Where Have All These Bleedin' Zombies Come From?

Of all the supernatural beasts that lurk in the dark corners of the human imagination the Zombie is by far the least appealing. Vampire’s have that unexplainable sexual magnetism that draws victims to them. The recent incarnations in True Blood and Twilight have given the vampire myth a slightly new slant but has adhered faithful to all that’s come before it. The werewolf, though far from sexy, unless you’re an avid fan of excessive hair (รก la Richard Keys) , is a more palatable existence than a rotting version of yourself. So one question is left, where the hell have all these bleedin’ zombies come from?
You simply can not get away from the slow paced groaners with the gnarling smile ready to make lunch meat out of you. Recent incarnations have included fast zombies, smart zombies, loyal zombies, immortal zombies and vegetarian zombies so what’s been happening to have brought about the ‘third wave’ infestation of the decaying predators?



George A. Romero delivered the zombie to the masses in 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead. Though they had been present in cinema from some three decades before the Romero classic, it was his loose adaptation of I am Legend that put the stunted walk and monotone groan into the psyche of the public. The cultural and politcal events leading up to this are significant in that they can shed some light on the emergence and continuing re-emergence of the zombie in American (and even world) cinema. At the time America was stretched thin, fighting conflicts across the globe. In Vietnam, on their own doorstep with Cuba and even in their own living rooms as the nation watched, a decade earlier, United States Senator Joseph McCarthy wage his “crusade” against communism. Like during the second world war and the increase in attendance at the cinema America once again turned to the silver screen looking for an escape from the harsh reality of the duck and cover lifestyle that had been hardwired into both them and their children. The zombie is the perfect outlet for the day to day stresses, when you look at it closely the zombie (or at least the American cinema zombie rather than the voodoo created White Zombie) is a thinly veiled political message reinforcing the importance of the capitalist ideal and the responsibility of the individual. The individual that American prides itself on being the cornerstone of what makes an American an American.

In a society tired of conflict, even one that is being told that their enemy is waging “total war” against them, an outlet for stresses is essential and allows the public to regroup having vented their fear, anxiety, stress at an enemy that is safely contained on the silver screen. As Max Brooks points out “the idea of total war is a myth” – no nation can wage total war, there are always conscientious objecters, children and even those committed to the war effort have to eat, sleep, use the bathroom. It’s hard to sell eating a chicken drumstick as a drumstick for victory. The zombie is the embodiment of total war, everything they do is towards a single goal…to eat you!



The most interesting aspect of this idea is the depiction of the zombie on screen, the zombie usually travels in packs and can not be seen as an individual (at least in classical rendering of the creature on film) rather one of a group, an organisation with a single goal, one bent on destruction of society as we know it. That definition of the zombie is a perfect fit for the 1950’s American understanding of communism and communists, in effect the communist has been substituted on screen for the zombie in order to deliver a message to the American cinema public. What was the American media portrayal of the Viet Cong other than an dangerous organisation that will settle for nothing less than waging ‘total war’ against the ideology held so dear to every American?

With the McCarthy trials over a decade old and a distant memory for most and the Vietnam conflict finally coming to an end in 1975 the final shot through the head of the zombie was dealt and society was safe once again.

The 1980’s saw a financial crash, the rampant explosion of aids and the height of the cold war, how else could you justify a nation spending billions of tax dollars on a missile defence system laughably called Star Wars that was simply never going to work? Suddenly the dead are back and walking our streets once again feasting on man, woman and child. Society was under attack from an enemy that cared not about your social status, your race, colour or creed…sound familiar? The development of home recording technology gave the world of film making to the masses seriously increased the rate of output for the Zombie genre and even gave birth to a dirtier, grittier sub genre in the video nasty. With the end of the cold war, sexual health education in the western world and the recovery of national economies the writing was truly on the wall and once again the plague of the undead subsided leaving us to count the dead and rebuild.

Today we see the most profilic output of the Zombie in all mediums and have seen so many variations on the mythology of the Zombie, even to the point were the virus could be spread through speech rather than the traditionally tried and tested explanation of exposure through the exchange of fluids and once again social is at the brink. It can’t be seen as a coincidence that the Zombie has dragged its way back on to the silver screen since 9/11 and the U.S and allied invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to defer an enemy prepared to wage the myth of total war on the society built on the importance of the individual. Even the spread of plague through speech (as in Pontypool) is comparable with the Bush administrations creation of the Patriot act which can essentially suspend the civil liberties of an individual with minimum amount of evidence or the Anti-Terrorism act brought into the UK by former PM Tony Blair which has seen hundreds arrested under anti-terrorism laws for simply speaking up against their nation's foreign policy. Now American network AMC have gone into production of the second season of The Walking Dead, which has gave the Zombie it’s own prime time television show, a serious sign of how endless war and another economic collapse has brought the global society to the blink of destruction and hysteria .


Unlike the Vampire, which is born out of our desire for immortality, the Werewolf – a sign of the inner strength we all desire, the Zombie is not born out of a desire we hold deep within ourselves. Rather it is an substitute for the truth during times of great stress and conflict, a faceless enemy that operates as one with no regard for anything that we as a culture hold dear. Now the only question is how long will the limp legged brain eater grace our cinema and television screens? With the middle eastern conflict showing absolutely no signs of ending, the world economy hanging on my a tattered shoe string and countless environmental disasters over the past decade one could understandibly argue that the Zombie threat is here to stay.

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