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Not being a fan of horror movies, I’ve not spent much time thinking about zombies. But in this book the authors present a convincing argument that, in fact, the zombie genre is the underlying myth of our times.

The zombie first appears in western popular culture around 1920, and has seen an exponential rise ever since. Of the 600 zombie movies ever made, over half have been made in the last decade. The prevalence of the genre is hard to miss and crosses platforms easily from print to film to video games. But whatever the platform there are characteristics of the zombie that do not change, which suggests something deeper is at play – that the zombie is a symbolic representation, a thing of mythic importance, a monster rising from the depths of its creator – us -and saying something about the state of our collective psyche.

Zombies eat brains, but are themselves without mind. And no matter how many brains they eat, they gain no wisdom, yet continue mindlessly consuming. To kill a zombie you have to destroy its brain, or rather, in order to prevent the zombie eating your brain and rendering you mindless, you have to destroy its empty mindedness. So here’s a clue that what we’re talking about is ourselves; we are the zombies, we are the walking dead.

We zombies have no sense of home, no coherent language, we shuffle en-masse, but with no real aim. We are hideously ugly, a decaying parody of, and an insult to, the human forms we possess. Though we gather in large numbers, we have no community, no culture to nourish the spirit, no purpose other than to eat, to consume mindlessly. We do not co-operate with one another, we employ no particular strategy in the pursuit of our mindless aims. When faced with the very real danger of our own elimination, we take no evasive action. We simply haven’t the sense to care one way or the other.

Another curious fact is the zombie is never named as such in the stories. Only we, the viewer, know its name. The human protagonists are prey to their own whims and inevitably fall foul of the contagion. One by one, they become zombified. They never say: oh, right, they’re zombies, here’s what we need to do.

To follow the genre’s usual mythic narrative, we, the non-zombies, seek refuge with others of our kind, in fortified surroundings, and from where we blast away at the brain-dead with whatever weapons come to hand. But, in spite of our best efforts at cooperation, there’s always a falling out into irreconcilable factions that work against one another. Then there’s a weakness in the defences, a door unlocked, a window left open that lets the zombies in. Significantly, say the authors, there is never a happy ending, no superhero, no super-technology, no God-sent zombie-killing virus to the rescue.

But here’s the thing: the zombie is not evil. It just does what it does, mindlessly, without malice. It’s not dead, but not entirely alive either, and to be touched by one is to become a zombie yourself. They are existentially terrifying. But more, the undead nature of the zombie, and its links to the apocalypse, say the authors, are a reference to our rejection and perversion of the Christian myth. As Nietzsche wrote towards the end of the nineteenth century, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him,” then a short time later, the zombies (us, denuded of something vital) appear in the culture.

This is a short book, scholarly in nature, but I found it deeply interesting, accessible and very readable. Since reading it, I am seeing zombies everywhere, in the news, on social media, on the street, infecting others with their mindlessness. While it is significant, the loss of any spiritual dimension to the culture, the breakdown of organised religions – i.e. traditional, institutional beliefs in a “God” archetype – are also considered culturally inevitable. Religious attendance in the west is inversely correlated with the rise of the zombie. But equally, our search for an alternative “secular” spirituality won’t work, those on offer being too small and fragmented. Attempts by the state to usurp the function of religion, by substituting political and social ideologies like Marxism and Fascism, it’s to be hoped are experiments we can avoid repeating.

Just as the zombie myth does not offer any hope of salvation, neither do the authors at this stage offer any solution to the crisis of meaninglessness in our times. However, it at least enables us to get a handle on the nature of the problem, perhaps with a view to an intelligent attack at some point in the future, and this will be the subject of a future book.

Speaking of John Vervaeke, for anyone working through his “Meaning Crisis” lecture series on Youtube – in my humble opinion, one of the best things on there at the moment – I’ve found “Zombies in Western Culture” a good introduction to his thinking.

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