Tag Archives: undead

Are zombies a proxy for the American Zeitgeist?

If this isn't a sign that the undead are a dead meme, I don't know what is...Via SlashDot, here’s a brief piece at Forbes that wonders whether the zombie is Americas equivalent of Godzilla – a symbol of technology run amok, but one that can be dealt with in hand-to-hand mano a mano combat rather than by the deployment of the state’s military resources:

[…] there’s one major difference between Godzilla and the attack of the zombies: Godzilla fought scientists and the military (and maybe the occasional band of adorable children), but zombie battles usually are a person-to-ex-person struggle. While Godzilla swatted at planes and crushed tanks underfoot, zombies are done in by weapons such as shotguns, hand grenades and the ever-handy chainsaw.

Americans must like the idea that, as out of control as our hubristic science might become, a good machete and a 12 gauge in the hands of a competent man or woman can always save the day.


To be sure, it’s easy to read more into the popularity of zombies than might actually be there. Film-goers have always loved a good scare, and a shambling collection of neuron-challenged corpses make a pretty terrifying story. And if my zombie-obsessed 14-year-old son is a representative sample, blowing the undead away with heavy weaponry has a solid adolescent demographic appeal. But there’s no question, at least in my mind, that zombies (and Godzilla) are an allegorical representation of our fear that science and the technologies it spawn will lead to our destruction.

It’s a plausible reading, I think, though I’d hesitate to claim it as anywhere near definitive. It does chime rather well with our very own Jonathan McCalmont’s theory that the modern iterations of the zombie trope reflect a fear of transhumanism. I also seem to remember reading a recent critique that pegged the zombie as representing our subliminal fears of population expansion due to increased lifespans for the “unproductive elderly” (and/or immigration), but I’m damned if I can find the link or remember the source – anyone else catch that one, at all? [image by ella_marie]

One thing I can say for certain about zombies, though, is that I’m sick to the gills of hearing about them. As far as shark-jumping in the genre blogosphere goes, the only meme that comes close to the tedious prevailing ubiquity of zombies is steampunk… which is also starting to wear the welcome mat very thin indeed, at least in this household.

Fear of a Transhuman Future – Zombies and Resident Evil

Much like the vampire, the zombie is a long-lived trope of the horror genre whose subtext has mutated alongside the contemporary fears of the audience. So what do current zombie movies and games say about our modern metaphysical boogie-men?

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


The Horror genre is a profoundly parasitical creature. Not only is it endlessly adaptable to cultural changes, but it also has a rare capacity to track sources of social anxiety and attach itself to them, mining our deepest fears and presenting them back to us in the shape of art – a cathartic form of art that helps us to overcome our fears by making us confront them in safe environments such as cinemas and comfy chairs [Cinemas are a safe environment? Not in this town, man. – Ed.]. Indeed, Joss Whedon owes much of his fame and following to the fact that Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped millions of TV viewers to overcome the traumas born of attending high school – traumas transformed by Whedon and his staff of writers into monsters physical enough to be defeated week in and week out by a small blonde woman and a gang of geeky side-kicks. Continue reading Fear of a Transhuman Future – Zombies and Resident Evil