When you write horror fiction, you pay attention to the trends. These days, you can’t swing a baseball bat (or chainsaw) without hitting a mindless, shuffling, canibalistic corpse. Zombies have taken over the Earth, threatening the monopoly vampires have held over the undead market for 100 years.
It’s a little like Occupy Wall Street.
When it comes right down to it, since the 19th century vampires have been a metaphor for the 1%. Wealthy, parasitic nobles that live off of the “lower” classes. They live in castles, are clad in evening wear, stay ever young and have sneering—if impeccable—manners. Oh sure, we can talk about how much the myth has changed, and argue that Eric Northman and Edward Cullen are a long way from Count Dracula, but they aren’t, really. Just look at the house Edward lives in. How many people could afford that? And his dad is a doctor.
Zombies, however, are very much the 99%. This was true even before George Romero sank his teeth into them. Zombies started out, originally, a form of slave or forced labor. An evil sorceror stole someone’s soul and forced them to obey his every command. Though we’ve all worked for bosses like that, it doesn’t take a genius to see the parallels to African slavery that spawned the myth in Haiti. Romero seized this idea and ran with it in his various Living Dead films. The zombie went from being a proper slave to a “wage slave” as Romero remade them into a metaphor for mindless consumerism and the depersonalization of capitalist society. Suddenly zombies were infectious and worse, hungry. They swarmed shopping malls mindlessly eating and making new zombies. It doesn’t take a genius to see the metaphor in that, either.
The zombie has come to embody the poor, the homeless, the unemployed. They are the mob that comes in waves to steal your life away from you. When Herman Cain talks about electrifying the border fence between Mexico and America, about a half-dozen zombie films immediately jump to mind.
We talk about migrant workers like they are zombies. Fox News talks about Occupy Wall street like they are (“mindless,” unfocused,” “mob,” and “dangerous” have all been terms the fair and balanced network used). There are politicians (like Cain again), who talk about the sweeling ranks of the unemployed like they are a zombie threat. And do I have news for you…they are.
Because inherent in the modern zombie is this threat of society going to pieces, of the mob taking over. Vampires have done so well the last century, especially in America, because it is a lot of people’s dream to “ascend” to that 1%. This is why with all the bloody vampire films out there, so few of them are actually horror (and the ones that are usually depict one of the aristocratic and noble 1% swooping in to seduce the working class hero’s girlfriend). Nobody, by contrast, wants to end up a zombie. But the curious thing about horror is that it exorcises our fears, and the more we fear becoming a zombie, the more the myth will fascinate. The implicit message in zombie films is that we all are just a bite—or a pink slip—away from joining the horde.
Right now, that scares the crap out of people.
And so, as we watch the news and see hordes of hungry and often violent mobs forming across the globe, rampaging, just keep telling yourself there is no such thing as zombies.
Good luck with that.