SAMPLES > The Rise Of Zombie Popularity

Zombies are a popular source of entertainment and have been for decades. The living dead have played a key role in popular culture in a way that has fascinated and also frightened us. No more is this evident than in the recent string of video games that cater to and for our obsession with zombies. Probably the most famous example of this (and the one that kick-started the trend) is the Resident Evil [1996] series.

The reasons as to why zombies are so popular are a little ambiguous. Many people have stressed (whether in a jocular fashion, or otherwise) a desire for a zombie uprising as it brings to-mind a fantastical world in which society has completely broken down: laws and governments cease to operate normally and barriers of pedestrian living become smashed. The threat of a “Z-Day” reverts humanity (the word ‘humanity’ in this instance relates to human beings as a fully evolved, intellectual species) back to its survival instincts and the primal urges that have all but been forgotten about.

One needs look no further than the vastly popular Left4Dead [2008] franchise which puts players in the position of one of four struggling survivors in a society that has totally fallen apart.

Zombies are also another representation of ‘Other’, which satisfies humanity’s desire to have an enemy. In filmic analysis the Other is represented as groups of society who appear to operate outside the norm. ‘Other’ has been portrayed in a number of identities based on various human traits and/or characteristics in accordance with Caucasian, heterosexual male desires and ideals (who were the dominant members of the film industry). The Other can therefore be represented as those of a different skin colour, different gender, sexual orientation, culture etc.

It isn’t like that with zombies. Unlike the above examples of Other zombies do not carry the usual trademarks of discrimination as based on skin colour or gender etc. The living dead covers the entire gamut of the human race; ergo: any one human being can become a zombie so there is no one isolated sect of people.

In an era of political correctness in which a persons opinions and vocalisations are controlled by the state so as not to offend anyone based on the above categories (not that that’s a bad thing!) it seems that zombies are an ideal alternative enemy in which no clear prejudices are evident.

But what about other forms of Other that also don’t discriminate? One example could be aliens. As we see in Half-Life [1998] and Half-Life 2 [2004] it is humanity that is threatened by the ultimate outsider: that of the outer space creature. This idea serves to bring the human species together when it is feeling threatened. This is why zombie uprisings differ slightly to alien invasions, as it is essentially us who are the Other as there is no assigned agenda about who can become a zombie; it is human beings that have become the transgressive outsider who threatens ourselves.

Apart from being a source of entertainment zombies – and the zombie apocalypse – serve to threaten the human race in a number of fashions (this could relate to humanity’s base need to protects itself and the species). One obvious example has already been stipulated: with no discriminations about who can become a zombie it suggests that the entire human race can become dominant species of the planet. But this might not necessarily be the case. As many people already know zombies are generally rather slow (with obvious exceptions such as the aforementioned Left 4 Dead series etc.), purposeless and with no distinguished personality or desires other than the basic need to feed.

In this instance the zombie systematically undoes thousands of years of human evolution. Everything from science, advances in medicine and technology, art, literature and music as well as language become null and void when one sees a zombie. Everything reverts back to basic needs and its this notion of anti-intellectualism that also serves as a threat to humanity. The zombie is the antithesis of an advanced culture.

This is probably best evidenced in Capcom’s Dead Rising [2006] whereby the protagonist, Frank West, must spend 72 hours locked in a shopping centre amidst thousands of slow, bumbling zombies. The image of these particular zombies is often quite humorous and a little incongruous. The amusing idea behind beating up zombies with unusual items such as dumbbells or plant pots gives the player cause to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. And our superior place as rulers of earth is once again established as Frank West maims and kills the pathetic zombies in comical fashions.

One last thing to state about zombies threatening humanity: in very rare instances in popular culture do zombies procreate. As stated above their only key desire in most examples is the basic desire to keep feeding. There is no sub-culture or social grouping of zombies. There is no intermingling or complex relationships. And with this there is no procreation. With a total zombie apocalypse one could at least argue that humans would still be around on Earth (albeit a lot more irrelevant) but with the lack of offspring it would appear that the human species – in it’s now most basic and carnal form – would no doubt become non-existent as time progressed.


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