Zombies, like any other monster, attacks an identity that is unsure of itself. The popularity of the zombie suggests that it is our collective identity that is at stake here. We are unsure of who we are.
When did these symptoms begin to present themselves?
Around a hundred years ago. The modern identity was pretty stable until the 20th century. But that stability was shaken by WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, The Bomb, the Cold War, AIDS, environmental degradation, Global Warming and terrorism on North American soil.
Our Modern identity proved to be quite resilient and to some degree it’s still hanging in there, but one by one these events, and others, caused us to doubt the modern understanding of who we are and as soon as they detected the anxiety of our identity crisis, the zombies began to appear. They came slowly at first, a few rumors and the odd book and then a few movies, like White Zombie. Then the 1954 horror fiction novel by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend, presented almost a monster hybrid–sort of a zombie/vampire cross.
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968 was when the zombie symptoms got very strong. It makes sense from a cultural perspective, because the in the 1960’s everything was being questioned. “Is this who we really are?” was certainly one of the questions we asked and this question is the questions Romero’s zombies were asking, or at least would have asked if they could talk.
The symptoms (the popularity of zombie narratives) got a lot worse around 2000, actually late 2001. To put a very fine point on it–September 11, 2001. The events of 9/11 were a serious blow to our identity as a people. When our identity is unstable, here come the monsters–our very particular, tailor-made monsters–the zombies.
So how do we make them go away? For the zombies to stop their attack on the boundaries of our identity, our identity must stabilize.
Stability can come in one of two ways. The first way is that we can, once again, gain confidence in the modern identity. There isn’t much chance of this because it was bankrupt all along; we know it and the zombies know it. The alternative is for our collective identity must change in some way for stability to be achieved.
As we shift as a society to a new understanding of ourselves, the zombies will cease to be as much of a menace. However, when we begin to doubt this new identity, we’ll have a new monster to contend with.