees bad faith in people is probably wrong and says more about the person putting forth the theory than the actual phenomenon of zombies.

2. The "always been zombies" theory ie. zombies have been part of culture for thousands of years. This is true on a basic level, but it ignores the specific characteristics of the modern zombie phenomenon. Mainly that they come in masses; they are the majority and the non-zombie is in the minority; they are largely anonymous; they have no goals or purpose other than to walk around and infect the living. This is a fairly recent phenomenon and not typically found in the historical zombie, which were usually specific individuals who came back from the dead to haunt the living who knew the dead the person, and they haunt the living based on circumstances related to their death (revenge for a misdeed).

I do hope folks read the article in the FPP, it's probably the best Theory of Zombie we have, at least as a starting point for discussion.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I have heard that some militia types refer to potential looters after an apocalyptic event (giant asteroid, nuclear bomb, epidemic, alien invasion) as zombies, but never heard that it was code for specific races.

This is accurate. "Zombies" is not a racial code, but refers to people who did not prepare adequately for the disaster and, as such, are coming to take the things of those who did. Looters, rioters, infected people, etc. It has absolutely zip to do with race.

And I think that is actually part of the appeal of the zombie trope. The idea that there are mindless people, only out to devour whatever they can, with no concept of morality, cannot be unassociated from the idea that there are voters out there mindlessly watching American Idol and voting themselves bread at others' expense. They are not the same, but in the same way that dreams are reflections, not accurate representations of reality, zombies are a reflection of the mob.
posted by corb at 6:46 AM on February 27, 2013


Yeah, because libertarian fantasies about "makers and takers" has no racially coded language to it. But yes, part of the fantasy is feeling better than other people out there despite the fact that they're not the idiots wasting money on hoarding as entertainment.
posted by klangklangston at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don’t think the modern zombie is that much different from previous zombies except maybe the eating people, and maybe not even that depending on how some mythos are viewed. The difference is the setting, framing, or thematic elements per the context. There isn’t any one huge underlying theme to all zombie stories and depending on if we are speaking about a specific movie, show, or some nutjob who lives in the woods with huge caches of ammo talking about “zombies” with a wink and a nod, then we are probably all talking about different things. If anyone wants to speak about the racist and classist thematic elements in Night of the Living Dead, then I’m right there with you and then we could talk about the second films consumerist ideas and maybe even the third films ideas concerning militarism. Or we could talk about the specific use of them in different games. But if for some odd reason people have a mixed up idea that all zombie narratives inherently have racist themes because Vodou, or perhaps even more tenuously Vodun, then I would say they should probably spend more then five minutes on Wikipedia attempting to gain a façade of validation, and probably read a little more about burial ceremonies and religion predating some of the larger religions we have today.

If we are specifically talking about apocalyptic events, I’m not a Stanford researcher, but yeah I think anyone would be hard-pressed to point to a different event than the one where we finally figured out how to play with power that could literally destroy us all and therefore this has played into a lot of our stories these days. This has taken many different story forms since WWII, and there have been plenty of apocalyptic movies that have nothing to do with zombies. The basis for a lot of this is newer technologies or even something created that gets out of hand. Rogue A.I. and cyborgs have replaced the Frankenstein monster, but as far as Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Mummy are concerned there is a plurality in the presentation that wasn’t there before. Overall, our famous movie monsters are still around but in a much more nameless, but not that different, form.

Are zombies more popular than other monsters like vampires? I don’t necessarily think so even though they make easy cannon fodder for video games, but I don’t think that makes them more popular just more useful as prop.
How do zombies play into the apocalyptic mythos? In a very easy way that keeps a constant tension going throughout the story being told. I mean they screwed up I Am Legend five times already(?), so I guess we’ll just have to settle for Daybreakers being as close as we get to a vampire apocalyptic event, but it’s not like the genre is defined by zombies.

I wouldn’t say that no discussion could be had about specific ideas about zombies, of which some of the ones talked about above are very interesting, but those ideas should be viewed from an overall social perspective that feeds into that idea rather than something that is inherent about it. Much less an idea that is outright wrong in its premise.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2013


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