I’ve written a few times over the last few years about zombies in pop-culture, and what they represent in terms of societal values, because I was, at one stage, almost obsessed with the fear I had for zombies.
I couldn’t deal with the insane depth of hopelessness I felt when I considered a world in which the dead are hell bent on devouring you, when they look like people but have no humanity within them, that you’re at risk of becoming like that, that you could inflict such pain because your diseased brain is desperately seeking satiation that will never come, you’re driven by base desire to kill and consume and destroy and that’s it, over and over until nothing, humanity is gone.
Zombies represented the bits I detest the most about human society. The scariest bits. The most unthinking bits. The most brutal bits. The lack of control, the unthinking majority charging forward in their selfish consumption of all in front of them. And I still believe this representation stands true.
However, these days, I am not scared. Not like I used to be, because I’ve lived with zombies for so long. I’ve gotten used to them. The terrifying flesh-eating zombies of my youth are now just a joke, just as the society they represent has become the norm. Almost everyone is a mindless, selfish consumer; we’re used to that world now.
Zombies have been fucking everywhere for years. We have seen an increasing number of those annual zombie-marches through many a city around the world, in a display of makeup artistry and youth excitement found in few other events. The amount of people attending these walks each year is ridiculously large.
One could almost view these zombie marches as a beginning of a sort of extremely-vanilla-western-version of Tahitian Karnivale. In Karnivale, people dress up like various characters in vodou mythology and lore, exaggerating their essence in the stories from which they were taken, dancing and interacting with everyone and everything, unabashed expression, an explosion of creativity borne from horrors seen in generations of oppression and struggle. Zombie walks are sort of like the youth of the western world reclaiming the horror from their childhoods, dressing it up with characters from other pop culture phenomena- Star Wars, or Toy Story, or The Adams Family- and charging through the streets moaning for brains, the long lines of shuffled feet slowly erasing the legitimate fear of a zombified humanity, because how can we fear something we’re accustomed to?
Gone are the days where there was new territory to be covered in zombie outbreak situations. The best part was watching the cultural specifics of each film or show- what environment was it set in, what kind of obstacles do the survivors have to contend with, what was their individual cultural or working background, etc. Most of it has been done. I’m sure those that haven’t- like Australia, for example- will be covered in the coming years. But it’s pretty much over.
And so, now, we live in something of a post-zombie culture. We have traditional zombies, sure, but we also have a slew of films and tv shows that explore further extensions of the zombie symbolism. There is no longer the terror of having our species wiped out by hungry corpses who have lost their humanity. We find the concept has evolved, from hopelessness in an un-winnable fight against the un-dead, where the different kind of survivor spirits are explored, into one where humanity at large has control over the whole uprising situation, and sensitive attention is given to the psychology of both the living and the dead as they learn to live together.
In post-zombie culture, the undead are now simply (or not so simply) outsiders. The others. The living have grieved, lives have moved on, but then, POP, years after they’re buried, the dead are back and they’re just hanging around like, UH, I don’t know what happened…? They’re dead, but they’re not gone. They are living ghosts, confronting us about our notions of grief, love and possession, societal acceptance, in ways that vampire films could never touch on, because vampires are still physically threatening. They have a sort of purpose for reawakening- it’s their blessing and curse disease thing. Post-zombie risen dead, there are no explanations, they’re just back and sometimes they can eat, and other times they can’t, and mostly they’re just there trying to fit back in to the world, and sometimes the living are all for it and sometimes the living want to get rid of them, and sometimes the living want to ignore them altogether. Whatup exploring xenophobia in contemporary society. Such thematic evolution. Wow.
I don’t know if I like this development or not. I enjoyed watching The Returned, but I wasn’t so hot on In the Flesh. Anyway, I want to see that Australian zombie film. Maybe it will come out soon, and we will all have the pleasure of watching a gruff Australian man call a zombie “mate” before he blows its head to pieces. Yeah mate. Drink that beer. And when you’re done, maybe you can start exploring the inherent racism in your country. Fingers crossed that’s on the cards once they get all the gore out of their systems.