July 18, 2013

Why the Rise of Zombies in Our Culture

Spengler on The Zombie Apocalypse

Sometime in 2011 the total number of film plots with the keyword “zombie” passed the number of film plots with the keyword “cowboy,” according to the Internet Movie Database. One might argue that the zombie has become the great American archetype of the postmodern era, as the cowboy was the American archetype a century ago. With the release of Brad Pitt’s $200 million zombie epic World War Z, what used to be the stuff of low-budget shockers has entered the American cultural mainstream. Therein lies a lesson.

“The history of the world is the history of humankind’s search for immortality,” I argued in my 2011 book Why Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too). Human beings can’t tolerate life without the hope of some existence beyond our brief mortal span of years. Cultures that know they have made it past their best-used-by date tend to die for lack of interest.
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Dying cultures are the living dead. Half of the world’s 6,000 languages will disappear by the end of this century. They are zombie cultures. But we Americans are gestating a zombie culture inside what used to be a “country with the soul of a church,” as G.K. Chesterton put it. The hedonistic narcissism that took over popular culture during the 1960s produced a spiritual deadening like nothing in American history. That’s why we are so fascinated with zombies. We identify with them.
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We think of ourselves as rational folk. And yet we find almost 10 million pairs of eyes glued to the television screen each week when a new episode airs of “The Walking Dead,” enthralled by the same images, but in reverse: the walking dead in place of the dead awaiting resurrection, animated corpses instead of wholesome priests or uncorrupted saints, a terrified band of survivors huddled against encroaching death instead of the happy procession of God’s people to the source of eternal life.

Father Barron on the hand liked World War Z..  Brad Pitt's Story of Salvation

First, it was a competently made thriller and not simply a stringing together of whiz-bang CGI effects. Secondly, it presented a positive image of a father. In a time when Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are the norm for fatherhood in the popular culture, Brad Pitt's character, Gerry Lane, is actually a man of intelligence, deep compassion, and self-sacrificing courage.

But what intrigued me the most about World War Z is how it provides a template for thinking seriously about sin and salvation.
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But if it [sin] is more like a disease, then sin can be fully addressed only through the intervention of some medicine or antidote that comes from the outside. Moreover, if sin were just a bad habit, then it wouldn't reach very deeply into the structure of the self; but were it more like a contagion, it would insinuate itself into all the interrelated systems that make up the person. The fathers of Trent specify that sin causes a falling-apart of the self, a disintegration of mind, will, emotions, and the body, so that the sinner consistently operates at cross-purposes to himself.

Do you see now why the zombie -- a human being so compromised by the effects of a contagion that he is really only a simulacrum of a human -- is such an apt symbol for a person under the influence of sin?

Richard Fernandez The Rediscovery of Monsters

Dylan Charles says zombies are what we have instead of Homer. “Myth and metaphor play an important role in constructing our culture and creating purpose in our lives. They are tools that help the subconscious mind to digest the happenings of a world that is too complex for our five senses alone. … When we hear tales of Homer and his Odyssey we also receive cues we need to uncover the strength and perseverance required to face personal challenges.”

Today these challenges are mostly posed by ourselves. Charles enumerates them: nearly Unconscious Plebs on the Loose, an army of nearly undead pharmaceutical users, media hypnotized automatons, violence as the solution for everything and every man for himself. These are what we mean by ‘zombies’. In that sense we’re in World War Z already and have been for a long time. And no, the smooth flow of mental traffic will not return momentarily.

The Atlantic Wire, writing in a much more sober vein, says: “The zombie apocalypse has emerged as the metaphor of the decade for all sorts of things, from emergency preparedness to estate planning, and for good reason: It’s a catch-all for the end of humanity and an uninhabitable world, with none of the political ramifications of real scenarios like terrorism or global warming.”
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It sounds like a survivalism that has gone mainstream. But more importantly it suggests  the authorities and even Hollywood secretly agree with the Tea Partiers: yes we do have a reason to worry. Yes there is a crisis. And Zombies and Kaiju are our way of sending you this subliminal signal even if on the talk shows we’ll tell you that the sun is shining, the birds are singing, employment has never been so good and traffic will return to normal in a few hours
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 18, 2013 9:35 PM | Permalink