The creepy ghoulish creatures known as zombies rose from humble beginnings to become one of society’s favorite monsters.
In recent years, the culture surrounding zombies has expanded beyond its movie monster status. It has evolved into a booming industry involving merchandise, video games, television shows, best-selling books, charity walks and even human vs. zombie games that schools like University of South Florida host all over the country. These games draw hundreds of participators into the mock battle of humans trying to slay the flesh eating creatures before they are turned into a zombie themselves.
How did an undead creature surpass its cult classic begins to engrain itself as a pop culture beast it is today?
It’s best to start at the beginning of the modern day zombie created by George A. Romero in his well-known classic “Night of the Living Dead”. Originally, zombies had ties to Haitian and voodoo culture with zombies being an undead controlled by a master. Romero created the pandemic zombie that staggers around moaning for flesh, and that is the zombie that pop culture has embraced today.
Alan Green, part of USF’s English department PhD program, teaches film study and is currently working on his dissertation that focuses on the human/zombie dichotomy. “Whether they are fast or slow zombies they sort of mirror us as a society,” Green said.
Green explained that one of the reasons they are so popular is they are relatable. Zombies exploit our fears at the time, whether they represent post 9/11 terrorist fears in “Land of the dead” or our consumer culture dystopia in “Dawn of the Dead”. “They’ve tapped into the human psyche,” Green said. He added, “Zombies are highly malleable; they change for each new wave of successive fears and anxieties to reflect society.”
One student, Rob Fowler, says his love of zombies comes from the idea zombies would bring an equality to society. “It’s not just about shooting your neighbor. There would be no more rich or poor, just those who survive and those who don’t,” Fowler said, “It would be a world with a level playing field as opposed to right now, where it feels like everything’s an uphill battle.”
Green also noted the more Darwinian aspect of a zombie pandemic that Fowler was alluding to.
Even examining zombies on just a monetary level the popularity trend is clear. The 2009 film “Zombieland” grossed more in its first weekend (almost $25 million) than the first three “of the dead” films total box office grosses put together. They were of course in a different generation. “Zombieland” is currently the highest grossing zombie film of all time.
There is something to be said, however, of the recent films unprecedented ability to draw people to the theater for a zombie film. These less serious zombie films like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland” have been hugely successful at the box office and in DVD sales.
Their success, as well as AMC’s television show’s successful adaptation of the graphic novel “The Walking Dead”, may have been a contributor to why cities across the country host zombie walks, why it’s one of the most popular Halloween costumes or why school campuses have large scale zombie battles.
University of South Florida’s game was originally organized by the religious group Christians in Action, but one of the recent administrators of the game, Zachary Cornett, says they were not affiliated with the last one. He says they are going to meet with CIA to see who will run fall’s game which will hopefully run for a whole week. The game itself draws hundreds of students to play the campus wide game.
Charlie Brandt, USF student, says he already can’t wait to sign up for the fall game. “I’ve loved zombies for years, and read Max Brooks’ books, but it seems like the games come and go too quick each semester,” said Brandt. He says he missed the last one because it was a weekend game, and he had to work.
While the zombie popularity trend will probably continue for some time because, as Alan Green said, “It’s pretty much touched every facet of our culture.” He warns most horror subgenres like zombies or vampires go though phases of ups and downs. He said even if it begins to fade a little in coming years, he would expect it to make a comeback eventually.
Regardless of how zombies fare in the future, they are riding high now. Around campus you can see T-shirts and bumper stickers. In the rest of the world, it’s hard to avoid zombies as studios continue to produce movies like “World War Z” and “Zombieland 2” that are coming in the near future, and the second season of “The Walking Dead” looks to be coming out next fall. There is just something about these undead creatures that our society just can’t get enough of.