On That New, Old, Undead Fad: Zombies

Mumble, grumble, paying off my word-war debts….


Hi, it’s Courtney from Syncopated Synonyms once again. Today’s topic? Zombies.

As recently as last year, there were several zombie scares in the U.S. news, and, although the hysteria was quickly debunked, the CDC felt it necessary to address zombies on its website. Interestingly, said website has since morphed into an attempt to make tongue in cheek zombie “updates” useful to public health in general: CDC Zombie Preparedness.

Their website states:

Wonder why Zombies, Zombie Apocalypse, and Zombie Preparedness continue to live or walk dead on a CDC web site? As it turns out what first began as a tongue in cheek campaign to engage new audiences with preparedness messages has proven to be a very effective platform. We continue to reach and engage a wide variety of audiences on all hazards preparedness via Zombie Preparedness; and as our own director, Dr. Ali Khan, notes, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” So please log on, get a kit, make a plan, and be prepared!

But zombies aren’t just useful in terms of public health preparedness; they often serve as handy-catchall symbols (who, usefully, can’t complain about being catchalls) for any social ills we writers/film makers wish to throw their way.

But I have a few bones to pick with zombie lit. (Hmm, maybe I shoulda gone with brains to pick there). First, it’s often unrealistic: something with a rotting body shouldn’t have super-strength or super-speed or super-anything (except stench). Sure, if you happen to get snuck-up on, or have the terrible luck to wander into the midst of a horde, you’re gonna die, but zombies rarely have the potential to be strong, believable adversaries.(I do have a caveat, which will be addressed later on).

Second, zombie lit tends to be churned out formulaic-ly, which is just lame considering the potential for social commentary and overall awesome.

Third (and here is where I’d like to place my focus in this post), the whole mythology of zombies is greatly misunderstood.

The zombie mythology comes, primarily, from Carribean lore–although myths about the dead have been around for as long as people, I’d guess. These zombies were really just people in catatonic states: they looked dead while they were under the thrall of some sort of voodoo master. Or, they were actually dead but were raised by a specific person for a specific person and then went away. These zombies could be undone, which is really handy.

A lot of “zombie lore” nowadays can be attributed to George Romero, whose films (including the classics Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) have defined the zombie film genre as we know it.

I really like one of his recent films, Survival of the Dead, in which the desperate residents of a tiny island teach zombies to eat animals instead of people.

But I, alas, am far from a full-fledged expert on the subject of authentic-zombie lore. So, this rambling introduction has been leading up to a world-class passing of the buck. Check out this resource, put together by the University of Michigan, for more information:




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