Anxieties of a Zombie Nation Just in Time for Halloween

It has been written that popular horror themes always reflect the anxieties of a society at that particular moment in time.

Oh Hubert, you and your atomic monsters!”
–Mom, Futurama

For instance, in the 1950’s the fears and concerns that people had were about communism, atomic bombs, and the unknown effects of radiation.

Popular horror movies produced back then mirrored that anxiety by having mutant giant ants in movies like “Them” or mutant giant people with “The Amazing Colossal Man” and “50 Ft Woman”. Subtle hints of communism in movies such as ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or “Invasion USA” with implied scary possibilities.

The 1960’s and 70’s introduced a whole new era of horror with intense graphic gore to scare the audiences. Returning Vietnam veterans, with war horrors fresh in their minds from a war lasting years, brought descriptions and images back to general population.

Special effects artist Tom Savini has been quoted that war casualties were often used as a basis for his special effects in movies. Also changing social and moral standards gave rise to guilt and fears amplified in movies such as the Exorcist.

In the 1980’s, with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, especially around the time that actor Rock Hudson died from AIDS complications, produced fears and concerns with “tainted blood” that possibly generated the resurgence of the vampire era. Novels such as Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire”, originally published in 1976, became a huge bestseller and the whole goth/vampire scene exploded in popularity.

Eventually the horrors moved to suburbia as parents moved into somewhat seclusion from the modern world. Now fears about what could go wrong in this new environment drove movies such as Poltergeist, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street making it the standard of shock fare.

But today, it seems that Zombies are the current “scare du jour”. Zombies seem to be shuffling around everywhere!

Even the Krell household this year for Christmas received the gifts of the “Walking Dead” series, Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes and Zombies, and various other Zombie media to add to the already acquired “World War Z” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”.

In fact, when researching this post I asked questions at the local bookstore about the Zombie phenomenon and the bookstore person responded with a “It’s out of control! Zombies are getting into everything!”

I expected the bookstore employee to suddenly produce a baseball bat for the occasion!

So that got me wondering about what this could possibly mean as far as the anxieties of society today?

Is it just a coincidence? Just a circumstance of some good zombie stories showing up at the same time causing this zombie popularity? I don’t think it is.

So here are some of my thoughts as to what may be causing the “Zombie Nation” effect…

Theory #1
The popularity is a direct reflection of the popularity of certain shooter type video games. Video games have become more popular than movies, making substantially more in profits. Shooter type games lend themselves to needing prey that cannot generate sympathy of any sort. Zombies fit that criteria perfectly. Who can argue about having to shoot something that is trying to eat you? and looks and smells bad to boot.

Theory #2
The general population has anxiety and fear about the collapse of institutions, structure, and civility around them. This produces thoughts about self survival in situations where it’s becoming every person for himself.

Increasing concerns about such things as genetic modifications of basic items as the things we eat, creates a fear of a mass single catastrophe where everything breaks down to complete chaos.

Often conversations about zombies quickly become an assessment of your own chances in the “Zombie Apocalypse”. Would you have what it takes to survive? Where would you go? What would you take with you?

It becomes a test of your abilities under hardship, your capability to think under extreme conditions. Just a mental test of “Do you have what it takes?”

Theory #3
The population is becoming de-humanized as a way to isolate emotional pain and suffering. As more and more of the “lesser classes” of society are falling victim to lost jobs, lost homes, or loss of health care, it’s a coping mechanism to “Zombify” the victims to decrease the feeling of helplessness that you are feeling.

Because you cannot do anything to help those “victims”, you draw in to a tighter emotional circle or shell for survival. Those on the outside become the non-humans or zombies that you cannot feel for because emotions would lessen YOUR chance of survival.

Well, those are my theories and thoughts as to it all. But really who knows what’s driving the popularity of all these creatures in their quest for more “bwains”?

Maybe we’ve just run out of enemies in books and movies that can be universally hated. At least that’s the reason that I’m hoping for.

But until the true reason is discovered, remember….”Always double tap”

Originally published here on December 28, 2010.

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34 Responses to Anxieties of a Zombie Nation Just in Time for Halloween

  1. John Myste Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    I think I have the answer: people are currently interested in zombies. How, that can be is completely beyond me, but maybe their interest is indicative of wanting to read zombie stories or watch zombie movies.

    I know I am being silly. I was just joking. I was grasping for some association to explain this phenomenon and that was just the first one that came to mind. I will try to come up with a better answer.

