Zombie Culture

| Monday, February 28, 2011
Zombies fascinate me. They confuse me. What drives them? Rage, hunger, these are the frequent explanations. But they are insufficient. They do not answer an essential question: Why do zombies not fight each other? There are not only motivations for their violence, but also something that motivates them to not be violent.

The true definition of a zombie is not a risen corpse or a person with a virus that makes them insane. Instead a zombie is most simply described as a human which no longer defines itself as part of humanity.

These could be traditional mindless hordes wandering slowly with their hands out. Or they could be nearly-human but light-sensitive as in I Am Legend. Recent years have brought about the fast zombie, along with widely varying levels of intelligence. But they all share two traits: they are our enemies and they do not attack each other. There are a few rare exceptions, but as a general force, they are non-hostile to each other.

We could apply this to real life, identifying those groups of humans who consider themselves to in some way be superior to the point of separation. These could be the Nazis who thought they were descended from gods, in opposition to the in some way inferior Jews and Slavs. These could be Islamic terrorists who feel that our refusal to join them indicates that we are fundamentally flawed: they see us as the zombies.

I think it goes the other way, actually. Zombies are like so many supernatural phenomenon: cultural representations of fears. In this case they represent the fear of being corrupted, of betrayal, of an existential threat to humanity. We're a frightened species, thanks to our imaginations. Zombies have changed over time, once being a form of slavery, of a person of supernatural powers turning us, making us do their work. They were not something we'd expect to see forming rampaging hordes, though necromancy was around as a fear. Over time they've become less personal, transitioning from something that happens to us to something that happens to people, to the point that they are viewed less by their corruption from humanity as their threat to humanity. Maybe this has some meaning, a way to measure changes in social attitudes and fears.

I really should check my town's ordinances concerning shotguns.


Muiran said...

You're definitely right about zombies being a manifestation of cultural fears, though personally I see it more as a fear of loss of free will. Whether it's as a slave to the zombifier or as a mindless automaton, zombies lack free will. They also fall into the divide between human and not human, perhaps an early uncanny valley.

Also, best to check on shotgun regulations prior to the zombie apocalypse, not so much because regulations will matter when/if it arrives, but if you don't already have one, it's going to be tough to get one.

Klepsacovic said...

I'd entirely forgotten about the "near human" problem. Good point there.

But I do think the free will part has changed over time. For example, in I Am Legend the zombies demonstrate some level of individual behavior and freedom, similar to humans, such as when he was capturing one for testing and the other appeared to have a social attachment to her in particular.

Or in World of Warcraft where many of the undead, most notably the Forsaken, are free-willed. Though I will acknowledge that much of the fear of the Scourge revolved around the shackling aspect, beside the horrible unnaturalness of undeath.

Maybe I should start a company to make shotguns specifically designed for anti-zombie warfare. That way I'd have a ready supply on hand and I'd be doing a service to the world. I'll need to work out the exact features that distinguish my product, since just relying on marketing is bad behavior.

Tesh said...

Get Bruce Campbell to endorse your shotgun line and you're set.

Muiran said...

I'd say the Forsaken are an exception that emphasizes the rule. The main difference between them and the Scourge are that they're no longer serving the Lich King and have regained their free will, although from what I've heard of the direction their story has taken in Cataclysm that's less/not true anymore.

Having not seen or read I Am Legend, only the Wikipedia summaries, I'd definitely say you're right in that they don't fall into the loss of free will category.

Klepsacovic said...

@Tesh: But that's just marketing. No. I will make a good product or none at all. I will not have humanity dying because they brought bad guns with a good ad. Later this week I plan to plan the plan.

@Muiran: Maybe you're right. The Scourge was the "loss of free will" zombie while the Forsaken are more or less just a different form of "ruthless enemy who will kill us all", a role filled by everything from foreigners to orcs.

It's a pretty good movie. Not exceptionally scary (this can be good or bad), but it does a decent job of painting a world.

Edawan said...

Stay away from the voodoo.

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