I remember reading, perhaps a year ago, an article questioning the popularity of zombies. The author contended that watching zombie movies fed people’s feeling of superiority, gratifying the impulses that used to be fulfilled by Indians and other groups now protected by political correctness. We like to dehumanize our enemies, and zombie stories are a perfect example.
I’m not into zombies. My mother used to say I liked blood and guts (I was a Civil War buff as a teen), but that isn’t actually true. Add that to my avoidance of anything in the horror genre, and you have someone who will never make a zombie fan. But since I read that article, I have come to actually know a few zombie lovers, and I have come to a few conclusions.
- The people who love zombie stories the most often aren’t the ones who are most likely to dehumanize their real-life enemies.
- Most cultures have folklore including dehumanized monsters. And must a dehumanized monster be interpreted as symbolic of a human enemy? What about nonhuman foes—nature, old age, death?
- Zombies are horrifying less because they are monsters and more because they used to be humans—sometimes very well loved humans. I remember shelving one zombie novel that opens by the main character’s newly zombified husband trying to eat their infant son. Nasty stuff, but it’s only dehumanizing in a very literal sense of the word.
- Zombie stories are classified as apocalyptic for a reason.
It’s to the last point that I’d like to turn. Apocalyptic stories are extremely popular right now—and not only those with zombies. Need I mention The Hunger Games or Divergent? Dystopian fiction and apocalyptic fiction are closely allied. And both communicate something about our society. We’re reading books about communities that are ruined, in some form or other. Doesn’t that reflect feelings of people in both parties (and everywhere in between, underneath, wedged in the cracks, etc.) have about America today?
Environmentalists are waiting for humans to destroy the world. Neoconservatives seem to be unsure whether terrorists or noninterventionists are going to ruin America. Religious traditionalists wait for the defenders of equal-rights-for-all-except-the-unborn to throw them in jail. Political moderates, lest they feel secure, can go study world economic stats. (Hint: they’re not good.)
There’s no way to tell, minus a palantir, whose version of the apocalypse is right. The telling thing is that most of us have a version. We don’t have confidence that our society can hold together (or, for the environmentalists, that our society can hold the world together).
The solution to this problem is not to do what the ultra-American types try every so often—manipulating everyone into yelling “America is great!” That is a symptom of the problem, not the solution.
In his apocalyptic novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy offers, if not a solution, then something similar. Some people will keep goodness alive while everyone else dies/is enslaved/turns into a cannibal. The trick is to not to let yourself join everyone else. Preserve what’s good—somehow.
That’s a part of the truth. The Christian answer, of course, is more complicated. Many Christians believe that there will be an apocalypse of some sort before Christ’s return, although that apocalypse has been conceived in different ways. But in another sense, the apocalypse has been going on for thousands of years. Sin happened. We are all zombies now. There are no survivors.
But, unlike in most zombie stories, there is also a cure. It’s a very long-term one. It may not be dramatic. It certainly isn’t a solution for society’s lack of confidence in itself. In fact, it is likely to undermine that confidence even further.
But it is a cure. Someday the apocalypse will end. The virus will be destroyed forever.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth….”
Please note that I am not recommending you run off to get a copy of the latest zombie story. You could be reading Beowulf. Or A Wrinkle in Time. Or Curious George and the High Voltage Fence. And if you even think about picking up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I will inject you with zombie virus myself.