  2. John Myste Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    OK, I have it! People are sleepy, but don’t wish to stay in bed that long. “What if we could sleep standing up?”

  3. Jess Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Or maybe, just maybe, there are those of us that really have warped minds and zombies/vampires/extraordinary tales find fans in those with that warped mind. I’m only speaking for one of those warped minds and it’s my own. I consider it escapism myself, new worlds to imagine, not necessarily to join or fight or whatever, just pure entertainment in the form of mind chocolate.

    • John Myste Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      In all fairness, you had a few extra seconds to think!

      • Jess Reply

        December 28, 2010 at 6:18 pm

        🙂 you and I were probably replying at the same time. I love reading horror tales and always have. Got the Pride and Prejudice with zombies and Abraham Lincoln, vampire slayer for Christmas gifts, I’m reading the first right now and it is pure fun. Same guy wrote both of them.

        Like the bodice ripper books, that no one admits to reading but they are always best sellers, these are mind chocolate and cheap entertainment.

  4. Mother Hen Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    My own theory is that is it a culmination of all of those things. The post-apocalyptic genre had already been done to death with the Road Warrior type shows, but people never seem to lose interest in watching ourselves struggle against terrible odds.

    The zombie genre, in film at least, has been around since the 60’s. There had been quite a few movies made (and remade) but only recently has there been a “zombie explosion.” Is this because there is just now true interest? Are zombies now the “creature du jour” to regular folks, not just fans of horror?

    For one thing, those horror fans (and the cohort who grew up with the first generation of zombie movies) are now old enough to write and make movies and video games themselves. This, plus society’s fascination with “Survivor” type reality shows plus the struggle of humanity against itself (what are zombies, but ourselves?) leads to the inevitable success of a zombie book or film that hits at the right time.

    World War Z was such a book, and stayed on the bestseller list (rare for a horror book) for weeks, spawning a resurgence of zombies in literature. Some very excellent films and TV series have also been made in recent years: Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, The Walking Dead series,

    When vampires stopped being scary and started getting sparkly, people needed something truly frightening to be afraid of.

    WWZ author Max Brooks explains why he (and myself) find zombies so terrifying: “Zombies don’t act like a predator; they act like a virus, and that is the core of my terror. A predator is intelligent by nature, and knows not to overhunt its feeding ground. A virus will just continue to spread, infect and consume, no matter what happens. It’s the mindlessness behind it.

    The lack of rational thought has always scared me when it came to zombies, the idea that there is no middle ground, no room for negotiation. That has always terrified me. Of course that applies to terrorists, but it can also apply to a hurricane, or flu pandemic, or the potential earthquake that I grew up with living in L.A. Any kind of mindless extremism scares me, and we’re living in some pretty extreme times”

    So in a battle of man against man, what do zombies represent but mindless extremists. And who wouldn’t love to shoot a few of those on Medal of Honor? I know I would.

    • Jess Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

      MH, have you read The Passage yet? It was quite a good read, about a virus that caused humanity to turn into vampire/zombies types just as you say. Oh Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorites to watch over and over again. Zombieland is pretty good too, the few times I have seen it. I hear you about the sparkly vampires, just annoying as all get out to me. Vamps are night creatures not day light creatures and they certainly don’t need to glitter or sparkle.

      • Mother Hen Reply

        December 29, 2010 at 6:26 am

        I looked at it on Amazon- and it has promise! Thanks for the referral. Might even bring back some love for vampires again.

    • Krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 7:14 pm

      I like that explanation, MH. Seems to make a lot of sense!

  5. Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Actually I think each one of your theories’ holds a validity. Personally, I’ve thought that for the last couple of years that this Zombie mania has been the subconsciousness of millions of Christians and Jews awaiting that ‘rising’ of biblical prognostication. And then billions within Islam fretting it. In an obscure ‘reality’ that would make the Christians / Jews the zombies and Islam the last humanity…. well, in my mind. Of course it would all be a huge manipulation by metaphysical science…. but I digress.

    The Exorcist blew my mind. My mom gave me the option, having provided me with a spiritual guidance, to make a choice for myself, as her mom had done with her. I chose to loose the cross and curses. She trusted me to my own spiritual nature. Then two months later the Exorcist came out and I went to see it. Didn’t last the full throttle of the crucifix with the head spin… I was up the isle in a flash. Smoking like a bastard with my best friend waiting for her little sister and mom to finish the movie. I slept with the light on for a year.
    None of us is exempt from a spiritual nature. That, I am certain of.
    Excellent post / ponder Krell!

