I was thinking about zombies the other day. It seems like the trend peaked a couple years ago, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the proliferation of TV shows, movies, and public events revolving around the walking dead.
It’s a truism that depictions of zombies and other monsters reflect society’s fears and insecurities. However, the old, zombies-as-mindless-consumers trope beat into the ground by George Romero (and most recently used in the excellent remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) doesn’t seem to work anymore. It certainly doesn’t apply to the phenomenon that is The Walking Dead, which is really what we’re talking about if we’re talking about zombies in 2016. It seems to me that The Walking Dead is popular because it’s basically a fantasy: atomized, alienated, financially insecure Americans want to live on the run, camping in the great outdoors with a tight-knit band of fellow survivors that can only depend on themselves and each other. It’s basically a self-help show about how life gets a lot simpler if you can forget looming debt repayments and retirement planning and focus on the now of kinship bonds and wasting zombies. This also parallels the recent trend of pop evolutionary biology, with Grimes the alpha male leading his pack of ur-humans around. You know, how humans are supposed to live.
There’s probably also some variably interesting ideas in there about The Walking Dead subconsciously channeling a decreasingly-religious-but-increasingly-millenarian America’s fears of post-Rapture abandonment. As John Dolan likes to remind us, there’s a shitload of old-fashioned American Calvinism underpinning the ideology of the officially secular progressive left in this country, a group which would probably include the creators and much of the fanbase of the show.