Oct 252011
Authors: Matt Miller

Zombies have been picking at my brain lately.

It could be the time of year, the return of the show “The Walking Dead,” the popular on-campus game involving NERF guns or even my own quest for individual freedom.

On a strictly-for-business trip down to Denver this weekend, me along with some other members of the Collegian ed board found ourselves in the middle of the Zombie Crawl on the 16th Street Mall.

Literally thousands covered in blood and pale makeup, with gaping wounds and missing limbs, limped on the streets around us. And as I watched one dedicated undead drag herself through the street and another topless woman zombie get seated before us at Rock Bottom Brewery, I wondered what filled people with an unbridled love for the living dead.

Zombie or “zombi” stems from the ancient use of voodoo to reanimate a corpse. The “zombi” is then used by its master to perform heavy manual labor and to implement evil schemes (Columbia Encyclopedia 6th edition).

The contemporary idea of zombies as we know them today didn’t emerge in popular culture until the mid-20th century. It was in George A. Romero’s 1968 horror film, “Night of the Living Dead,” that the idea of zombies as flesh eating cannibals was first used.

Romero’s movie spawned a slew of “Living Dead” sequels and a nearly obsessive love for the zombie genre that has infected a huge fan base in the form of movies, TV, comics, film, literature, video games and more.

In its wide use throughout popular culture, the zombie is much like the vampire. Both share similarities in theory –– immortality and the transferring of the affliction to mortals –– but in terms of symbolism, each creature carries far different meaning. Where the vampire represents a violent, sexual encounter resulting in the transformation into the Gothic undead, a zombie represents something much less romantic and gorier.

Most vampire stories revolve around the bloodsucker as a character filled with pain and emotion –– but with zombies, the main focus is on the human, not the zombie, as it is just a shell devoid of all consciousness.

So what then draws us to these grotesque, soulless, fantasy creatures, and why did this contemporary idea of zombies not emerge until 1968?

In 1957 Ayn Rand wrote “Atlas Shrugged,” a book touting the power of individualism in our industrialized society. More importantly the book was a response against Rand’s upbringing in the socialist Soviet Union. Although the book received much criticism, in the decades that followed, its sales remained steady and its theme of individualism rang true with America’s liberal ideas.

In “Living Dead,” which has become the formula for the zombie genre, a group of humans is pitted against an undead horde.

The small group of humans is defending their own individuality and fighting against indoctrination into the soulless horde of the zombies.

In the quintessential zombie formula, the undead represents conformity and loss of humanity, and the survivors seek to protect their right to think and act as rational beings with independent consciousness.

So it is in the wake of Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” that our contemporary urge to fight for individualism is recreated in the fight against a zombie onslaught. And while zombie stories might not tout anti-Marxist theories, our society is enamored with the urge to stand out against the conformity of undead human shells.

I came across a timeline created by i09.com, an online publication covering science and science fiction, that mapped out the number of zombie films in relation to war and social upheaval of the last 100 years.

The graph shows huge spikes in zombie films during times like the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic and the Iraq War. This graph was made in, 2008 and had it kept going we would see a spike in zombie movies during our current economic recession.

An Oct. 18 article in The Atlantic discussed the recent invasion of zombies from pop culture to highbrow literature. The article used award-winning literary writer Colson Whitehead’s new zombie novel “Zone One” as an example.

In times of social unrest, like our current financial crisis, people feel a loss of individual power over factors governing their lives. It is in the zombie genre that people find solace in the human’s fight for personal identity.

The contemporary zombie genre fittingly emerged about 10 years following Rand’s novel championing individual freedoms, and it is by no coincidence that in the back of our brains we still hunger for zombie stories in 2011.

This lasting human goal was apparent in the nearly 10,000 people who walked through Denver this weekend, ironically dressed as zombies in an expression of their own individuality.

News Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Follow him on Twitter or send letters and feedback to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:33 pm

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