Modernity and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombie-Main2-645x429Zombies are everywhere. From the Walking Dead, to morbid costumed meet-ups, to the CDCs “Zombie Preparedness” page, these monsters are hard to escape in the public consciousness.

AP ran a story recently featuring Sarah Lauro, professor of English at Clemson University who specializes in “zombie studies.” According to Lauro, the recent fascination with the undead in pop culture comes from the population “feeling disempowered.”

“If you were to ask the participants, I don’t think that all of them are very cognizant of what they’re saying when they put on the zombie makeup and participate,” she said. “To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”

She contends that this cultural frustration is connected to our tough economic times. I believe it goes deeper than that.

In his “10 Essentials for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse,” John Horner Jacobs tells us we will need things like running shoes, a baseball bat, plenty of water and granola bars, and a defensible position if we hope to outlast the undead onslaught. His 10th essential for survival is the most fascinating: in order to survive the zombie apocalypse, Jacobs writes, you have to have an “object of affection.”

Why? To reaffirm your humanity. To give yourself something to live for. In the midst of running from and bashing the skulls of countless zombies, you’ll need a purpose. A goal. A reason to keep on going.

And the closest thing we can get to the transcendent in our culture is sex.

I think Lauro is right to say that the interest in zombies stems from cultural malaise. And I think Jacobs is right that in order to survive something as awful as a zombie apocalypse one needs a reason to live.

Rather than economics, our malaise stems from a lack of transcendent purpose in Western post-industrial society. The modern story does not satisfy the human heart, and so, for cultural catharsis, we’ve turned to zombies. But the Modernistic Zombie doesn’t eat our brains. It eats our souls.

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