Zombies: A Cultural Development
October 22, 2012
Do I really have to say more? This past Sunday marks the third season for AMC's awesome show the Walking Dead.
Now, you may be onboard with me in believing this to be the greatest show mankind has ever witnessed, or you may not be. But wherever you stand, this series is unlike any zombie story you’ve seen or heard of before. It gives a really compellingly accurate account (at least hypothetically) of what the world would be like if society fell to a plague, more specifically a plague of cannibalism…or the dead eating the living. I can’t decide if zombies eating people technically counts as cannibalism, because what makes cannibalism "cannibalism" is eating of one’s own species, and it sounds odd to say that zombies are humans. But that’s a philosophical question for another day.
Zombies have been around centuries in myths, and the first feature length zombie film is actually one derived from the voodoo tradition of zombies. White Zombie was made in 1932 and had a poor audience reception. No blood and gore? It’s not a zombie film, at least not by today’s standards. So where did the blood and gore come from? Why did that become an essential part of the definition for zombie as we know it today?
Well, there was the shift from these voodoo zombies, where zombies are those that are controlled by another person and can, if the spell is broken, be turned back to normal, to zombies that are mindless—forever dead, and always hungry for the living. The switch from voodoo to flesh eating, mindless, uncontrolled plague zombies happened somewhere in the 1960’s or just before then—as is clearly the case for the 1966 film The Plague of the Zombies.
So what caused this dramatic shift in our definition of zombie, of the horrible and grotesque? From being controlled shadows of an estranged religion to being mindless walking dead, the postmodern criticism of "consumer-ation" could very easily have been the influencing factor. If we look at the explosion of technological advancement, and especially consumer technology and its increasing availability to the public after World War II, many intellectualists—authors included such as Ray Bradbury—believed that this mass-production consumer culture would lead to the deintellectualization of the people.
Also, when we look at the plague zombies what do you see? An endless sea of dead faces—essentially the same faces. As "zombies." we have lost our individuality in our never-ending drive to continue gaining more material things, better things—empty things. No matter how much the zombie eats, the zombie will never feel satiated. That was the criticism at the time, and still today I think.
The shift in our notion of the zombie shows a culture that is aware that consumers are not merely controlled but mindless and forever wanting, and at the same time infecting others to be the same mindless, hungry creatures that just consume, consume, consume without a moment’s hesitation to consider the impact on society, the environment, or anything else. These are very cynical criticisms to take, but they are ones that I think are necessary to consider when reflecting on my own life. Do I ever feel like I’m "satiated" or like I’ve "got enough?"
Sometimes, I do feel like a zombie just buying things to buy them, buying them on impulse and without thought. But most of the time, I like to think that I’ve got a reason for the things I buy, like everyone else. I think the difference is that we are not driven by these impulse desires, only at times do we act on impulse.
So about that Walking Dead show? You should totally watch the next newest episode this Sunday. And in the meantime, if you’re looking for some good zombie films to watch, here is what I would recommend:
- Dawn of the Dead (Romero Version and Snyder Version)
- Day of the Dead
- Dead Snow
- Land of the Dead
- Resident Evil