Did you ever have one of those times when you turned around and suddenly everyone was wearing a fashion or saying a certain catch phrase and you had no idea where it came from? That sort of sums up me and the zombie apocalypse.
And by “zombie apocalypse,” I don’t mean the world takeover by the undead — I mean the fact that we even THINK about such things. Suddenly, zombies are everywhere — you can blast them by the dozens in computer games, read up on them in Jane Austen settings, shop zombie, decorate zombie and (thanks to paintball) hunt zombie. We think about them enough that “zombie apocalypse” has become a sub-genre of movies — as in “Have you seen the latest zombie apocalypse?” The latest? We keep coming up with new ones? Well, of course we do. The series “Walking Dead” has been on the air for six seasons, with a seventh in the works.
And in all those six seasons, the total number of episodes I have seen is … zero. As I said, the zombie apocalypse kind of snuck up on me. I watched the original “Night of the Living Dead” and I actually kind of enjoyed playing the corny arcade games called “The House of the Dead.” (My job was really annoying me at the time, and I admit I found it very cathartic to go blast the undead.)
But I can’t get into them as a special monster crush, and part of that is just not understanding what the deal is. Why zombies?
Steve and Christian and Guy Fieri and Zombies
On that question, the Pop Culture Coffee Hour podcast series comes to the rescue, or at least it gave me a start. If you like to geek out over TV, movies and other pop offerings and you love smart Orthodox talk, you really have to catch up on this series. Host Steven Christoforou and Christian Gonzalez do an excellent job of going over all the latest shows, trends and films and they do it in such a relaxed conversational way that you may not even notice that you’re getting some pretty profound Orthodox thought and theology mixed in.
So what do they make out of the zombie craze? Well, in the podcast where they talk about zombies and Guy Fieri (I’ll leave you to find out for yourself how those two go together), they lay out a couple theories:
- Because we can all relate to “the existential quandary.” Because we’re fascinated with the idea of something that is “sorta theoretically dead but sorta come back to life.”
- That zombies almost remind us of death itself — aggressive, inescapable, always nipping at our heels.
- As a way, especially in the this-world mentality in our culture, to deal with the fear of death. That maybe in some weird way, zombies are more comforting to think of than true annihilation — “an eternity of nothingness” (if we’re talking about what things would look like apart from Christ triumphing over death).
Those all sounded really good. I liked all of that, and I didn’t care for my own idea on the subject. Because mine seems much more negative by comparison. But given that we’re talking about oozing, knuckle-dragging brain eaters, I’m going to just go ahead with my two cents. For me, the rise of the zombie cult is evidence of a slipping sense of meaning and connection with others.
Who are our monsters?
Mythical monsters, it seems to me, are our way of getting the worst-case scenario out there and then getting to read or write a story where it either triumphs or is destroyed. In every age from the Victorian era through the Cold War to the space age, we have visualized monsters to help us deal with our zeitgeist — from sea monsters to nuclear mutants to unfriendly aliens. All of these things and more have made some sort of film comeback as an excuse for special effects and interesting costumes. But zombies have recently — no pun intended — eaten them all up.
Why? Well, as I said, I don’t like my answer. But I think it has to do with who the real “monster” is in a zombie apocalypse — it’s everyone. It’s people — ordinary people, people you know (or thought you knew), loved ones even. People en masse, people just coming at you without any humanity left … and wanting to make you as ravenous and horrible and empty as they are. Maybe that wouldn’t have connected as much or seemed as monstrous at another time, but think of how crowded life has become. Nearly everyone faces traffic jams, crowded airports, long lines to stand in everywhere and many places (like theme parks and dance clubs) where throngs of people are the norm. How many times do we look around at a sea of faces and really NOT see any humanity?
As we know, our culture has become increasingly secular. As the Christian message of hope and of “human exceptionalism” is lost, the idea that we were all made in the image of God is increasingly lost with it. “Your Hands have made and fashioned me,” says the psalmist. But can we possibly keep that sense of the essential uniqueness of each person when there are just so very, very many of them around?
We need to try. We know that. And I think it does take work. For me personally, going to church, reading the Bible, soaking in Orthodox culture and teachings are the best medicine I’ve got to stave off the creeping misanthropy. If I take my cues from the world’s culture, I will begin to get a very warped sense of who people are and what they’re worth.
As for whether “zombie culture” is something to worry about, that is certainly a matter for subjective opinion. There are a lot of things you can see on screens that are just ways to blow off steam or have a little fun. I just want to remember sometimes that the best way to meet people as they really are is to look away from the screen images and look — really look — at them, trying to see them with the loving eyes of their Maker. God willing, I can do that sometimes, even in a crowd.