    • Mother Hen Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 6:54 pm

      My friend and I saw the Exorcist on HBO when we were around 11 years old.

      After laughing our secular humanist little asses off (the demonic child wasn’t much older than us, and we had zero sympathy for her or her family) we decided to get us a pea-soup stained nightgown and go out possessed for Halloween!

      The power of Christ compels me to admit that he only psychological holdover I have from that film is that I think priests are hot. Thank you Father Damian!

    • Krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 7:07 pm

      I have my own history with the Exorcist. My sister had read the book and left it laying around. It had a very strange book cover and sounded good so I started reading it. I was all of 11 years old at the time. By the time I had really gotten into a few chapters, it was “all the lights on”…”what was that noise?”…..scare the holy bejeebas out of me. I can truly say that it was the scariest book that I have ever read. I have probably read some actual scarier books since then but nothing has EVER scared me as much as that one. I thought the book was magnitudes scarier than the movie. That book put the zap on me for a long, long, long time.

      • Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

        December 28, 2010 at 7:44 pm

        My sister and her little buddy, when HBO put it on… watched and watched ala roll another! They laughed like hell.
        As for me, I’m still a bit spooked by it… that new version was creepier! But I did sit through it, during daylight.

        The book, I thought a few months after the movie incident, would ‘cure’ me of my fear. Ah, wow… the book was far worse. And I kept ‘trying to get through it’ so I would stop being such a pussy. Didn’t make that one either. So, my achille heel is exposed! 🙂 Funny, any other movies… I’m fine. That one, no way.

  6. C.H. McDermott Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    I never have gotten the whole zombie thing. Zombie-ism is contagious, right? I’m thinking back to your mention of AIDS, and how the fear of a great pandemic with gruesome, fatal consequences is the the fear behind the infatuation. And the existential crisis of being out of control of one’s environment. Perhaps that is the essence lurking behind and the fuel of zombie mania. Putting it into media separates the fear by a degree away from one’s own subconscious and makes it bearable and even entertaining–or does it? Bwahahahahahaha!

    Think of the symbolism of what it is that Zombies do. They eat your brains, the heart and soul of what most people consider to be the house of consciousness, the essence of one’s being. With that gone, the implication is a nihilistic nothingness. THEY are out to completely destroy US down to the root of our being. There–zombies represent the fear of annihilation and nothingness.

    • Mother Hen Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      That is a great point with zombies equaling nihilism. We are ultimately so afraid of our own mortality, the loss of our consciousness and ourselves. Zombies are that very fear, shambling about.

    • krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 7:11 pm

      Maybe Zombies represent disease and gives us a chance to visualize the previously invisible. Everybody has anxiety about some new super disease or virus, a Ebola or Anthrax outbreak in which we are completely helpless. The Zombie allows us to see it, combat it, have a chance against it.

      Probably just talking out my psychological ass with that one. Ha, beat you guys to the comment!

    • Krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 7:17 pm

      Nietzsche would just say that it’s no use fighting the zombies because it’s a reflection of ourselves.

      Then he would get eaten…. I would probably be on his team knowing my luck.

  7. oso Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    All I can say is, I always loved horror movies, from the grade B “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “It Conquered the World” thru the “Alien” series and I probably saw the first “Dawn of the Dead” three times in the movies, probably at least that many rentals of it too.

  8. Tim Waters Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I happen to think Zombie movies are hysterically funny. It’s meant to be a social commentary on our times. Same as all those classic’s as them,The Thing, The day the earth stood still, even back in the days of the Mercury theater, Orson Well’s War of the world’s. There’s always a social message behind these things.
    Invasion of the body snatchers was an echo of McCarthyism.
    Good post Krell and one of my fav topics.

    • Krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      I agree, Tim. The popularity is just to great to not have some sort of social force driving it. The question is…what is it?

      Things in a lot of ways were a lot simpler back when there were Communists trying to infest the classrooms and make every one into a Manchurian candidate.

  9. Bee Reply

    December 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    It’s just marketing. It’s like tv show remakes into blockbuster movies. One tries it, it works, everyone else jumps on the dead horse until it’s a bloody pulp and then they move on.

