To be honest, I never understood the popular appeal of zombies. I understand other monsters to some extent. They have metaphorical value. Werewolves (and Mr. Hyde as well) represent the beast within us, the powerful will to evil.
I started thinking along these lines about vampires, and I noticed a peculiar aspect in their origin. It’s “Count” Dracula. He lived in a castle. He was a member of the landed aristocracy. He sucked the lifeblood of peasants. Literally. I began to think perhaps the “Count” was a representation of the bad feelings everyday people had in the past toward the “noble” classes.
But vampires in our day are not ugly. Just compare Nosferatu’s buggy bulging eyes, hunched back, and talons to Edward Cullen’s sparkling “vegetarianism,” and you realize that, as a metaphor, vampires have lost their way. They were a 19th century monster perfect for a time when people demonized the aristocracy. But we exorcised the aristocrats from our egalitarian utopia. And yet, somehow, something is still eating at us. But what is it?
Perhaps, zombies. From the popularity of the Walking Dead to the widespread conversation about the Zombie Apocalypse, something about zombies has hit a nerve in our culture.
When I saw my first zombie movie, I thought, “Really? This is not scary.” They’re slow, for one. And stupid. And they groan. Big deal. But recently, I saw Warm Bodies, a zombie movie that is more concerned with zombies as a metaphor than as a reality, and something clicked. During one scene in the movie, the protagonist is thinking about how wonderful the airport would have been before the zombie apocalypse. He thinks about how everyone would be talking (not just groaning) and making real human connections rather than just shuffling along mindlessly. The shot in the movie switches to illustrate his fantasy, but it’s different than what he described in his mind. In the “real” airport, no one is talking to each other. Everyone is face down looking at their phones and computer screens, shuffling about mindlessly without any consideration of anyone else. In other words, the zombie apocalypse had occurred long before everyone became literal zombies.
I thought this was insightful, and it shed some light on why we, as a culture, are so interested in something as boring as zombies. Whereas the big fear of popular culture in the nineteenth century may have been robber barons, “capitalists,” the aristocracy, etc., it seems that, perhaps even unself-consciously, we fear the masses. Oh, how the tables have turned. Now, the aristocracy isn’t sucking the lifeblood of peasants. If anything, it’s the other way around. The people who provide and produce nothing—the mindless, shuffling, self-centered hordes—band together their votes to eat out your substance. Yes. The zombie apocalypse is upon us.
But unfortunately, zombies won’t be eating any politicians. See, zombies like brains.