I read once a long time ago that cultural interests shift between fantasy and sci-fi based on historical context. When things are grim, people look back into the past and become more engaged in the heroic “golden eras” of fantasy, hence Lord of the Rings showing up after the atom bomb. When things are looking up and hopeful, people become enamored with the future and turn to sci-fi, hence Star Trek after the Civil Rights movement. I wonder then what our recent ultra-obsession with a zombie apocalypse means?
Sure, we can just write it off as a fad that’s caught on and become a marketing dream, so that designers of TV, movies, games, and other media (even the CDC informational pamphlet designers) consider zombies an easy selling point. Hell, there’s even teeny-bopper zombie love dramas – Warm Bodies, which came out as a book in 2011 and is already a movie.
I think, though, that writing off the zombie fad solely as a commercial enterprise misses something. If nostalgia makes us like fantasy and hope makes us like sci-fi, then perhaps fear makes us fascinated by zombie horror.
I’m not here to try to explain the fear; I’m no sociologist. However, is there any wonder with the constant economic threats, scenes of violence in places both far away and close to home, and political fear-rhetoric that perhaps people might become afraid that something was going rotten at the core? And what better symbolically represents that than infectious zombie diseases spreading throughout the populace?
Another cultural tide that our zombie fascination might reveal is our fear of assimilation. Like the Borg from Star Trek, a fear of assimilation appears in many different genres. As our culture becomes more and more standardized, more and more homogeneous, as our cultural outliers and subcultures are constantly turned into the mainstream, it’s not hard to imagine that many of us would feel our very identities threatened. Again, this is symbolically represented in zombie hordes; how many zombie stories include someone committing suicide rather than becoming one of the mindless, wandering undead?
So while I play through Dead Rising 2 with my buddy and Deadlight one my own, having finished most of the Dead Space series, Dead Island, and while The Walking Dead sits in my steam library, I wonder how long before our fascination with this honestly-rather-limited genre wears off. It’s not that I mind zombie media, it’s just that when we face our fears, we become acclimated to them; we become resistant to them. And if we lose our fear of zombies, I wonder if that might cause us to fear loss of self a little less, too. Regardless, the games will lose their hold on us.
Stubborn (and zombified)