I don’t watch much TV (and that might be an understatement), but it’s hard not to be aware of the current zombie-mania afflicting those who do. And it isn’t only the TV-addicts. Book lovers have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, provided that they are not Jane Austen purists. Still, I was surprised to hear a woman at church say a friend of hers didn’t want to talk about Christianity because “there might be a zombie apocalypse.”
Any movies involving folklore usually slaughter the folklore, and zombie movies are no exception. We have come a long way from West African zombie stories, in which a sorcerer was the real culprit, raising dead bodies for his own personal use. The cultural significance of the zombie obsession? Well…I’m guessing that it’s related to the dystopian obsession, some eschatology obsessions, and also the obsessions of certain political junkies. We live in an uncertain world. Some people try to avoid discussing the uncertainties, but other people delve into them or transform them by other means. Thus, zombies.
But does the fact that many of us like reading or watching zombie-related material signify something more than simply uncertainty? I’m not sure. Noah Millman, in his article “Zombies and Indians,” argues that it does. I’m not sure that I’m completely convinced by his arguments (and I disagree with his comparing current treatment of zombies to Tolkien’s treatment of Orcs). But Millman’s main assertion holds. If we want to criticize the dehumanization of the Indians in old Westerns…well…the zombies are more dehumanized. For obvious reasons, certainly–but do zombies books and films reflect a preference to view enemies as inhuman?
I can’t answer that question, but it certainly is one to ponder. If the answer is yes, then we really aren’t morally better than our ancestors. For some of us, that is no surprise. For others, there might be some serious thinking to do.