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.
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 Cannibals throughout human history have scared people, both those who wound up in the literal chop-pots (how many historical references or novels have we read describing the mounting horror of explorers entering the jungle, to find severed limbs decorating a village, the villagers’ teeth filed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.”
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?