Good question. Why are they so popular? You would think that as a guy who has invested the time into writing a trilogy based on zombies, I would have a response waiting to fall from the tip of my tongue. The truth is; I kind of didn’t when I started putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be). But as time went on, I was asked this question more and more and I’ve finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into thinking it over. So here it is. It should be interesting… or at least moderately amusing.
To start with, I think there are two things involved in the modern concept of zombies that makes them so popular in our society. The first is the idea of zombies themselves, and the ancient human motivator that these monsters have always embodied since someone first dreamed them up: our fear of the unknown- which in this case, boils down to our fear of death. This fear is the driving force behind so many things in our lives that we hardly recognize its existence until we actually sit down, take stock, and be brutally honest about our motivations for doing the things we do. In the case of zombies, though, it’s pretty easy to see. They’re dead, they’ve been somehow brought back to some sort of pseudo-life, and they shamble around trying to kill living people. They’ve got everything needed to scare the crap out of us: Death- oh no! Corpses- Gross! And death- oh no! Trying to kill me- Run away! Death- oh no!
Death, death, death.
All of this “death” stuff is very scary for us human creatures who are so instinctively concerned with life and living. The idea, the fear titillates us. And we love to be titillated.
The second element to the popularity of zombies comes in the form of our fascination with the apocalypse that generally accompanies their presence. Now, let’s be fair, this fascination with the apocalypse has always been present in human societies to some degree (think Ragnarok in Norse mythology, the floods in Greek, Christian, Sumerian, etc… myth stories). Our modern experience with it is therefore nothing special, but where does it come from? Well, the answer to that is based on- you guessed it- our fear of death! All of these stories, from floods to earthquakes, to a bunch of giants coming down to smash us into bloody pulps, are ways for us to categorize, make predictable, the idea of death, of our mortality, so that we’ll feel better about the whole scary business of not having coffee or beer anymore.
Now, if you take zombies (Death- oh no!) and the apocalypse (Death in large numbers- oh no!) and combine them, why, you get a perfect storm of fear and anxiety. But never fear. These are stories. And we are all living a story, the story of our lives. In that story, we all have a main character, the person who looks back at us in the mirror. And the main character in stories usually survives any crazy scenario nature or bad screenwriters can throw at them. So, that person in the mirror will survive! Right? That one person is the hero, they’ll be the one to live while everyone else gets swarmed by- insert your apocalyptic event. That’s how we picture it, isn’t it? And there’s nothing wrong with that. It helps us get through the day and gives us something to think about while we’re on the bus to work, or while we’re at work snapping circuits together or flipping burgers or… whatever. So go ahead zombie apocalypse, give it your worst. I’m not afraid.