A few years back I wrote a blog (What’s So Scary About…?) where I shared what scares me and what doesn’t. I’ve never been much interested in your run-of-the-mill monsters: vampires, werewolves, and the like. Especially zombies. Lately, however, I’ve been re-thinking my take on those groaning, flesh-eating, walking-corpse-types.
The zombie, or revenant, originated from Haitian folklore and the practice of voodoo, where it is thought the soul is dualistic – of flesh and spirit. Through magic, a corpse can be reanimated, or a spirit can be removed from a body and transferred to another body or enslaved within a receptacle, like a bottle.
Today’s popular image of the zombie can most be attributed to George A. Romeo’s low-budget horror production The Night of the Living Dead (1968). In the film, walking corpses terrorize a group of people barricaded in a house near a cemetery. These undead folk have been reanimated by inexplicable means and now stumble about, with moaning mouths agape and vacant stares in search of human limbs to nosh.
I get the horror of the whole flesh-eating aspect of these monsters. I mean, zombies wouldn’t be scary without that. Just annoying. But it really doesn’t make sense, does it? They’re dead. Why do they need to eat anything, particularly human flesh? Many of them are so rotted they don’t even have digestive tracks, so what’s the point? And do zombies poop? (Thank you, Craig Ferguson, for that observation.)
There have been numerous re-imaginings of zombies these past decades. In the 1985 comedy-horror film Return of the Living Dead, the undead come about as a result of toxic waste seeping into the earth, and the monsters desire to eat, specifically, brains. In 28 Days Later (2002), there’s the “rage-virus” epidemic. Here, those infected attack with extreme violence and they can run, very fast. Now that’s a scary combination.
So, why my change of opinion about these horrific creatures above the other aforementioned beasts? Because unlike your more traditional monster, living-dead beings are actually among us. Metaphorically, I mean. There’s a myriad of parallels between zombies and what’s become of us – socially and culturally – today. For decades, ever so slowly, we’ve turned our brains off, and lost our souls:
We send off quick text messages or emails instead of sitting down and penning a heartfelt letter.
We walk around with our face in a phone, sometimes tripping off a curb or running into objects, oblivious to the world immediately next us.
We load up on “head-meds” to cover-up our stress, anxiety, and depression, losing much of what makes us functional in other ways.
We shop online (sans pandemic) rather than going out to a store. God forbid you’d have to converse and interact with another person!
We have meal-kits sent to our home so we don’t have to crack open a cookbook and go to the market (see previous).
(You’re welcome to add your own examples to this list.)
We’ve become a society of nothing but mindless pod-people, more akin to one of my favorite science fiction classics, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) than zombies, I think, but the similes still apply. Look around you, you’ve seen them. At work. In your neighborhood. Obtuse drones who want nothing more than to devour the meat of your ambitions, integrity, and soul.
You might even be one yourself.
But there’s hope. Small things can make a huge difference:
Write a letter.
Take a stroll with nothing in your hands but your dog’s leash, if you have one. Make a point to wish anyone you see a good morning/afternoon/evening.
Keep your body active with exercise and movement. Work-out your brain with projects or by learning something new. I know nothing wards off my anxiety and depression like keeping busy.
Practice mindfulness towards yourself and others.
In the kitchen, experiment with ingredients and flavors to create something tasty of our own making.
Read a book instead of binging on (insert the streaming channel of your choice).
(Again, I encourage you to come up with ideas of your own.)
So, yes…I’ve reconsidered my opinion of the zombie in today’s popular horror culture. Because they seem to be very real, and all around us.
Now, stop reading this silly blog post, turn off your computer, and go engage yourself in something of substance.