Zombie Among Us

Zombies are “in” right now, whether it’s watching the antics of a suburban housewife who awakens one morning after enormous amounts of vomiting to discover she has a taste for human flesh, or a white-haired, pale morgue assistant who eats brains to solve people’s murders (taking on the traits of her dinner’s behavior and personality along the way), or the antics of a group of humans trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, or, yes, the Bennet sisters strapping on weapons and taking out their zombie neighbors.

The vampire thing, I got; there’s at least a latent sex appeal in an (often) handsome stranger emerging from darkness to trade bodily fluids with you, but what’s so sexy about zombies? Nothing, really. They groan, shuffle, eat human flesh, and their bits fall off one toe at a time. Some of them want a cure, others don’t. Some are still fully conscious, others are just emotionless, grasping, moaning, shuffling meat-eating machines.

So, what gives with the zombie craze? There’s enough zombie menu items to partake of for even the most devoted fan, if you want to spend your entertainment hours visually chowing down on a feast of gory angst.

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So, let’s haul out the metaphors. Zombies eat other people. There’s some dickering on why, what caused it, what it does to them, and how long it can sustain them, but that’s the bottom online: they’re cannibals. Cannibals throughout human history have scared people, both those who wound up in the literal chop-pots (how many historical references or novels have we read describing the mounting horror of explorers entering the jungle, to find severed limbs decorating a village, the villagers’ teeth filed to sharp points, and giant cages suspended over cooking pots? … but that’s racist now, so we use zombies!), and the mere idea of it.

Humans have traded around morals a lot, with whatever society deems acceptable; often, the values of the individual is determined by what society has decided is right or wrong (slavery was “okay” a couple hundred years, or even two centuries, ago, but it’s not okay now!)… and yet, there seems to be a mutual disgust toward eating other people, across the centuries, perhaps because deep down, humans value each other as unique, intelligent (well, some of us?) beings, above the animals. Still, the idea of being eaten alive scares us, whether it’s our newly dead Uncle Pete or a great white shark angry about us invading his hunting ground (dude, I just want to surf!).

Perhaps what society isn’t afraid of is literal flesh-eating zombies, but the actual flesh and blood zombies that walk among us daily, or that we can become, with very little effort: the human beings who are so toxic, so self-centered, so ravenous as to consume others’ lives without remorse. The people who dominate us, take us over, treat us as cattle, or eat us to the bone with their ideas, policies, control issues, or power. History is full of such people: dictators, tyrants, evil employers, slave ship owners, anyone who has ever set out to “eat someone alive.”

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If we want to be less personal, you can shift the zombie into the metaphorical realm, away from human contact into abstract thinking: a zombie can be anything that devours our life, that leaves us feeling not-whole and unsatisfied, a ravenous element of our nature or society that is never full enough to stop. An addiction. An obsession. A sin that devours us one painful bite at a time. Is it eating us, or are we eating ourselves, because we want the virus? If porn consumes Daddy, and then seeps over into the marriage, destroying it, which then causes the children to endure a painful divorce, or confront sexual addition in the person they love, who they expected to protect them from the evils of the outside world, isn’t that a zombie ravaging a family? If someone struggles so much with perfectionism, that they develop self-loathing, and nothing they do is ever good enough, to the extent they can neither forgive themselves nor receive the love of God’s grace, isn’t that a zombie consuming them one bite at a time?

The industries and individuals that consume resources, without thought to what impact it will have on God’s creation, or that future generations may suffer as a result, aren’t they rather zombie-like in their devotion to feeding their own hunger at a greater cost?

It’s easy to look back now at past crazes, and identify them as metaphors for former society’s failures, fears, and struggles; to glance at the root of Vampirism and the Gothic Novel, and talk about how Bram Stoker was exploring themes of feminism, abortion, male domination, and seediness in the Victorian era through Dracula. What might future generations think of our current obsession with zombies, and what it reveals about our deeper needs, anxieties, fears, and spiritual desires? Is there a zombie in your life?

7 Replies to “Zombie Among Us”

  1. Great post!

    It seems that zombies have definitely been a thing throughout this entire decade (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published in 2009, and the Walking Dead premiered in 2010).

    There’s some pretty obvious parallels people draw, that many fear becoming part of a mindless horde. The mindless horde can be any massive group, of consumers, of political followers. These are good points, but–I think there’s more to it than that.

    With nearly every version of the zombie tale, there’s no benefits–unlike the vampire’s earthly immortality–no chance at a cure–in many cases–just a constant struggle to halt the inevitable decay.

    Or is that what we really fear? Do zombies represent our gradual decline, as we slide down a slope reaching death…with nothing better beyond? Werewolves are said by some to represent our “primal side”, rage and other unbridled impulses. Vampires, an attempt to “defy” death, or a predator who is deceptively attractive. Ghosts–our fears and our “unfinished business”. But zombies–they actually seem to combine the worst of all of the above, they have no impulse control, they take and take, and they have been stopped short right in the middle of a life they will never finish, as they shamble forward, sometimes still wearing their old business uniform.

    Maybe what makes zombies so terrifying, is that they are the most realistic things in the modern pantheon of monsters. Think about it, there’s nothing that will make us sprout fangs, transform into a beast, or walk effortlessly through walls. But the changes in the zombie, the dull eyes, colorless skin…are all changes each person KNOWS will one day happen, at least to our earthly body. (barring cremation etc;) Of all the monsters, zombies are not only perhaps the most realistic, but the most closely tied to this earth. Most zombie stories take place in the here and now (or “20 minutes into the future”), and in every day environments, like your local mall. Ghosts and vampires suggest a connection between past and present, werewolves, an escape to the freedom of the wild. But zombies offer nothing greater than the “sum of their parts”. Parts that will inevitably decay, with no hope of anything better. So then, in the Christian context, the zombie is us, if we were nothing more than our bodies, without a glimpse of heaven.

    1. If you think about it, those who live a passionless life, full of the same thing (getting up, going to work, hating their job, dragging themselves home, going to bed, and repeating the process) are already living in a zombie-like state, absorbed in a life that offers them no satisfaction, joy, or delight, trapped in an existence that really does dull their eyes and shut down their mind, stagnating beneath the overwhelming weight of loathing the life they’re in, but utterly incapable of surfacing enough from depression to change it.

      I’d venture to say many lie among the mindless horde, but that might be seen as rude. 😉

      Zombies really are… lacking in any kind of hope, story-wise; there’s usually no cure, as you point out, they always outnumber the living, and there’s no spiritual weight or nuance to them, no connection to the past, just a mindless, brain-eating existence devoid of happiness, forced to live out a guttural, mundane, shabby unlife.

      Also, I’m going to be cremated. Thank you for making up my mind. 😉

  2. I wonder:

    Are we more afraid of BEING EATEN BY zombies, or BECOMING zombies ourselves?

    Are we more afraid of those who might devour us–or of the prospect that we, too, might turn into flesh-devourers in our own right?

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