    Once upon a time, there might have been a deeper meaning to genres. Now, it’s just corporatocracy cashing in and making a buck or two.

    • Krell Reply

      December 28, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      But Bee….doesn’t that imply that consumers will mindlessly shuffle to purchase whatever is presented before them, quickly devouring but never quite satisfying their hunger.

      Always searching for that next morsel of gratification, seeking to be the first one to grab that piece of meat before the others, wolfing it down before even knowing what it tastes like. Well….sorta like a pack of Zombies would behave?

      • John Myste Reply

        December 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm

        I think I am OK with people allowing me to be mindless by putting stuff before me. Sometimes I don’t want to figure out what I want. Figuring things like that out is exhausing work. I could want tons of things.

        What I resent is when I turn over my desires to someone and they give me a zombie.

        • Krell Reply

          December 28, 2010 at 10:54 pm

          True, under almost all circumstances you do not want your desires to eat you.

  10. Beach Bum Reply

    December 29, 2010 at 12:54 am

    The population is becoming de-humanized as a way to isolate emotional pain and suffering.

    Going with theory three with a strong side of mindless consumerism. Was forced by various reasons to hit the malls before and after Christmas and I don’t believe I saw a single sentient being walking the place. Everyone was mindlessly going about either buying or returning stuff and I believe I could have walked buck naked through the place with few even seeing me.

    Seriously dig World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide to the point I have half-jokingly picked out my zombie apocalypse safehouse.

    • Mother Hen Reply

      December 29, 2010 at 6:29 am

      Any time we travel I am constantly assessing the lay of the land in terms of defensibility in case of zombpocalypse. Even my kids joke about it, “Oh Mom would LOVE to have that house on the side of a mountain if there was a zombpocalypse..” “I bet Mom thinks that quarry would be a great pit to trap zombies in” etc.

      WWZ has not been topped yet, and I have been doing a lot of reading on the subject!

      • Krell Reply

        December 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

        Yep, that’s what happens. I actually have learned a couple of things about survival with this zombpocalypse thing with Mother Hen’s obsession.

        I think that if a person was to think like a rabbit, they would do well. Always have a escape route as well as the front entrance. You can always outrun them if there are too many.

    • Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

      December 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Well Beach… you have such good awareness for it…. your fiction follows these leads… btw, for a good chill read go to:

  11. lazersedge Reply

    December 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    What? You mean those are not reality shows? Oh damn!

    Actually, I am not a big fan of the zombie fair but I love vampires, and critters of impossible reality, and the unseen bio nature viral stuff. In its day “The Andromea Strain” was a cool movie.

    I do think there may be some messages hidden within the Zombie Nation though Krell. I think we have spoken of it several times here on MMA. What is meant for escapism actually represents a lot of the population of this country wandering around with no clear idea of what they are doing except reacting to talking heads. Unlike the zombies we can’t just get guns and shoot these idiots.

    By the way Krell. Great piece of writing.

    • Krell Reply

      December 29, 2010 at 2:50 pm

      There does seem to be a lot of wandering zombie types these days, not really knowing where or why. Living only for the present. I wonder if instant media gratification has played a big part of that. It seems like people almost have to be “plugged in” to be alive. Sign of the times?

      Agreed with the Andromeda Strain, written in 1969 it was cutting edge techno stuff. Crichton at his best. Bought a paperback copy a couple of years ago at a garage sale and started to read it again.

      Unfortunately, it didn’t age well, like most techno thrillers.

      Lazer, you probably enjoyed the Hot Zone by Richard Preston. That was a chiller probably because it was based on fact and history of events. Started sort of a mini-fad of movies and books about hemorrhagic fevers. Yuck!

      I also think you would like the writing style of Richard Rhodes, I sure do.

  12. John Myste Reply

    December 29, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I see a “Zombie yourself” ad at the top of this post. Has anyone else seen that and tried it? I would love to do it, but I fear clicking things.

    Landmines click, so I know clicking is dangerous. I have the data.

    Can someone click that if they see it and then report back to me how it went?

    Thanks, in advance.

  13. Four Dinners Reply

    December 29, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Theory 4 : We probably shouldn’t drink so much…;-)

    • Krell Reply

      December 29, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      4D??? Hey, what’s going on? Long time no comment….

      Zombies and the people exiting the pub at the wee hours of closing time? Walk the same….same unintelligible speech….some of them look the same…..Theory #4 has it!

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