Whether you are tired of seeing them everywhere or you are prepping for a zombie pub crawl, you can’t deny that – as a culture – we love zombies. With shows like The Walking Dead raking in major ratings and new shows like A&E’s The Returned ready to vie for our attention, zombies are no longer a part of fringe culture. They are fully entrenched in pop culture and even getting the romantic treatment in movies like Warm Bodies.
But why do we love them? They don’t have the cool mystique of vampires and, due to their rotting nature, probably never could (in theory). What is it about the undead that we find so attractive?
1. Zombies Let Us Defy Death
Zombies might be pretty grotesque, but they are virtually immortal. In fact, in certain zombie mythologies zombies can survive be-headings. There’s something cathartic about that. Much like the concept of cryogenics, the living dead might be crude and inhuman at the moment, but there’s hope that one day the zombie virus can be cured and the dead will live again. With their humanity, and perhaps new bodies, intact.
2. Zombies Remind Us To Live While We Can
The message of tales like The Walking Dead aren’t really that difficult to grasp. They are rather simple. Live and love while you can.
The horror of what could be reminds us to enjoy what is.
There was a scene in the midseason premiere episode of The Walking Dead where the character of Carl looks at a stack of DVDs and video games. There’s a flicker of “AWESOME!” on his face, but it is quickly replaced with the realization that DVDs and video games are no longer his reality. Dystopian futures remind us to cherish the simple things in life and to realize and respect how privileged we are.
3. We All Dream Of Being Heroes
Nearly all dystopian stories center around the heroes. Stories about the undead are no different. We all want to be the hero of the tale. We all want to be the ones who will rise above our fears, hoard all the Twinkies and defend our loved ones from flesh eating ghouls. These tales provide the ultimate fantasy where we can imagine ourselves in the savior role – whether we’re the scientist finding a cure or the badass guy defending our town with a crossbow.
4. Zombies Remind Us Of What We Don’t Want To Be
There’s this great quote from the Dresden Files book series that I think really captures one of the reasons why we love zombies and other creatures:
“People adore monsters. They fill their songs and stories with them. They define themselves in relation to them. Monsters force us to become stronger, smarter, better.”
Zombies serve as the ultimate moral – don’t give into your base desires. Crave more than survival. Use your brain, your heart, your intuition. Value your fellow man, don’t see them as fodder for your survival. Living for only yourself, being willing to eat the hearts and minds (metaphorically) of others isn’t pretty. It’ll rot your soul. Zombies embody this perfectly. They exist for one reason only: to survive. There’s no sense of community, no sense of self, no sense of the things that make humanity great – like art, philosophy and reading comics.
Zombies remind us to live as our highest selves, because the alternative is really gross.
5. Zombies Help Us Cope With Harsh Realities
The CDC didn’t release its zombie survival guide because it actually believes there will be a zombie apocalypse. They did it because we live in harsh times. Terrorism is a real thing, it’s not something that happens to “other people.” Plus, in the aftermath of hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, many of us know what it’s like to lose not only our homes, but our cities as well – not to mention that exploding fertilizer plant that leveled an entire town.
Dr. Ali Khan from the CDC says,
“If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”
The sci-fi and fantasy genres help us cope with the harsh realities of our times in a way that is mentally manageable. By creating alternate universes, we are able to compartmentalize and cope with our own. (Plus, let’s face it, a scenario like the movie Quarantine is TOTALLY possible.)
All of these things considered, zombies are more than a silly pop culture trend. They serve a serious purpose for the psyche of society, helping us explore and cope with the emotions surrounding life, death and our fears for the future.
We’d love to hear why you love the undead, so let us know in the comments. And make sure to tell us your favorite zombie movie/TV show while you’re at it!