Saturday, May 23, 2009

Zombie Chic

You may have noticed that zombies are really hot right now. Maybe not. But don't worry. You can't hurt their feelings. Zombies are unaffected one way or the other. Their only concern is to find fresh human brains for eating.

From the Norwegian zombie film, Dead Snow (2009)

That's the zombie of classic cinema, of course. There is also the snide fable of a creature which behaves like a normal human being down to the last observable detail, but has no inner life. This kind of zombie may appear to be offended that you are giving it the cold shoulder, but there would be no content to its inner experience.

And here comes Discover Magazine to abuse the term even more. They seem to think that the phrase "inner zombie" is a dandy hook for explaining a whole range of neural activity that governs behavior but does not rise to the level of "consciousness". So much that they mention it no fewer than twenty-four times in the course of one article. So much that they aren't concerned confusion with the foregoing philosophical term could misinform the reader. Zombies are just that hot right now.

I think maybe the reason that the zombie motif works so well is the problem of dead bodies. There's a deep-seated instinct about them that something must be done, both as vectors of disease and also out of tribute, perhaps, to the once-animated corpses of our friends and fellow travelers. Ritual burial is considered one of the halmarks of culture in early humans, and even other primates have been observed to apparently mourn the death of their conspecifics. Elephants may have discovered the same trick. The nightmare of mindless, flesh-hungry zombies turn all of this on its head.

There's something in the zeitgeist, too, about the deterioration of our humanity in the scientific age. It seems the soul has died and come back to life as nothing but a collection of drives and impulses apart from any appreciable idea of the transcendent self. The zombie, then, is a perfect mascot for our times.


  1. I reckon Peter Jackson's Braindead is my favorite zombie flick, although I am not a connoisseur by any means. Yeah, like you stated, the obsession with zombies has all to do with our obsession with death. Not quite dead, not quite alive too - it must be like the Catholic limbo, although I am not sure the Pope would agree with the way Jackson depicted it...

  2. Well, as Christopher Hitchens would say, the Pope's opinion is about as useful as, well, the Pope's balls.

    Braindead looks like typical Pete Jackson brilliance, based on the YouTubage. I'm currently engrossed in a multiplayer mode on Call of Duty: World at War called "Nazi Zombies". I play it with my five-year-old and the two of us have actually gotten farther than a friend of mine who has played it several times with me that was an actual Marine. Very proud of my little guy.

    Couple days ago, I had this epic dream in which there was a zombie outbreak and Yours Truly was holding up in, predictably, a shopping mall. When I was a little kid, I was wracked with horrible nightmares of zombie swarms descending upon me, helpless. Then, somewhere along the line I learned how to become this invincible action hero in all of my dreams. I was the only survivor in this one. Somehow, I learned to fly when there wasn't a safe patch of land remaining.