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What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature

It's all about the brains.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

May 9, 2013 - 7:00 am
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Last week’s article: Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness”

Zombies are all the rage these days. AMC’s The Walking Dead reigns as the top-watched drama on basic cable. Films like Warm Bodies, Zombieland, and I Am Legend stand out among recent entries in an enduring horror subgenre. None other than Brad Pitt will headline this year’s World War Z, which looks to amp up its action well beyond the shuffling flesh-eaters of yesteryear.

That’s to say nothing of video games, where the undead continue to suck cash from willing gamers anxious to live out an apocalyptic fantasy. Whether its Resident Evil, Left 4 Dead, or downloadable add-ons to Call of Duty, zombie hoards batter down the doors of our collective consciousness. What exactly makes them so popular?

Like the Nazis we considered last week, zombies provide guilt-free slaughter. No one feels bad about shooting something that’s already dead. Plus, because zombies were once living human beings, they provide a cathartic release for that deeply suppressed homicidal impulse none of us wants to admit to harboring.

Zombies are amoral. They have no agenda, no emotional motivation, no plan. They simply menace. So putting them down presents no moral dilemma. What would be murder were they living becomes a wholly defensible act of survival. The very nature of a zombie marks it for destruction. Since it has no feelings and endures no torment, the acceptable methods for disposing of a zombie are bound only by the imagination of the killer. So zombies enable creative guilt-free violence on a scale limited only by their numbers.

Zombies also serve an adaptive narrative purpose in storytelling. While they more often than not simply lurk around the corner as boogeymen, the nature of a zombie can be tweaked to represent certain themes. In George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, the film which birthed the modern undead flesh-eater, zombies were implied to be the fulfillment of biblical revelation. Writing for the Washington Post, commentator Christopher Moreman expounds:

The zombie apocalypse is often equated with the wrath of God and biblical end times. Though the origins of zombie outbreaks usually remain indeterminate in the genre, most zombie narratives indicate that we brought this upon ourselves. Whether corporations, the government, or the military are to blame, the average person also bears fault for participating in a corrupt system, just as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were collectively responsible for God’s wrath.

Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead took the theme a step further, assigning a decisively anti-capitalist overtone to the narrative. The undead converged upon a shopping mall, retracing the routines of their former lives.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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I've read the novel "World War Z" but not sure I will bother with the movie, at least not until it comes out on DVD. From what I've seen in the ads, they seem to have gone the typical CGI freakish action route rather than follow the book too closely, but then it is hard to tell from the promos.

I won't say too much but here is one spoiler for the novel:

In the US, government becomes highly dictatorial and regimented. Suffice it to say, they use infantry to fight the zombies, but tanks and bombers against survivors and their bases who don't like the new form of government, which is basically Communism with total control by government.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Zombie movies can also be seen as allegory for natural disaster or socialism.

From the natural disaster standpoint, zombies are what arise when people who didn't prepare begin running out of supplies and start attacking those who have them. Those they steal from (and don't kill) end joining the horde attacking others who still have things.

By the same token, zombies represent the horde of those on the dole or otherwise dependent on government. As such, they feed on the productive class which pays the taxes. Over time the zombies grow in number and appetite until the producers are outnumbered and fighting for their lives.

Looked at this way the movies make sense. The living survivors try to go on living, gathering things, being creative, and maintaining a society while the zombies want to feed on them.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it goes way beyond "escapism or making a complex world simple" because our morden culture does NOT allow men to be men. IMO thats why you have so many nuts out there going on a rampage and killing innocents, not because video games "gave them the idea" but because morden man has NO RELEASE for his animalistic behavior that is bred into every human male, usually refered to as "instincts". If you are violent IN ANY WAY or even show or think violent tendicies nowadays, you are considered sick, evil, or both and need to be HEAVILY medicatied with drugs that will mess you up for the rest of your life, or put in jail or a mental home.....or all of the above!

Not one person from the high-n-mighty snooty club who po-poo's at the thought of relieveing that stress of NOT releasing your ANGER at.....something is the reason why this activity has become so popular.

