Zombies: The Death of the Undead?

Zombies: The Death of the Undead?

by J.P. Flarity

At Norwescon, the “Northwest’s Premier Science Fiction and Fantasy Event,” there was a panel fully devoted to answering the question:

Are we (as a society/writers/readers/media consumers) done with zombies? Have we bathed ourselves in the blood of our diseased brethren so completely that the smell will never come off?

The fact that this topic of discussion had its own panel shows me the question has always been answered–YES. The majority of us have had enough zombies shoved down our squishy throats to last us the rest of our collective lifetimes.

“Wait!” somebody shouts, “The ________ application of zombies has yet to be explored in _________fiction!” (note: insert the words military and fairy here for amusing mental results).

Zombies may not truly be dead and gone, but soon they will barely be blipping on our radar. Like a pop song that has been played too many times (remember LMFAO’s “Party Rockin?”), we are ready to move on.

The walking undead have been formally dissected by our culture, slashed open, the interesting parts inspected, and tossed aside. Marion cut open their hearts, exploring a romantic zombie arc with Warm Bodies; Stenson showed us a twisted version of reality with his meth-induced Fiend; and now, the coup de grace, Sims makes us look in the mirror with A Questionable Shape, the quintessential, philosophical zombie novel of our times. The book itself hits like a sledgehammer to the head.

I’m glad we’re ready to move on from Romero’s night children, but the root of the issue still disturbs me:

Why did our infatuation with zombies arise in the first place?

The issue is very complex. I think its due in part to zombies being the perfect scapegoat to exact all of our darkest fantasies–they’re the most “human” thing that still counts as being “not” human. They may look like people, move like people, and in some cases (when you really want to crank the volume on the narrative tension to eleven), actually be people the characters used to know. How convenient/tragic that the grandma has gone full brain-eater, now I can load her body full of shotgun shells without feeling any remorse!

It’s not the zombies that creep me out: it’s us.

We look for excuses to exact the maximum amount of carnographic gore on “human-ish” creatures. Zombies in pulp fiction. Droid armies in Star Wars. Armies of monsters, or aliens, demons, whatever, for us to slice up into disgusting little sausage pieces because they aren’t humans, so it’s okay. Protagonists can be coated in striated layers of zombie-gore that would seem outrageous and horrific in any other genre, as the casual slaying of these monsters represents a malicious desire that floats throughout our human subconscious.

The Cranberries summed it up for us: then their violence caused our silence. Zombie. Zombie. Zombie-eh-eh-eh.

It seems that some pop songs, like the undead, will never truly die.

JPFlarityJ.P. Flarity was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, acquiring a teaching degree from Central Washington University in 2007. When not teaching or playing bartender, he enjoys dabbling in science fiction as an attempt to discover “the real.” He currently lives near the foothills of Mt. Rainier with his herd of elk.