I’ve wondered why zombie movies and shows are so popular. They certainly are popular so there has to be a reason.
I wondered before what is the subtext to these movies and shows – or to zombies themselves? Why do we like them?
I thought that, perhaps, the popularity was in the childhood game of cops and robbers: basically (but with zombies) we get to ride about killing bad guys: we get to act like heroes, saviours and soldiers all in one go. It’s an ego trip, in other words.
I now think the truth might be much darker than that.
I watched the final scene of episode five of Fear the Walking Dead, where Ruben Blades is looking at the chained double-doors, and immediately the image of John Hurt, lying on the table in Alien (1979) came to mind.
It was the way the doors were bulging and looked like they were stretching which made me think of that famous scene.
Then my thoughts were of how a woman’s belly can look when a baby is stretching.
It was pretty obvious that behind those doors, something was trying to get out, and I’m sure that during the season finale, all those walkers will escape (be born) into the action of the episode – and that’s what we’re all now waiting for.
Back in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments into obedience to authority and discovered something depressing about the nature of the human: we will easily harm, torture or even kill another person if instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures. These findings were unwelcome by many; for instance because Milgram showed the ‘Nuremberg Defence’ might actually be a defence – or a solid reason, at any rate – for the facilitating of mass murder by who in many cases were civil servants, not ideological Nazis.
It’s easier (and more agreeable) to conclude the ‘I was only following orders’ defence is a weak excuse used by evil people than it is to accept that humans might have something savage in their natures, or, more bluntly, that a tendency to cruelty and sadism is the default position. It doesn’t suit our geocentric idea of ourselves as the ultra-evolved master-species to be told how fucking base we actually are.
What we desire, on unconscious levels of awareness, can manifest itself in our dreams and sometimes our waking fantasies; so it makes sense that we might be attracted to some external stimulant – be it a song, movie or television show – which reminds us of those instinctive desires in some way. As Huxley states in Heaven and Hell:
Most dreams are concerned with the dreamer’s private wishes and instinctive urges, and with the conflicts which arise when these wishes and urges are thwarted by a disapproving conscience or a fear of public opinion.
Could it be that zombies are not so different from what the human is once you take away the controlling elements of language and society? And shows such as The Walking Dead are popular because they allow a psychic vibration to flow back to our savage selves?
Zombies are popular because an unconscious recognition happens between what we see and our animalistic true natures.
More bluntly still:
Zombies remind us of ourselves: of the part of our evolved natures that’s waiting to break out from behind our civilised masks just as soon as society falls.
Got a problem with that?
Read your Stanley Milgram.