Want to punch your boss in the face for being a jerk? you cant anymore. want to kill the person who picks a fight with you and knocks out a tooth? you cant anymore. want to go all "prehstoric" on the person who killed your child? you cant anymore. Our advanced society fobids ANY kind violence in ANY kind of "eye-for an eye" type senario, yet NOBODY has addressed the problems of surpressing those NATURAL instincts of FIGHTING that every person has within them.

Take away this last release of violent behavior that HURTS NOBODY OR NOTHING and watch what happens to all the sheeple out there that have been emasculated by queens like obamma!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
"eatable food and potable water"

What?!? You know the word 'potable', but not the word 'edible'? D'Oh!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not to mention "hoards of zombies" (what, someone is collecting them?) as opposed to "hordes of zombies." I don't like sounding like a nitpicker, but seriously, PJ Media, you're a media organization - copyedit!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Humanity has already lived through the apocalyptic times when starvation, disease, and sudden death by violence were routine. We romanticize things like the zombie apocalypse because we can fantasize that it eventually would lead to an idyllic pastoral life, but humans are smart enough to know we don't really want to go back to that mythical past. It's just escapism, and I'm as guilty as anyone for enjoying it.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have always been a fan of apocalyptic literature, probably because I grew up during the "duck and cover" years. I think that it was something of an escape from my anxiety, as the secret of this genre is that it concerns those who survive. I could put aside my fear that I would be vaporized in the first nuclear exchange and instead channel my thoughts into what I would do to survive.

Once the Soviet menace diminished, I believe zombies rose up (as it were) to fill the gap. "Zombieland" and "The Walking Dead" took the place of "Dr. Strangelove" and "On The Beach." Now, of course, the danger is both closer and more intimate, but also more manageable. I couldn't shoot an incoming ICBM with Daddy's .30-30, so zombies give a greater sense of control, even in an apocalyptic environment.

Now, having lived through 9/11 in New York and a string of hurricanes in Florida, I still enjoy apocalyptic stories. They are really just stories of human nature and the will to survive taken to the ultimate extreme. Each of us can look at them and decide what we would do in the situation. Then we can thank a merciful God that, no matter what comes next, it won't be THAT bad.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting idea. I think Global Warming also fills the gap for some people.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting analysis! I never consider the "zombie apocalypse" fantasy as a form of escapism. Makes sense, though.

Maybe that's what all apocalypticism is about - a desire for the huge, complicated, trouble-bound world to be wiped away and replaced by something simpler and easier to deal with. And easier to understand. It's easy to understand brain-eating zombies. Modern politics, culture, economics - not so much.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
More black-and-white, as you suggest, but also in (most of) the zombie genre, the "average" humans are the more powerful than zombies. Compared to other movie monsters (vampires, werewolves, etc.) zombies are dumber, slower (most of the time) and killing them is easy. To a zombie, you're the superpowerful killing machine. Kind of helps the appeal.

Plus, zombies are a good stand in for "the other" in politics - the mindless, slogan shouting wave we (as the intelligent ones) must conquer, even if loved ones become "like them". Zombies are stand-ins for consumer culture, communism, fascism, whatever you want. It's the fear that the world is turning against us and the survivors must fight back that pervades popular politics these days (e.g. the Progressive warriors must fight back against the Fox-News watching, Rush-slogan shouting zombies!).
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
We should just replace the word "capitalism" with the word "freedom".

Making money is not inherently good. In fact, if that's your goal in life it is a rather bad one.

OTOH, providing goods and services for others -- or creating better new goods and services -- is an exceptionally good goal in life and should be encouraged.

And of course those who do these things should be greatly rewarded and esteemed.

It should be taught and accepted by all that one cannot fulfill this dream of helping others in a controlled economy.

49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment

Making money is not inherently good. In fact, if that's your goal in life it is a rather bad one.
Nonsense.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Making money is not inherently good. In fact, if that's your goal in life it is a rather bad one. "

Why?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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