George Mason University anthropology professor Jeffrey Mantz teaches a class on zombies and their cultural importance. We asked him to prepare us for the invasion with this list of things everyone should know about zombies.
1. They Are Everywhere
Across many cultures around the
world, there is a concern that the dead could return to walk among the living.
Sometimes these ghouls are merely tricksters who are having fun at our expense;
other times they are vengeful creatures who were treated poorly in life and are
exacting revenge. Perhaps it's a mother who died in childbirth. But there are
very few places in the world where you won't find them.
2. Most Will Eat You If You Get Too Close
zombies are basically understood to be ghouls who consume the living. In fact, a
large proportion of those who study zombies argue that they are basically a
metaphor for consumption. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead famously
suggested this, showing zombies wandering through a mall in a strangely similar
way to when they were humans. So if zombies represent how we are when we are at
our worst (say, the morning after Thanksgiving outside an electronics store that
is practically giving flat-screen televisions away), we should be very
3. Zombies Don't Always Attack The Living
cultures, including much of the African and Caribbean traditions from which the
word "zombie" originated, zombies are more mindless servants that do the (more
often bad, but sometimes quite neutral) bidding of a zombie keeper who has
possessed them. In such cases, zombies tend to represent particular kinds of
slave or labor relationships.
4. A Zombie Attack Is Probably The Worst Thing That Can Happen To
The reason zombies are so terrifying to us is because they
represent one of our greatest fears: a loss of our autonomy, our ability to
control our bodies and minds. It is fitting that these monsters have been
largely represented as rotting corpses, because that's literally what they do to
human beings: They decompose us individually and assimilate us into a giant,
undifferentiated horde, just like the Borg in Star Trek (which
essentially was one, roving, intergalactic zombie).
5. Of All The Undead Things You Could Become, Zombies Are The
As opposed to vampires, which are often represented as
seductive, youthful superhuman creatures (or more recently as overly emotive
teenagers), zombies are almost always cursed with an irreversible,
less-than-attractive subhumanity in the single-minded pursuit of some task or
thing (such as flesh or brains). With only a few imaginative exceptions, zombies
cannot love, laugh or live freely.
6. They Have Become Fast — Because Our World Is
Zombies, like LOLcats videos, have gone viral; and when things
go viral, they move fast. As the themes of zombie films have shifted from Cold
War worries about the slow chemical effects of radiological exposure (the source
of zombie outbreaks in films like Night of the Living Dead) to
terrorism-era fears about rapid bacteriological exposure (for example, in 28
Days Later or Resident Evil), the zombies have similarly
accelerated. The more rapid our lives, communications, transportation and
technology, the more quickly threats to them are experienced.
7. Oh, Yes, Zombies Are Real
Scientists have discovered
and manufactured bacteria, viruses and parasites that have zombie-inducing
qualities. And stem cell and nanotechnology research offer real possibilities
for the reanimation of tissue. There is also significant debate as to whether
zombie neurotoxins exist; there is a whole branch of pharmacology devoted to
determining whether such compounds can be found in nature.
8. You May Have Already Been Bitten
The digital age is
beginning to fundamentally change the ways in which human beings interact with
each other. Immersion into our smart phones and our second lives in virtual
worlds offer novel and exciting experiences, but also erode the lived, bodily
dimensions of our humanity. The impact of technology on society is hardly new,
but it certainly has accelerated in the past 20 years. So given the recent
explosion of the undead in popular culture, one should wonder whether all of
this might be suggesting an imminent zombie apocalypse? Or, perhaps, we are
already in the thick of it.