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The new wave of the last few years of reviving the zombie genre in film, literature and computer games made me think. "World War Z" - a movie about the aftermath of a worldwide zombie outbreak, "Left 4 Dead" - a multiplayer game featuring players escaping an onslaught, "28 Weeks Later" - a virus that renders people aggressive... Plenty to stir peoples' imagination, pervading the public consciousness. Also present in casual gaming ("Plants vs. Zombies"), parodies/satires like "Shaun of the Dead" or "Fido" have appeared - usually something that marks the passing of a theme or topic into the mainstream.

I started to wonder why this is so.

On the one hand, there's a tendency in people to look for thrills. This can be as strong as people deliberately seeking out adrenaline-inducing games like the "Silent Hill" series, where all game play revolves around keeping the tension up - if something happens, if nothing happens, the players are to be kept on their toes. Sound plays an important role here to induce that unspecific horror over and over.

Thrills can be addictive, potentially replacing other impulses. When I was a teenager some played multiplayer games set in alien vs. marines scenarios. The players that chose the marines were rivetted to their screens and tense, every room to enter was a thrill and could easily lead to being jumped at and to die the screen death. Still, people chose to do this and spend their time experiencing this, and long since similar games that target people who want to be shocked or thrilled have exploded on the scene.

The zombie-like undead have a fair foothold there. But one must wonder why thrill-seekers nowadays are given so many zombie offerings of all things to be scared of. Zombies used to be slow, lurching, but relentless and contagious.

If somebody here on the forums dreamed about zombies I might think about actual discarnates and fears involved with meeting them overlaying the experience, but in the wider public I would exclude this. There aren't, in a sense, more discarnates around, nor does our society seem to move to a different stance on death at large. So I wouldn't expect a change in the mass consciousness from that direction. (As opposed for example to the NDE, awareness of which has spread fairly well.)

So, I'd rather look in the direction of fear instead. The hallmark of the zombie is that it is neither dead nor alive. It doesn't seem to have free will. It's driven by instincts and cravings only. It has essentially lost all that we consider human in terms of higher qualities, and all that remains are tendencies going on.

In this sense a zombie represents a human devoid of life purpose and life force. The lack of life force is apparent - it's the very meaning of being undead. There's no enjoyment or real sense of being alive, it is only going on and on. You can hardly imagine a zombie having a good time (that's why "Fido" is funny as it plays with this) nor pursueing any sensible goals.

"Shaun of the Dead" plays on this as well - the zombified Nick Frost doesn't change much as zombie, he already was addicted to gaming and had no purpose, so all he needs is to be fed and being supplied with a gaming console. How many people actually wile away their lives without ambition or motivation to do much anything like this?

Purposelessness and thrill-seeking also go hand in hand. If you have no idea what you're here for then you can become prone to follow any impulse to put you in touch with something that makes you feel alive, even if only through fear and thrill. The lack of genuine impulses as present in a more balanced and purposeful lifestyle is compensated for by an ever-increasing flood of distractions.

In this sense, there are many people already on their way to become some kind of zombie, regressing into cravings and desires that bring no lasting satisfaction, and their life force draining away from them as they don't put it to any better use than this.

In this sense the "zombie wave" becomes a powerful reminder where many are heading - away from our human potentials into a mere shadow existence that just drags on.

Similarly much of our time at work or many aspects of society may seem as if they only drain our life force as markets dictate our lifestyles. And of course also the vampiric bloodsuckers never went out of style in fiction, either. Plenty of symbolism for an age that is in some regards is still becoming less human, with seemingly unstoppable forces ("the invisible hand of the market", anyone?), corporate entities (which enjoy no life but possess "personhood") and lack of utopian ideas (limiting scope and motivation for change).

From a certain viewpoint this is a bleak age where many expect things to change for the worse. But nobody has to be a zombie, and maybe it takes the stark contrast of things reaching their painful conclusion to convince some of us to move beyond the zombie treadmill by giving up some of the bonds that bind us to it, like the addictive thrills of fear and consumerism.

There are certainly alternatives, another life is possible. Some of us live it, some aspire to. As the mass consciousness drifts through nightmares of zombies, now is a good time to be alive and awake, as good as any.

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Updated 3rd May 2012 at 07:47 PM by Korpo

Tags: zombie


  1. CFTraveler's Avatar
    Those are some interesting insights, Oliver. You may like the political explanation to trends in horror in the US, here: http://www.cracked.com/article_19402...n-america.html
    but even though it's Country-specific, I think the trends between conservatism vs liberalism as expressed in this genre applies.
    Enjoy the article, if you haven't read it yet.
  2. Korpo's Avatar
    As often, cracked.com relays some interesting information in the guise of making fun. I enjoyed it.
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