Why have we become so obsessed with Zombies and the Walking Dead

Published On August 15, 2015 » 1577 Views» By Darren Dimmick » Headlines, News, TV
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With the premiere of Fear the Walking Dead right around the corner, the much-anticipated spinoff to critically acclaimed The Walking Dead, it’s the perfect time to look more deeply into the zombie craze that has been dominating pop culture lately. Though they have been a major part of entertainment since the 1930s and 40s with classics such as White Zombie, Revenge of the Zombies, and I Walked with a Zombie, they have proven to be a highly malleable monster that has changed significantly over time.

 

The “zombie” concept stems from Haitian Voodoo culture. Originally, the zombie was less about reanimated, flesh-eating corpses and more about sorcerers, or Voodoo priests, called Bokor that would mix a potion which could turn a person into a mindless, slow-moving slave. Early zombie media drew largely from these myths, making the leap from Haitian religion to American entertainment with Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie, in which a spiteful man turns to Murder Legendre and his voodoo magic in hopes of luring the woman he loves away from her fiance and into his slave. Of course, most modern iterations of the zombie are related to pathogens instead of magic – rarely is there a mastermind controlling them these days, rather there is no controlling force whatsoever guiding the zombie hordes, making them more terrifying than ever before.

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We can thank George Romero for popularizing that idea. His 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead gives us no Legendre controlling the zombies that can be attacked, but a seemingly endless posse of mindless, ravenous creatures. There is no real explanation for the outbreak, just a very real need to survive. Romero did two major things with this film: took away a measure of hope and humanized the zombies. No longer were they foreigners or outsiders, they were your friends,  neighbors, and coworkers that have suddenly decided to turn on you. These familiar, unrelentless creatures became the model for all future zombies.

Of course, Romero wasn’t just making a horror picture. He created a social commentary to the 1960s, a decade that promised a new world that Romero was not seeing. Instead he saw the forces of a mindless social structure bearing down on those who dared to be different, so he made a film where most of society tries to convert a person of color and a team of misfits into part of an unthinking herd.

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Similarly, 28 Days Later played on our fear of a global pandemic and biological weapons following the 9/11 attacks. These new “Infected” were made that way by something that they couldn’t see coming and could easily wipe out whole populations within a month. World War Z, both the book and film, does an excellent job of showing us the dangers of pride and division in the face of a threat. The remake of Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead asks us to examine our conspicuous consumerism, and even The Walking Dead presents the ever relevant debate: is survival worth it if we lose our humanity in the process?

 

That is the brilliance of the zombie: with no motivations, we can project anything we want onto the undead. As long as the fear is widespread and seemingly insurmountable, zombies work as a metaphorical stand-in for it. Zombie culture continues to thrive because every zombie walker and undead enthusiast can find something different in the shambling corpses to relate to.

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These days, zombies have invaded not just the horror genre, but also comedy and romance. Zombieland takes a comedic perspective on the zombie apocalypse, with the qualities of the zombies being laughable as well as all the situations the characters get themselves into. And in Warm Bodies, we see a zombie love story unfold between a human teen and an undead, resulting in the undead boy slowly regaining his humanity. Zombies are one of the most versatile storylines available in entertainment – not only can they easily transfer between genres, but the timeline for zombie flicks to take place is expansive.

In contrast to The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, premiering on AMC Sunday August 23rd, will be taking place at the onset of the zombie apocalypse. We are going to see the panic, fear, and confusion take place in a huge population en masse rather than catch on months into the aftermath. These shows and movies change to reflect who we are as a society and the growing fears of the time. As a blank slate open for us to project our fears and commentaries on, they are a way to highlight tough topics that we don’t otherwise know how to even approach. With yet another new perspective of the zombie apocalypse coming to light, it’s clear this rise in zombie culture is not slowing anytime soon.

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By Maria Ramos

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