https://aeon.co/ideas/what-makes-zombies-so-scary-hint-it-s-not-the-brain-eating

The author, David Andrew Stoler, argues that the figure of the zombie embodies the human fear of 
the infinite - apeirophobia. The anxiety that the zombie represents, he argues, is not that of being eaten, but the Sisyphean anxiety of having to repeat the tedium of existence, eternally. As he writes, 'The creepiest thing about them is that they are, essentially, us.' There are certainly aspects of the zombie figure that lend themselves to this reading. In particular, one feature that makes the zombie unique among monsters is that it often looks (at least initially) indistinguishable from a living human being. Not to mention that in almost every zombie universe since Romero, there has always been at least one instance of one of the living herd members becoming a zombie, and an emphasis on the attendant horror faced by those in the herd closest to that person. 

Moreover, in at least some zombie mythology, the aspect of perpetuity is indeed explicitly the source of anxiety. The origins of the term 'zombie' are traced to 18th and 19th century Haiti, and specifically arose in the context of French colonial slavery. In this mythos, the zombie is a person who is, through the use of dark magic, reduced to a mindless automaton, at the mercy of a bokor, or a sorcerer. This particular version of the zombie figure embodies the ubiquitous anxieties over the horribly brutal conditions of the Haitian slaves under colonial rule - the zombie being a mindless slave, completely at the mercy of an evil master. 

Stoler's reading, however, seems to gloss over the specificities of the zombie figure that have evolved in the past six decades. Coming to mind are the fact that the modern zombie is essentially a consumer, that what it consumes is the flesh of the living, and that the zombie can only be killed by destroying the brain. Unless I am mistaken, the Haitian zombie figure was not a consumer of the living (indeed it was a slave to the living). In addition, while the Haitian zombie was under the absolute authority of an individual human master, the modern zombie is not (or at least, is not obviously so). 

There are many different interpretive directions that one could pursue with these attributes alone. A more prominent one of late has been the zombie as a critique of capitalism. If the zombie is 'essentially' us, and is essentially consumption, then perhaps we are essentially mindless consumers. This thread is explored extensively in Romero's 1978 classic, Dawn of the Dead, famously set in a shopping mall. If the zombie's consumer good of choice happens to be the flesh of the living, perhaps this is a remark on the fact that a capitalist system feeds on the lives of its laborers and of its consumers. If only a head shot will terminate the zombie, perhaps this is because capitalism is an ideology. 

Perhaps the zombie figure embodies a modern anxiety over embodiment itself. This becomes a more promising reading when the zombie is compared to its mirror image, the vampire. Like the zombie, the modern vampire is of human appearance; it is (almost) immortal; and it is a consumer of the living. But the vampire's consumption-object is the blood of the living, which is, throughout most cultures, synonymous with life itself ('for the blood is the life' - Deuteronomy 12:23). For a long time this has imbued the vampire mythos with a sensuality that has often taken the form of an erotic allure. 

Conversely, the modern zombie is a consumer of flesh - gritty, visceral, materiality. Every major zombie universe since Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead has included at least one detailed scene of disembowelment. There is the famous barbecue scene from Night of the Living Dead, the biker scene from Dawn of the Dead, etc. The Walking Dead is rife with such moments. There is no case to be made for an 'erotic zombie' (Warm Bodies aside). The modern zombie myth may indicate a modern anxiety over the precarity of embodiment itself, perhaps coupled with a cultural sense of the loss of the spiritual.  

This would certainly dovetail nicely with the fact that in most serious zombie universes today, the most pressing concern is not the ubiquity of the walking dead, but rather, the unleashed nature of the human animal in the face of dire circumstances, and the anxiety over the loss of one's humanity in the face of necessity. 

But at the very least, to argue that the modern zombie figure represents nothing more than human apeirophobia, overlooks far too much that makes the modern zombie mythos unique. 
 


Comments

09/06/2016 12:50am

Being a fan of the series The Walking Dead, makes me more get interested to zombie stuff. Also makes me wonder if zombie apocalypse will come true to life. I always think of a perfect weapon that would help me survive. After all it would never happen because it's just a series. Still the modernized look of the zombie makes viewers scared.

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10/01/2016 10:25am

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10/02/2016 3:34pm

Do you think they aren't scary at all? They are undead, that's why they are so scary.

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12/01/2016 9:37am

People are turning into zombies now! TV and phones are damaging our brain))

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05/05/2017 3:38am

Zombies are stupid. They are scaring, but it's not hard to kill them.

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