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I've been thinking about this a lot lately, mainly in relation to a theme from one of my old film studies classes in college. The professor had an interesting theory on why certain topics (mainly in action type movies) are more popular in specific times. For example:

WWII - Classic westerns and war movies. Clear good guy, bad guy, right and wrong. We're fighting the good fight and we trust our leaders to do the right thing.

Cold War - Spy movies, We can't face this head on. We need someone spectacular, with special tools and gadgets to solve these problems behind the scenes. But, they're still sponsored by a mostly good and right government. Shadowy governments, super villains are the main enemies.

60's/70's - Revisionist westerns and war movies. The end of the old west. Questionable heroes, good guys who turn bad, criminals and killers as heroes. Loss of trust in the government, the establishment--they become the bad guys instead of the good guys.

80s - Horror movies come back with a vengeance. The Cold War is winding down, but we're still afraid. We don't trust the government. We don't trust business. Uncertainty and fear. We're not afraid of the govt or business, though, we're afraid of psychos, ghosts, monsters.

90s/00s - Superheroes and vampires come back strong. We're still scared, but there's a sense of hope. Super villains also come back, and we don't believe anyone (government, business, individual) can defeat them. We need someone truly remarkable, mythical, super to defeat them. Conversely, vampires show a greater acceptance and glorification of the darker side. Evil can live forever, and be sexy doing it.

2010's - Political and financial chaos. Zombies rule the world. There's no more superhero, more question of coming out on top. This is about survival, on your own, without the help of anyone else, and especially not the government or establishment (who likely caused the outbreak in the first place).

Anyway, this is still really rough, and I know I'm cherry picking to reach these conclusions, but it's food for thought...

Beth McCoy

Thank you for your thoughtful, thorough comment! I am wondering in your professor's formulation about the "we" in each era...was there any discussion of that?

Also, I neglected to mention that the University of Louisville last year hosted a "Professors vs. Zombies" conference. You can see an article about it here http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/ and the [witty] schedule of events here:
http://louisville.edu/english/calendar/professors-vs-zombies-day-one.ics http://louisville.edu/english/calendar/professors-vs-zombies-day-two.ics

Arthur Gaer

Zombies really aren't my thing--outside of a couple of probably atypical movies--but I've heard a few suggestions on why zombies are romping throughout pop culture lately:

1) Zombies are taking the part in the horror universe/media storytelling previously occupied by vampires. Vampires now being object of romance and eroticism, some other frightful creature needs to occupy the popular culture niche that vampires occupied until at least the publication of Interview with a Vampire in 1976 (or in the broader culture the 1994 film).

2) It's the appeal of the inherent criticism of modern culture and those who "act like zombies" or are fairly indistinguishable from them politically, socially, etc. E.g. "Night of the Living Dead", "Dawn of the Dead", "Shaun of the Dead". Those are good films but *very* different from, say, the gothic Bronteish horror of 1942's "I Walked With a Zombie". (Films are my primary zombie interaction).

3) According to those who play video games and the like, zombies are fun to blow away, cause even though they look human they're no longer human (and blowing them away saves humans) so theres no guilt involved, it's all just cartoonish violence. And the cross-influences between video games and other forms of pop culture media are now quite strong.


Hey Beth,

My comment was obviously not backed by any numbers or real research, so that's a great question. I believe he was looking at the most popular movies in those eras, but I honestly don't remember what the criteria were for popularity (or if there were any).

Either way, it leads to some interesting perspectives on cultural reactions to the times.

On a different note: I think #3 in Arthur's post above is spot on. And maybe not even just for video games. The idea of it being much easier to kill "dehumanized" humans opens the door to A LOT of interpretation, no?

Beth McCoy

Yes, it does.

Arthur Gaer

The time of zombies may be passing: Just picked up Locus Magazine's Year in Review and they make a mention that zombie literature had a significant numerical book decline in 2012. And that a lot of zombie lit is hard for them to classify cause it's humor so doesn't really fit in their horror genre numbers.

As for dehumanizing humans: it's interesting to note that the first modern zombie film, 1968's "Night of the Living Dead" has an African-American hero who organizes the defense of a white living living group against the seemingly never ending oncoming mass of deathly pale white living dead zombies.

Kathrine Varnes

I have explained to my nine year old son that killing zombies in Minecraft is a slippery slope. Once it is "okay" to beat up something that is kind of like you, but not like you because of such and such a reason, it opens the whole question of how to make that definition. Who is not human enough to merit compassion? People who are hunched over, i.e. old? People with skin not your color? People with bloodshot eyes? People with slurred speech? People with any kind of physical deformity or difference?

In short, I ruined his game for him and made certain he would be uncomfortable around all boys, ages 6-19. But why should we cuddle up to paramilitary training in the guise of a game and call it fun? I don't really think he was having fun as such. It was more like, "Here is something I can master," and that too was a lie.

Christopher Wixson

Like you, I avoid ingesting any of the various textual manifestations of zombiedom. However, I confess to eagerly wolfing down every one of Whitehead's novels. Zone One was stunningly, hauntingly impressive, in style as well as intellectual content. Every bit the equal of The Intuitionist, a similarly genre-bending masterpiece.

Currently, I am wrestling with The Big Machine and The Devil in Silver.

Thanks so much for your insight in these fantastic posts....

Beth McCoy

Kathrine (thank you for working in Minecraft) and Chris, I am so sorry--the notifications for your thoughtful and welcome comments got caught in a spam filter somehow. And Arthur, thank you for continuing the conversation, again.

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