I am unashamedly addicted to The Walking Dead and do love a good zombie flick. The shuffling and, I presume smelly, bitten are not restricted to film and television. Every year, our cities are overrun by the faux dead on zombie walks. In tourist attractions designed to scare the bejesus out of you, they hiss and shuffle, following you… slowly… in complete and utter darkness. The lure of the genre got me thinking about the contagion that is zombie fandom (pardon the pun). Does our affair with zombies say something about our world?
The sociological imagination has delved into the psycho-socio-political, post-war meanings of cultural phenomena such as Godzilla and superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman but have we explored the world of zombies? The Walking Dead aroused my curiosity about zombies and what they say about society – if indeed they represent anything deeper than a good adrenalin rush. I have my own ideas and wondered how these might stack up against serious, academic investigation. One article used a zombie invasion to explore infectious disease modelling. According to the authors’ calculations, unless we find a cure humans will not survive the apocalypse. Zombies will win.
Issues such as illegal aliens and the state, and educational inequality and social class have been compared to zombieism. Beck poses interesting arguments about zombie or living dead categories in society like risk, manufactured uncertainties and individualisation. Other authors talk about how zombies do reflect social anxieties and how zombies are depicted changes as society changes. I do think today’s politics – an increasing aversion to risk, the manufacturing of fear, racism and xenophobia, growing inequality and the trend towards individual responsibility (to the exclusion of all else) are strongly reflected in zombie worlds where the enemy is clear, you must kill or be killed in an out of control world – in other words look after yourself and your own. Then of course we have the parallels to climate change and the reality of new and deadly viruses over which we seem helpless. Perhaps the zombie can shine a light on what we need to avoid – the dehumanisation of others and the destruction of our environment.
I suppose at the end of the day it is important to remember that the rise of the zombie is fictional – although sometimes I am not too sure when I listen to debates on certain issues such as gun control, asylum seekers, racism and bigotry, welfare, nationalism, and beliefs that science should be subjected to a popularity vote. One day I might turn some serious attention to zombies – fascinating isn’t it.