Why Are Zombies Popular?

One of the most interesting parts of a zombie apocalypse is the beginning. How does it start? Can anyone prevent it? Is the zombie apocalypse really that scary to want to run away from it? With yesterday’s premier of Fear the Walking Dead on AMC, today’s Monday Mayhem post would be a good place to have a look at the draw people have toward zombies and why these wretched disasters just won’t go away.

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

On October 31, 2010, Halloween no less, The Walking Dead premiered. From there a series began that would eclipse all other television series. Its premise is simple: a zombie apocalypse has taken over the planet and no one knows how to defeat it. As the series progresses, the audience discovers human nature, with all its entrapments, becomes a central theme in the show. Sometimes, what people do to each other is more stomach-churning than the deeds of the walkers. Should Fear the Walking Dead follow in the footsteps of its parent The Walking Dead, then one would assume the show will depict the darkest aspects of human nature.

Although zombies have always had a sordid history in low-budget spectacles, even having transformed into cartoons (eg. Scooby-Doo), recent activities in the genre have placed the undead in the forefront of creative bedlam. One thing is certain, the media does not like a vacuum. With the departure of Twilight from the Horror scene a number of years ago, vampires took a backseat to walkers. To that end, the popularity of zombies has never been better.

Fear the Walking Dead
Fear the Walking Dead

Just like their genetic makeup, zombies have crept into mainstream popularity and are now eating away at every form of media. The movie Warm Bodies is the latest entry to the genre, which film critics loved as the zombie equivalent to Twilight. The steady growth of zombie fandom hasn’t relented one bit either. Shows like The Walking Dead and In the Flesh have captured the imagination of viewers everywhere. Sites devoted to the undead have sprung up throughout the world. Commercials have even gotten in on the act. Zombies apparently love BMW, Ford and Doritos.

In the 1920s, H. P. Lovecraft wrote a short story called Herbert West—Reanimator. Inspired by Frankenstein, Lovecraft’s mad doctor believed he could bring life back from the dead, which he did. The caveat being the creatures reanimated came back as starved cannibals, killing and eating everyone in sight. Sounds familiar, huh?

In 1954, Richard Matheson wrote I Am Legend. Although devoted to vampirism, the common story elements with modern day zombies are evident. A virus infects humans who then infect other humans with their bites. In the 2007 movie by the same name, Will Smith fights dark seekers, which blurs the lines between vampires and zombies even further. Although never spoken of as vampires, if one were to view dark seekers simply by their behavior, one would think they are zombies (feed off humans, affected by a virus, etc.).

However, it wasn’t until 1968 when director George A. Romero released The Night of the Living Dead that zombies became what they are today—single-minded eating machines. These are the same zombies featured in the show The Walking Dead (born from the dead, crave human flesh and will die with a blow to the head—as I’d written in my post The Three Commandments).

This gradual escalation of zombie popularity has yet to abate. Once we see a full-scale acceptance of the zombie genre, that’s when a true zombie apocalypse will have taken place and everyone will fear the walking dead.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Do you like zombies? Why? What draws you to the zombie genre?

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21 thoughts on “Why Are Zombies Popular?

  1. Interesting fact that even the characters referred to the ones in Night Of The Living Dead as Ghouls. No mention of the Z word. I blame the media.
    For me, its all about the survivors. How they deal with the situations of keeping alive. Of course the makeup fx, and also imaginative ways to fell the creatures. NOTLD will always be my favourite. Just inching out over Zombie Flesh Eaters through sentiment.
    Hammer studios only ever gave the Zombie one outing. These were proper zombies, ( IE slaves of their Master). The makeup was great at the time. Romero would then give us his Ghouls, and the under educated media declares all living dead Zombies.

    Being slowly eaten alive piece by piece must be ‘the’ most gruesome and painful way to die. Generally a (OK I’ve made my point now I’m over it) Zombie isnt too much of a threat, but in multiple numbers youve had it. The slow shambling brings an aura of impending doom. Death slowly closing in around you. A grown human being but unable to defend yourself unarmed. Much more terrifying that a vampire bite. A one way ticket to oblivion.

  2. I have been a ‘fan’ of zombies for many years now, especially the literature. I’m not so knowledgeable about the movies or television series’. I agree with and like what Zathra said in the first comment about zombies representing a primal fear of the unknown, something that’s welled up from childhood. What instantly came to mind for me was something even more specific than the unknown. I think the zombie trope is driven by chiefly two things, one of which you touch on really well in the post, Jack: (1) fear of, revulsion about, and attraction toward death and (2) a mirror of humanity. Zombies allow the opportunity for us to shine the light on humans and focus on the darker aspects of humanity, which you described so well, Jack. Zombies represent a life form that’s “very nearly us” or “what we could be,” never mind if some of the narratives don’t make any attempt to explain zombie origins (the walking dead just are; they aren’t driven by any pestilence, experiment gone awry, etc.). They aren’t alien or foreign to us. They don’t really represent the Other in a way that other monster types do (werewolves, alien visitors, supernatural entities like haints, spirits, or wraiths, etc). They represent what human beings could be. So, in a very real, visceral, existentialist way, these monsters are us [at our worst, so to speak, or after we’ve shuffled off our mortal coils] and vice versa. Forays into the zombie genre allows a person to explore death in a way that’s not quite so threatening–there’s just enough suspension of disbelief required that it’s not like visiting an actual morgue or taking part in an autopsy. In any case, it’s a great genre, and although I disagree with you slightly, Jack, in that I think it is on the decline, it will rise again and again, I’m sure!

