It's no secret among twenty-somethings that cultural adoration of zombies has been on the rise over the past few years. Ever since we started blasting them away in Resident Evil (we’re too young for the Thriller video - we had to YouTube it afterwards) we’ve been intrigued by the creatures - these living dead who walk with their arms outstretched in their search for braaaaaiiiins. I could list all of the appearances of zombies in popular media, but that would A) be tedious and B) probably be a repeat of what Wikipedia already does. To make a long list short, the zombie trend is fueled by video games like the aforementioned Resident Evil series, Left 4 Dead and the House of the Dead series, comedy films like Army of Darkness, Shawn of the Dead, and Zombieland, and books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or The Zombie Survival Guide.
Zombie are usually portrayed in the media as slow, indestructible beasts (save for their susceptibility to chainsaws), oozing gore and intent on killing for no reason other than to spread their numbers. They don’t really feed; they never hunger or thirst. They are the animated shells of the former living, and they are never the good guys in any form of narrative. So why the cultural obsession? Why the zombie walks and zombie pub crawls?
After all, zombies are ugly, horrid, grotesque creatures. Their image reeks of death and putrid decay. They have no qualities that real live humans would want. So why do we emulate them? It doesn’t even matter where we are in the world; zombies have appeal.
Take for example this photoset from a Russian zombie walk (warning: heavy fake gore, some brief nudity). This crawl was a flash mob (a group of people organized quickly for a specific event through the use of mobile devices) and as you can see got quite large. I don’t really know what they did while dressed as zombies, but I imagine they walked slowly everywhere, took a lot of pictures, and commented on each others’ costumes. I suppose I would liken it to a bunch of performance and make-up artists getting together and having a grand old time. As anyone can plainly see from the pictures, most of the costumes are pretty creative, and a few showcase some real talent.
The image that really struck me, however, was this one capturing the juxtaposition of the clean-cut advertising model with rejected and soulless zombie bride.
That right there is the heart of the appeal of the zombie movement: its un-marketability. Other outlaw-type figures can be manipulated to the advantage of commercial marketing. Ninjas? Check. Cyborgs? Check. Pirates? Double check. Vampires? Don’t even get me started. They can all be turned into heroic figures. But not zombies. Just looking at the photoset makes it obvious why. Some of those costumes are genuinely terrifying. That’s not fit for a billboard. Well, how about watering it down? That won’t work either, because the zombie image is so pervasive in media that people will take one look at a consumer-friendly zombie and say, “WEA~~~~~K”. We all know what a zombie should look like.
It’s unfortunate that this has to be the case, that our youth culture has to turn to the mutilated, the rejected, the soulless and the decrepit to find something that it can have all to itself; something that won’t be usurped by advertising machines and cultivated and curated to be sold back to us. The only imageries worth indulging in are the ones which are offensive to the general public, to the consumer. I wrote about this a while back, commenting on the happy-slap craze that invaded the UK for a brief time. The same thing is going on here, this time in a less violent form, but equally untouchable to an ad-man. Will this trend of planning social events around glorifying the ugly increase? Are we that sick of being marketed to? And what will be the long-term consequences of this social phenomenon to the human psyche?