Decayed, putrefying, hideous, they shuffle slowly and menacingly – an insensible crowd of mindless pain-riddled bodies, driven forward by hunger and an insatiable desire to consume flesh.
Zombies have somehow become the ‘favourite’ monsters of our time, depicted in an array of movies, novels and stories through many different ways and perspectives. Why are we so fascinated by zombies? Is it because they lack a specific personality, or is it because we secretly respect their indestructible survival instinct?
Unlike vampires, which are also ‘undead,’ zombies are neither glittery nor seductive. They are always portrayed as being hideously twisted representations of ‘real living’ people. Emotionless. Inscrutable. Brutal. And yet – one simply has to admire their tenacity – they never stop trying to survive and go on living in some form, even though they are ‘technically’ already dead.
Angela Vidergar, a Stanford scholar, ties our obsession with zombies to the survivalist mentality that developed after World War II. Influenced by the terrible events of Hiroshima, Nagasaki as well as the Holocaust, the world in general has become altered and horrifyingly impressed by the images of physically debauched bodies, not to mention the human capacity to generate violence towards his fellow man.
Image: Movie Night of the Living Dead
We see them as twisted and sad harriers of an unknown virus in The Walking Dead series, as mysterious destructive ice monsters in Game of Thrones, and even as the haunting burnt ghosts of tortured souls in Silent Hill.
Zombies, or the idea of zombies, has been used and re-used, and yet it never gets old. What all these representations have in common is that these non-living beings never seem to tire or to stop – they want to devour and destroy, perhaps angry of the fact that they no longer have working living bodies, or perhaps in the hope of being able to ‘live’ once more, after consuming enough quantities of human flesh.
The importance of survival is prevalent in this context. This is also being reflected in the media, through for example, ‘real-life’ popular TV shows such as Survivor and the Italian Isola dei Famosi, where people have to go through a number of trials in order to ‘win,’ that is, to survive.
In relation to this ideology, as well as the rising tide of awareness of the destruction of our world and environment due to modern industrialisation, people are contemplating the consequences of our development as modern societies. This has resulted in the recent boom in post-apocalyptic dystopian novels and movies, which are mostly aimed at young adults, such as The Hunger Games trilogy, The Divergent series, and The Maze Runner chronicles, which centre around the idea that humanity could become extinct and end up having to go to extreme measures for its continuing survival as a species.
The survival instinct is praised and given importance in other movies, such as the Saw franchise (which is made up of seven movies), not to mention its prevalence in a vast number of video games which include The Last of Us, Resident Evil and Bioshock, among others.
As Vidergar maintains, ‘zombies are important as a reflection of ourselves,’ in that they symbolise the hope and will to live on, even after everything else is destroyed, even in the face of incredible odds and terrible situations.