08 Jun 2012 07:59 am

Why the Zombie Bubble is About to Burst

Step aside, zombies! You've got some heavy competition for the title of brain-eaters - they call it "the media"!

It's been about ten days since a bath salt-crazed man was found eating the face of another fan. But instead of answering questions about the victim's condition or the reasons behind the attack, the media has focused on similarly gruesome attacks the world over in order to draw one simple idea: the zombie apocalypse is upon us. Cracked.com, a site which even came up with scientific reasons for zombies, effectively called out the media on their heavy-handed and sensationalized handling of the subject (and if you are still worried, they have explained why a zombie apocalypse won't happen). But this hasn't stopped the media from treating the zombie plague as the next swine flu.

I'm going to tell you right now - I'm a believer. I believe in everything from the Bible to Bigfoot. But the zombies are pushing it. I say this because the concept of zombies as the media wants us to see them - as dead, infectious brain-eaters - is far from concrete. Like many concepts in fiction, it's a collection of several ideas which has evolved and developed over decades, if not centuries. Today, the zombie of film and video games has little resemblance to the African and Haitian concept of a dead man who does a witch's bidding.

To understand the origins of a zombie, you have to understand the roots of another famous monster - the vampire. Both are tied to medieval misunderstandings of disease and decomposition. The stakes - like the one found in the archaeological excavation in Bulgaria - were not a mythical vampire slaying weapon, but much like today, a practical tool for making sure something stays in the ground - in this case a dead person. Bram Stoker saw these superstitions while researching his novel "Dracula" in Eastern Europe, first creating our image of the modern vampire. Half a century later, Richard Matheson added a biological twist to the vampire with his novel "I Am Legend", which imagined vast vampire pandemic engulfing humanity. Fifteen years later, director George A. Romero was inspired by Matheson's work to create his own version of a monstrous plague in "Night of the Living Dead", bringing the concept of the zombie right into pop culture history.

The funny thing is the Hoodoo zombie is actually more realistic than the zombie apocalypse the media has been pushing. There are several powerful neurotoxins capable of creating a zombie-like state, and they are all found in regions such as Haiti and West Africa, where hoodoo is practiced heavily. Check out the very scary Wes Craven movie "The Serpent and the Rainbow" for more on the concept.

Unfortunately, the media has been treating Cracked.com's original list of science-based zombie causes as the next swine flu, with the same gloomy heavy-handedness of the last pandemic. They've even taking to contacting the CDC about obscure brain parasites, to make it look like the CDC is hiding something. Funny thing is, the CDC wants you to think about a zombie apocalypse, because it forces people to think how they would respond in a real pandemic or natural disaster. Unfortunately, that just doesn't fit with the media's sensational approach to the subject, and the more CDC comments on the lack of zombie apocalypse, the more the media reports on the shambling corpses at our doorstep.

Zombies do not work as reality - they work as metaphor. Everyone from Bram Stoker through George A. Romero knew this when they tapped into the primal urges of the flesh-eating hordes. As with any media, there is a cycle, and sooner or later, people will get tired of hearing about zombies. And when they do, they will stop asking the questions zombies were always meant to answer.

As George A. Romero especially wondered, it's not about how we stop the zombies, but how we have already become zombies in our society. Looking at the failed logic driving the headlines, it's very hard to argue.

(That's it for this rant. Check out Blue Yonder next week.)

News Archive