Feb 25

i walked with a zombie

Why do zombies capture our imagination so vividly and pervasively? The very idea of corpse reanimation is not new, but in recent decades it has reached beyond the cheap thrills of pulp fiction and become something more substantial, more allegorical. I suppose the allegory was always there, hidden among the terrible groans and tattered flesh, but zombies are beginning to invade genres known for their high-brow value and perceptive social commentary. So there’s something more to it.

Why, then, do zombies capture our imagination? I believe there are five underlying reasons.

  1. It could be us. Not only us, but our friends, family, and loved ones. We’ll likely be faced with some dreadful situations during an outbreak: euthanizing an infected spouse; being attacked by a reanimated friend; beheading a reanimated family member. Dreadful situations, yes, but they seem to pique our interest and imagination, prompting some deep “what would I do?” introspections. It is this opportunity for soul searching, hypothetical as it may be, that many find intriguing.
  2. Zombies represent the ultimate desecration of a human corpse. I can’t imagine a more contemptuous, more heinous way to defile someone’s body than to co-opt it in its most helpless state to kill and eat other people. Taboos like murder, rape, and incest frequent our nightmares and inspire horrific but meaningful stories about the dark fringes of the human condition. This is also the case for hypothetical taboos, like zombies and other monsters, that are conceivable only in our most perverse imaginations.
  3. A zombie outbreak is a worst-case scenario for a communicable disease. If the recent global panics surrounding SARS and avian flu are any indication, imagine how we would react to a global outbreak of reanimated dead with a fast-acting, bite-delivered contagion and an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Could the world pull together to contain the outbreak quickly and efficiently? Or would geopolitical realities and transportation, communication, and medical limitations exacerbate the problem?
  4. Speculating on the mechanisms behind zombification is intellectually stimulating. How do dead bodies reanimate? Is it biological or supernatural? Are they single-minded automatons or do they show limited self-awareness? How acute are their sensory perceptions? What about their metabolism, their drive, their life-expectancy? These are more than idle questions because answering them makes zombies more plausible, and all the more chilling.
  5. A zombie outbreak conjures some interesting survival contingencies. One of the most common discussions surrounding zombies is how to best survive an attack. Is it safer to be in a city with many people, or in the wilderness with a few? Is a shotgun or a sword a better weapon against a zombie horde? Such hypothetical planning and problem solving for extreme circumstances is strangely compelling and engenders some heated debates.

So what’s the allegory? Zombies embody our worst fears and arouse our darkest imaginations. They make us ponder our mortality and second guess our survival instincts. The worst-case scenario is indeed dire: the eradication of the human race, replaced by thoughtless, psychopathic, and blood-thirsty shadows of ourselves. We fear death, but we also fear what we may become.

3 Responses to “Why Zombies?”

  1. [...] at Zombie Slash, we’ve already explored the psychological underpinnings of our fascination with the undead, and wonder what a Harvard professor of psychiatry has to say about it. Going one step further, [...]

  2. Yung Larocque says:

    Hi Scott and congrats.Exciting to here that SS is about to improve the somewhat uneven review process!And this will no doubt be done withou sacrifizing the quality of the stock.

  3. reichtum says:

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