The pop culture obsession with zombies

is not for me, not as writer, reader or watcher.  I have to admit that George Romero’s original 1968 black and white, extremely low budget Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.  I will also confess to having a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on my Kindle.  When I first heard that title, I thought the friend who told me about it was joking.  When I realized it was an actual book (and selling like hotcakes), I was horrified, although not by fear of zombies.  Then I remembered that the last time I actually tried to read Pride and Prejudice, I couldn’t get past the second page.  Possibly the zombies will liven it up.

I have not been at all interested in the zombie movies or TV shows of the past few years, and I’ve pretty much ignored the (ostensibly serious) discussions of the coming “zombie apocalypse.”  But this evening I watched a History Channel production called Zombies: A Living History, and found myself fascinated.  Not by the segments dealing with literal modern zombies, hordes of staggering actors with bloody faces, or the instructions on “how to fight a zombie.”  Those bits were pretty silly.  But the “zombie as metaphor” segments were well done and extremely interesting.

I have a decades-old degree in anthropology and archeology, and although I haven’t worked in that field in more than fifteen years, I’ve kept my interest in human behavior and culture.  Give me a show about burial rituals, cannibalism, and the cultural history of the living dead, and I’m glued to the couch.  Zombies digs deep into the past to find revenants in the British Isles, draugr in Scandinavia, and hungry ghosts in China.  The human fear of the dead returning to life stretches from ancient Egypt (maybe those elaborate tombs were meant to keep the dead where they belonged) to Stephen King’s Pet Semetary.  And zombies.

The modern version of hungry zombie hordes seems to have begun with Romero’s movie, but the idea really took off after 9/11 and the rising fear of terrorism.  When I was a girl, apocalypse meant nuclear war (although we were optimistically taught that hiding under our elementary school desks would protect us).  Today the Cold War is history, but so many other possible disasters hover just out of sight that an attack by zombies seems to represent almost any cataclysm from global warming to uncontrollable disease.

Mankind is remarkably adaptable and resilient.  The Black Plague of the Middle Ages nearly destroyed Western Civilization.  The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people, but civilization was unthreatened.  Over the past few decades we’ve seen diseases come and go, from Ebola virus to SARS and the bird flu, and because we do actually learn from the past, we’ve come through. 

Zombies: A Living History makes the case that having a zombie survival kit is a pretty good idea–because anything in that kit will be just as useful in case of any number of disasters that might actually happen:  hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, blizzards, tsunamis.  Humanity has gotten this far by being prepared.  If zombie tales encourage that while entertaining, so much the better.

Personally, I still think the whole zombie thing is pretty silly.  Give me a good alien invasion story any time.  Falling Skies, now there’s a show I can take seriously.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. apronheadlilly
    Oct 29, 2011 @ 23:08:35

    We in Canada did nuclear drills, too. I guess diving under a desk just gave you something to do. Weird!

    I hear there’s a vaccine for zombies, and soon there will be one for inordinate fear!

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  2. Cheryl Bolen
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 16:14:19

    Please tell me you did NOT buy P&P with Zombies! The very idea of the book is blasphemy.Jane Austen is a goddess.

    Forgot about the hiding under the desks. Too funny.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Oct 31, 2011 @ 16:20:39

      I promise I didn’t spend more than 99 cents on it–I was curious. I read all of Jane Austen in high school. I even remember the book covers, a set of paper backs with oval portraits of the heroines on a green floral background. They must have been printed in the early 60s and probably cost 95 cents apiece. Isn’t it funny what we remember? But really, when I tried to read P&P a few years ago, I couldn’t get into it at all.

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