What The Zombies Are Telling Us: We Are All Dead, We Just Don’t Know It Yet
Recently, much has been made of the rise of the zombie in popular media. The Zombie looms large in films, television, books and in popular culture in general. Beyond media, large numbers have adopted the zombie persona itself by participating in “zombie marches” where upon occasion, thousands of people will march in elaborately constructed zombie costumes in order to emulate a horde of the undead. It has been suggested that the rise of the zombie is related to some vague expression of social anxiety, or “loss of individual integrity”. In terms of explanatory power, this suggestion does not really provide an adequate answer to why zombies have become so popular, but perhaps contains a starting point.
Today’s zombies are the zombies as envisioned by George Romero in The Night of the Living Dead, not the original Haitian voodoo tradition, where captured souls labour under the spell of a sorcerer. These zombies are walking a momento mori, decaying, mindless and horrifying, inescapable mortality and death. They are a manifestation of fear and it is from this fear that we have the reason for their rise in the general consciousness. Zombies represent the fear in many of us that we are already dead, but this is an unacknowledged fear. This fear is an unconscious fear, but as I think we all know, it is the unconscious fears that grip us the most tightly.
Why do we fear that we are already dead? The fear is based on an understanding that the civilization that we live in is terribly fragile, and by extension, so are all of us. Our vast cities are dependent on a global food network; they could in no way support themselves with local resources. Our unconscious knows this, it knows that disease, war, energy crises, environmental collapse, financial collapse could with little warning disrupt this network, perhaps even permanently. The demands for resources by our civilization are unlimited, but our means are not, and this dooms us to a crisis, without a change in the current trajectory of our civilization. There appears to be no solution to the question of how we could survive, in our present form, and given these factors – the answer most fear to consider is that many would not survive. It is from this fact that our unconscious re-animates most of the world’s population as zombies, thus re-imagining them as dead.
The zombie narrative is preoccupied with the question of survival, as if the unconscious is ever searching for the answer to the question of how we could survive, given the possible collapse of our civilization. Like dreams generated by a mass unconscious, the scenario is played out again and again, in various forms, looking for the answer. Sometimes the answer is that we all die, sometimes is that we must make terrible sacrifices to survive. The dream prepares us for the eventuality that our unconscious tells us could be soon.
And the fear imagery within these dreams is that in this imagined desperate time, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens would all be competitors for the scraps of what was left of civilization. Like a lifeboat full of people running short on food in the middle of the ocean, the dream imagery brings forth the cannibal macabre. And here is the Zombie’s appeal – they are a substitution for fact they we would all be zombies to each other.
Another acknowledgement of the fragility of civilization is the “prepper” movement. They are preparing, for any eventuality. They believe they will survive. Even this is a denial of the utter chaos that a massive city, plunged in crisis, would experience. Truly at that moment, all but a very few must trust their lives to hand of fate, or the grace of God. If you really believe that you are preparing to survive anything, you will be living in a remote defensible location with a self-sustaining food supply. I suppose a few are – they have truly embraced their fear.
So what is the cure for zombification? What would save us from ourselves? Unlike the movies, there could be a cure, but only we can save us. Trade the instant now for a more secure future. Civilization could be made to be sustainable, if we want it to be. But nothing less than a revolution would be required in order to change the direction of our culture and economic systems towards building a sustainable society. That’s tough for the average citizen who doesn’t feel like they have any power, or perhaps doesn’t want to acknowledge the problem. But until we start working towards a sustainable future, we continue to swell the ranks of the zombies.