This is the month of Halloween, so somehow it just seems appropriate that we talk about the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse. Now, now, don’t start giggling. After all, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, GA took this problem seriously enough to issue instructions in case we wake up one morning and find ourselves neck deep in the walking dead, so maybe we should too. Having trouble choking that one down? Well, don’t take my word for it. Check out the internet — CDC pamphlet Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. There’s even a nice comic book for the kiddies.
Actually, it’s hard to find the original pamphlet, first published on the internet in May 2011, which was a tongue-in-cheek paper on the danger of zombies, their origins, and how to protect yourself. It also mentioned, almost as an aside, that the preparations you made to survive the zombies could also be used in case of a more common natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado or flood should one of these come first. If you look it up today, you’ll find a heavily modified version of the pamphlet that repeats again and again that everything is fictional and it’s all really just a fun way of getting people to think about being prepared. What it makes me think about is why the modified version was necessary. After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion there can only be one reason. The people who wrote the original thought everyone knew there is no such thing as a zombie. Apparently, they were mistaken. There was so much activity generated by the original pamphlet that the CDC’s website crashed and they had to spend time and money assuring everyone that the CDC didn’t really know of any virus or radiation that would turn a dead person into an animated entity in search of living people’s brains to eat.
The element of this that I find most interesting is the willingness of people to respond to the concept of zombies. In classical horror stories (outside of Haiti), zombies don’t have much of a place. Even in Haiti, the fear was not so much of being attacked by a zombie as it was that some moldy old witch doctor would steal your soul and turn you into one. I guess, technically, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy were both zombies — they were certainly the walking dead — but they weren’t the same thing as the zombie-hordes-destroying-civilization that inflames people’s fears today. The zombie horde idea seems to have started with George A. Romero and his movie, Night of the Living Dead, in 1968. Between the four additional “Dead” movies he made after that and the numerous clone movies, the genre was pretty well established through the 70’s and 80’s and is, today, the most common type of horror movie made.
In his excellent, non-fiction book, The Danse Macabre, Stephen King links the type of things people find terrifying in horror books and movies with the fears that the society is experiencing. If this is true, it seems that today, in America, there is a strong fear of becoming overcome and submerged in a mindless, soulless host that pursues a single goal without regard to injuries done to self or to others, without considerations of right and wrong, and without any thought to the future which the present actions will create. I note that the decades in which the fear of zombies has grown strong have been the same ones in which more and more of our population live in little boxes made of ticky-tacky and have gone to work in cubicles of sameness for giant, faceless, international businesses. Perhaps, it is a case of people fearing, not what they might become, but rather what they recognize, at some level, they already are. Of course, this may be too symbolic. Perhaps the frightened people who mobbed the CDC website were correct in their fears. After all, there is Zechariah 14:12-13 to consider: “…the Lord will send a plague on all the nations…their people will become as walking corpses…they will fight their neighbors hand to hand…” That prophecy hasn’t come true, yet. So, who is to say where the real fear lies — perhaps in both places. This Halloween, what will you find that frightens you the most: an animated corpse or a business suit? Will your grandchildren answer in the same way, I wonder?
~ Kurt Hendrix