    • Zombies always come back – Except if you aim for the head ! A mirror of humanity – a kind of devolution ( Devolution isn’t the best term, I know….. ).

      • Yeah, you read my mind, Zathra. Spooky! 🙂 Zombies–like most humans, perhaps Phineas Gage excepted–are felled by a good blow, bullet, iron rod, ax, etc. to the skull. In a way, zombies are almost humans writ large. They’re what we become in the grave, if we were somehow able to climb out. What would be our motivations? It’s not accurate, perhaps, to assume that all dead walkers would be kind, benevolent ‘souls.’ Why not the extreme opposite, then, wanting to obliterate the very humanity that they can never again possess? Great discussion, as ever, Z.

      • Or both selfish & jealous. Though, philosophically, what ‘sense of self’ does a zombie have, to be either jealous or selfish? Sounds like an academic paper. Zombie ethos or something . . .

      • It seems like a zombie would be about as self – aware as a shark, or maybe a machine. Basically reduced to its primal needs while it was able to pursue them ( before it was too deteriorated to do so ).

  3. I think what drives us to zombies so much is that they were us, they were everyday people that succumbed to an illness that could of hit anyone. They are what we dread to be. they are like the car accident we see on our way home, we don’t want to watch but we cant help ourselves. Its human nature, As to zombies being the new Twilight, not so sure about that, I think Vampires will always lurk in the darkest part of our heart as the ultimate monster. what makes a vampire so scary is that they are seductive, their sexy (well except for some that featured on True Blood) and that draws people to them,
    and btw Jack, you forgot to mention Z Nation 🙂 its at the other end of the spectrum from TWD being as it isn’t as dramatic but it is a good series. 🙂

  4. It’s seeing how people react to each other around zombies that makes things interesting. Zombie movies aren’t really about zombies; they’re about people. Zombies are the catalyst for the human dramas that unfold.

    • Zombies are like sharks. A shark movie uses the shark as an agent to spark a reaction. Same with zombies. I’m just testing this analogy out. 🙂

  5. I think the fascination with zombies goes back to our questions on what makes us human. What drives us to do what we do? Is it all just biological? Zombies operate on purely biological instinct. What separates us from them? I have my thoughts, but probably far too deep to go into here and now, but I think that’s what gets at us and makes us watch zombies with such interest.

  6. Oh no, serious point about to be made! If there was a zombie apocalypse I’d lay money on the authorities allowing it to spread to some degree. There’s a sort of rampant apocalypse going on the Middle East, except the insatiable monsters are called Islamic State. It could be stopped if there was political will to do so.

    Would the authorities make any effort to stop a ‘real zombie’ attack. I suppose it depends who’s at risk and if the oil wells are threatened.

  7. Not that big of a fan of Zombies. I used to walk alone coming home from work late at night, no more buses and all the streetlights except for the main road have already been turned off. I would leave only one earplug on so that I could still listen to music but I left the other one off so that I could hear if something/someone was coming close. It’s good if I was being cautious preventing as much as I can from getting mugged or something like that but no, I’m scared of zombies eating me alive without a chance to run or fight.

  8. For me, it’s the loss of control and everything we take for granted. Similar to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. People we know are changed and are now a threat to us….and “we” the viewer or reader are outnumbered. After deploying to over a dozen disaster relief missions, it’s frightful to lose those basic needs we take for granted. And really scary how quickly society breaks down.

  9. Not a horror fan, in general, but the best I have been able to come up with for the fascination and horror about zombies is their unrelenting nature. Everything else feels like you can stop it, whereas zombies just seem to multiply out of control, so even if you can stop one, there are tens of thousands behind it. It feels like you cannot stop a zombie apocalypse, so much as do your best to delay the inevitable. (PS This was my complaint about the movie It Follows…it could end no other way.)

  10. How / why are people so sure that the infrastructure / grid would go down for good ( As in no media, no utilities, internet etc. ) unless all our energies went into keeping vast legions of the undead at bay, so much so, that we had to neglect ( ? ) everything that wasn’t directly related to defense. Maybe somebody decides to nuke certain metropolitan areas that are TOO infested with hordes of zombies, & that takes down a large portion of the grid, perhaps ?

  11. Zombies top my list of truly scary monsters. I think because, especially the way things are today, its a ‘plausible’. Vampires, werewolves, etc, good movie monsters, but that’s all they are. Today, with the investigation/experimentation into diseases, bioweapons, etc, maybe we might not get true zombies, but you can see *something* like this ending the world.

  12. I went to a gun show with my husband last year. One of the top selling items…..targets with a zombie image. The second top selling item was a set of bumper stickers that read “I am ready for the zombie apocalypse”, “zombie beware” (with cross-hair scope image in the center of the zombie’s head), and “locked and loaded for zombie hunting”. The different sellers of the same items displayed these products as high on their tables or stands as they could to attract people coming in the door.

    I wonder if there will be a reality show about keeping your family safe from zombies as there are shows like “Prepers” (not sure how it is spelled), who are getting ready for the impending nuclear disasters.

    Leslie

  13. I think zombies represent a childhood – type fear that the dead MAY INDEED come back, & maybe there is a life after death – Just not the type of afterlife that many of humanity’s sacred texts address. OR, the idea that is expressed in the remake of Romero’s ” Dawn of the Dead ” that ” When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth “. A primal fear or doubt regarding what happens, or could happen, albeit with the aid of a virus or similar agent, to a freshly dead human body.
    The idea of the ” walking dead ” represents our fear of, & a level of discomfort with, the unknown.

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