Zombie Economics: The Harrowing and Hungry Living Dead Serve as Stand-Ins for the Unspoken Fears of an Uncertain Generation

By McCormick, Patrick | U.S. Catholic, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Zombie Economics: The Harrowing and Hungry Living Dead Serve as Stand-Ins for the Unspoken Fears of an Uncertain Generation


McCormick, Patrick, U.S. Catholic


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Unless you've been in a crypt for the past decade, you have noticed the return of the zombies. Rising from their graves in George Romero's 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead, armies of zombies ruled Hollywood horror films for two decades but retreated to their cemeteries in the '90s as moviegoers turned their attention to a rising tide of gentrified vampires and romantic werewolves. In the last 10 years, however, zombies have reclaimed the title as kings of horror.

In films like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, and I Am Legend, zombies have colonized Hollywood. In runaway bestsellers like Brian Keene's The Rising, Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero, and Max Brooks' World War Z, the walking dead have invaded the world of popular fiction, which has even produced a zombie-filled version of Pride and Prejudice. And in the virtual world of gaming, zombies such as those in Resident Evil have become the monster of the hour.

Like other horror genres, zombie tales tap into the cultural zeitgeist by expressing the unspoken fears of a generation, and America's readers and moviegoers have had a lot to be anxious about in the past decade.

When the first waves of the walking dead appeared in theaters in Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Americans were already in despair that the dreams of JFK's "New Frontier" and LBJ's "Great Society" were dissolving into a national nightmare.

Discouraged and demoralized by an endless war in Vietnam, sickened by multiple assassinations, and horrified by the riots in our own cities, disillusioned adolescents no doubt found in Romero's ghoulish legions of the walking dead a metaphor that captured their own sense of powerlessness, the death of their dreams, and a growing sense of horror at the violence unleashed by their government. Zombies worked because they were not clever or cunning but mindless monsters who expressed our worst fears of what we were becoming--horrible and powerless.

Through the '70s and '80s clones and remakes of Romero's film enjoyed a certain popularity as fresh waves of zombie invaders marched across Hollywood screens. This time, however, these legions of the walking dead expressed a growing terror about the collapse of our national economy.

Millions of young Americans dreaming of union jobs and wages awakened to find an economic blight transforming our manufacturing sector into a rust belt stretching from Rochester to Youngstown, Buffalo to Detroit. Suddenly the nightmare of urban wastelands populated by the walking dead seemed all too real to American moviegoers who could no longer hope for good jobs in vibrant cities.

Zombies were driven back to their graves in the '90s as Americans enjoyed a resurgence of confidence. A reinvigorated military devastated Iraq's invading army in Kuwait and a bullish economy fueled by multiple bubbles offered millions an experience or promise of new prosperity. …

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