Move over pirates! Step aside ninjas! The zombie has risen as the premier icon of American pop culture.
The turn of the century has seen a resurgence in the popularity of the zombie. Just a couple years ago, Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy made the seafaring swashbuckler the taste dujour. Everyone was celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Day, greeting their mates with Arrggh! Jolly rogers, and their always cool skull designs, rocked apparel. Every costume party included at least one Savvy captain and a couple lusty wenches or sexy pirate girl.
But like the true golden age of piracy, that too has passed. Now our Halloween parties are replete with Undead Savvy captains and sexy zombie pirate girls. It's easy to turn any mundane occupation into a scary Halloween costume. Why go as a corporate lawyer or tax accountant, when you could add a minimum of face makeup and splatter some blood and now you're a zombie corporate lawyer or an undead tax accountant? Scary stuff.
Why slut it up as a sexy nurse when you could be a sexy zombie nurse? Or a sexy zombie pirate wench? Or a sexy zombie catholic schoolgirl? Uh, you get the picture.
Humans vs. Zombies, a modified version of the game of tag, is played vigorously on college campuses.
Pirate t-shirt sales are declining as Zombie t-shirts are all the rage.
Why zombies then? Why not vampires - the other undead white meat? Or if you follow the Ninja to Pirate progression to its logical next step - why not Viking? Or Zulu? Or Mongol? Why not jungle headhunters?
Americans have been fascinated with zombies before, but it's significant that we once again have discovered them at this point in history.
Zombies are the undead. Mindless bodies shambling through the streets consuming stuff - in particular, yummy yummy brains. They cannot think beyond their basic instincts ingrained through years of a life steeped in repetition. Much like the people of today's modern society.
The opening sequences of the brilliantly funny film, Shaun of the Dead, captures this perfectly. Our hero wakes up, hungover from a night at his favorite pub (The Winchester Tavern), and shuffles in a fog off to his dead end job at an appliance store (Foree Electric). Running on autopilot, he doesn't notice that the undead have risen leaving a bloody bodies in his favorite convenience store. In fact, nobody else notices either. If you haven't seen this movie, do so now.
The zombie film has always been viewed as an allegory of the state of society. In 1968, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, told us that "they're coming to get you." Who were they? Your parents, that's who. It was a time of free love, psychedlic drugs, Woodstock - a new enlightenment in which the younger generation (baby boomers) rejected the social norms and mores of their 1950s parents, who mindlessly obeyed the repressive Victorian views of sex and freedom imposed their parents before them.
In 1978, the era of post-Vietnam malaise, post-sixties revolution gave us Dawn of the Dead - a bitter commentary on American consumerism. Surrounded by the undead, survivors of the zombie uprising hole up in a shopping mall (a new invention at the time) as the mindless undead clamored to get in.
Why do zombies eat brains? Because, as a metaphor for an ignorant society, that's what they lack.
We don't think about what we consume, what we believe, what we do.
The new millenium has brought a new type of zombie - courtesy of the real world fears of the Iraq war, 911 terrorists, biological weapons, and the social anonymity of the Internet. Movies like Resident Evil and 28 Days Later gave us fast zombies.
No longer content to shuffle along aimlessly, today's zombies will chase your ass down. Driven by the rage virus, their minds are dead but their bodies aren't hindered by the atrophy and decomposition of death.
Of course, this parallels the speed of modern life. Information moves on the Internet instantly - allowing the masses to share news and accompanying outrage almost instantly.
The Internet Makes You Stupid
Some would argue that the Internet makes us smarter. The modern zombie movie claims the opposite.
Today's citizen is a creature of habit, living a life of repetition. Watching reality TV shows which require no effort on the part of the view nor the writer. Consuming fast food and gourment coffee. Reading their favorite blogs and surfing their favorite porn (whatever porn that may be). Critical thinking is dead. With hundreds of cable TV channels and thousands of web sites - we no longer have to hear the other side of the story. We can choose the media sources that fit our prejudices - be it Fox News or CNN - and bury ourselves deeper in our own sense of what is "right."
Political discourse has become a zero-sum game. There are only winners and losers, left and right - there is no middle ground. The electorate need only to respond to the hot-button soundbites which reinforce their predilections and leanings and demonize the "opposition."
Outrage moves fast in the information age, as the mindless followers of X political ideology are mobilized to shout down the other. A frightening prospect in an age when society's problems have become increasingly complex.
YOU are the Zombie
Let's face it, no matter how intelligent, aware and critical you believe yourself to be - you're a mindless zombie. If you've never changed your mind or adjusted your way of thinking on an issue after hearing an argument from the other side. If you actually follow the "voting guides" handed to you outside the polling place. If you've ever dismissed someone as a "fascist neocon" or "crazy hippie." If your daily consumption of news and information continually reinforces your political, social, and moral ideologies then you are part of the problem.
Now go out and eat some brains.