images-1The living dead are certainly a lively bunch of late. Movies, books, graphic novels, video games, and even a well-reviewed television drama concern themselves with our obsession for all things zombified. Admittedly, I can’t get enough of the reanimated dead, which spurs my curiosity over their enduring popularity. In other words, what is it about zombies that is so damned appealing?

If you’re reading this, there’s a better than average chance that you’re human, to one degree or another; I’m not going to get into semantics about it. Let’s just accept the fact that for better or worse, we’re all carbon-based, bipedal life forms and leave it at that. As humans, there is little that we enjoy more than ourselves. We are the most self-interested, self-serving, self-worshiping species on the planet. We love ourselves, and are unabashed about celebrating our very human-ness. It’s what we do, and we’re rather adept at it. Being human, there are two things we do more prodigiously than anything else: consume and reproduce. Is it any coincidence that these are the only activities that zombies engage in?

How many times have you seen a mother with her baby, saying something to the effect of, “I just wanna eat you up?” From the Bible to the Donner Party to a certain Uruguayan rugby team, from Jeffrey Dahmer to Albert Fish, tales of cannibalism stir a sort of fascinated revulsion in most people, myself included. There is something that compels us to wonder, “Would I do that? Could I do that?” This is a moral dilemma the living dead don’t have to live with. Their rewired DNA simply says, “Eat,” and they do. If, for whatever reason, they don’t finish their meal, the person who was bitten becomes one of them. Consume and reproduce.

More than ever, we are one nation under medication. If a kid gets unruly, they’re given Adderol and Ritalin; if an adult has trouble coping with life, it’s time for Prozac, Lithium, or countless other chemical compounds that serve to shut down negative emotions. Of course, they also shut down positive emotions, neutral emotions, and pretty much every other emotion as well. To deprive a person of their emotions, positive or negative, is to remove their very humanity. I understand that there are cases when people need medication to get through difficult aspects of life, but the rush to medicate that is currently in vogue is disturbing, to say the least.

To take another angle, consider this: in the United States, we have had to endure leaders whose philosophies all but demand blind faith and allegiance, without question or introspection, regardless of the horrors perpetrated, deaths caused, and blatant hypocrisy; to question any of it was considered un-American, plain and simple. It doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to think that this individual (and, of course, his followers) doubted the humanity of those who disagreed with him. In order to live under these oppressive conditions, many Americans willingly abandoned their humanity to accommodate their patriotic bloodlust. Anyone who found waterboarding or the appalling images from Abu Grahib appealing had certainly given in to the collective hive mind of victory at any cost, despite the very real human toll. By endorsing such actions, if only by doing nothing and turning a blind eye, we forfeited our humanity, thereby taking us one step closer to the armies of the non-living.

It is not my intention to demean our service people; I have nothing but respect for those who choose to wear the uniform and serve. Rather, I am pointing a finger at the leaders who endorse the dehumanization of our enemies, and our allowing it to happen and not bring those truly responsible to justice for their actions. As a nation, as a species, we have lost a large part of our collective soul since September 11. We could have taken the higher road, but we chose to let our nation’s destiny be dictated by the power- and money-hungry. For that matter, the perpetrators of the attacks on September 11 were brainwashed by way of their own particular dogmatic beliefs, which are also, conveniently, dehumanizing.

Since World War I (when medical advances made it possible for injured soldiers to return to civilian life), we have seen countless men, shell-shocked and horribly maimed, who unwittingly and unfortunately fuel our fascination and revulsion. We have become so used to seeing the horrors of war that we scarcely notice it anymore, which I find most horrifying of all. Add to the mix that the wars in which the United States has been involved in for the last sixty years have been morally ambiguous at best, there is a groundswell of anger, of rage, at what has happened to our service people in conflicts that are, at best, difficult to truly justify.

As a culture, horrific violence and injustice have become commonplace; we see it every day. More and more, it is accompanied by a sense of futility, that there is nothing we can do about it. We are warned that serial killers could be living next door, that predators lurk in every darkened corner of our cities and towns, that political and religious leaders are lust-crazed lunatics, and the message seems to be that for most of us, we just have to accept these things as part of normal American life. Our deepest, darkest fears are sensationalized for ratings points, and our inability to confront those fears causes many to medicate, barricade, and insulate from life itself. In effect, we are becoming dehumanized. The problem is that bad things happen when people become dehumanized.

Is it any wonder, then, that the idea of a zombie apocalypse has proven so appealing as entertainment? Given a basic plot (‘something’ happened, and the dead have come back to consume and reproduce), people can imagine themselves as taking charge of their destinies, fighting back against the shambling hordes who were once their neighbors, coworkers, and family members, finally unleashing the suppressed rage created by modern life and re-creating the world in a flurry of head-shots and improvised weaponry. Within the constructs of zombie lore, there is a very distinguishable line between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ If we don’t eradicate them, we become them, existing only to consume and reproduce which, ironically, is all that a great many of us do already. Mostly, I think we enjoy envisioning the battle between the living and the undead because it provides a cathartic experience for acting out the anger and rage over what so-called ‘modern society’ has become.

We want to kill the zombies because, when all is said and done, they are a reflection of ourselves.

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