A quickly emerging annual tradition of Halloween is the idea that around the nation flocks of college students will be mimicking scenes from a national favorite horror movie subgenre by meeting together to walk the streets in massive zombie mobs. But with the nightmarish creatures of the undead perpetually on popular culture’s mind, what do these creatures symbolize to us? And what does becoming them tell us about ourselves?
A recent article in Forbes drew a parallel between zombies in film and literature as an expression of a fear we all share over technology and the perpetually shifting tides of culture in modern society. And while this does seem to be a major area impacting the zombie culture scene, there is another aspect that seems to defy explanation about why zombies have become so popular. Namely, why are so many of us choosing to adopt their mannerisms and look?
There’s nothing desirable about a zombie in appearance that would spark admiration or emulation. And yet each year millions will gather in shopping malls, parks, or even sidewalks and in the name of their favorite horror films actually don the appearance of their undead oppressors. Is the fear of technology and changing society manifest by ultimately joining the ranks of the undead? Or is there something more to it?
It seems that when the “zombie conversation” comes up starting with the words, “What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?” there is no shortage of battle plans, well thought out areas to stock up on supplies, and even decisions on what weapons would be the best to allow for constant survival. Everyone seems to have an opinion on their own survivability in such a scenario and a few have even charted out escape routes in the event that a zombie scenario would arise. And while the whole thing is said more or less tongue in cheek with full understanding that zombies will likely not arise from their graves in anything like the films of George Romero, there is also a commonly held and equally tongue in cheek sentiment that a zombie apocalypse is not a question of “if” but “when.” So what is this “when” and why are people awaiting it by dressing up?
The zombie apocalypse is a safe and distant scenario that allows us to explore the concept of survivalism without provoking the same anxiety that would normally be sparked from thinking of more realistic society destroying global disasters. In fighting zombies on film, in books, conversation, and videogames we can better come to grips with our own immortality. Indeed the one goal in the zombie genre is to stave off the undead. You are staving off your becoming something ubiquitous and inevitable. And yet the protagonists almost always cling to their humanity as a sign of what separates humanity from the zombies even if they do disturbingly emulate them in other ways.
So why demonstrate this emulation through zombie flash mobs? The answer may be simple enough. There seems to be a level of desire involved in the zombie hordes for a change of life that becomes more concrete and simple. What this change exactly is would have to be up to each individual, but to actually immerse in a zombie gathering seems in some ways almost a religious or spiritual experience for its participants.