Maclean’s has made it official. The appearance of zombies in the Canadian institution has cemented their position as respectable monsters. Although I might take issue with the view that liking the living dead is a recent phenomenon: http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/10/28/tis-the-decade-of-the-undead/
Recent? I was reading about animated corpses when I was two. Stats don’t lie, though, I suppose. I guess I need to accept that the prevalence of zombies in popular culture is fairly recent. No mention of zombie walks in Victorian England, for example, and nary a mention of corpses feasting on “Braaaiinss!” in the Roaring Twenties.
It’s no surprise they’re popular, however. The apocalypse is trending heavily these days in all its incarnations. There are a ton of reasons, from absurd Mayan predictions, to global warming. The dangers (some very real, some imagined) of terrorism, the plethora of really cool survival gear now on the market (yes, even Sears has jumped on the bandwagon: http://www.sears.com/zombie/dap-120000000103243), even fear of global pandemics are contributors.
But Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and the high priest of Quetzelcoatl don’t deserve all the credit. Artists have a big hand in shaping culture. Talented writers and filmmakers are the real force behind the rise of the dead.
I’ve mentioned my love for Dawn of the Dead – original and remake – as well as 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead. Talking about the popularity of zombies without a huge nod to George Romero is just sacrilegious. But writing has had at least as much impact as film in recent years on this horror sub-genre.
I haven’t read the Walking Dead graphic novels. It spawned a TV series I find strangely unappealing. But two novels deserve mention here – one obscure, one a massive success.
The Rising, by Brian Keen, was alive and biting well before urban hipsters thought it would be cool to order a grande latte while sporting the cadaver-look. This book made me a Keene believer immediately (even if some of his later efforts weren’t as strong): http://www.amazon.com/The-Rising-Brian-Keene/dp/0843952016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351518742&sr=8-1&keywords=keene+the+rising
But the real masterpiece has to be World War Z: http://www.amazon.com/World-War-Oral-History-Zombie/dp/0307346617/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351518823&sr=1-1&keywords=world+war+z
It was a big commercial success, and it deserved to be. What it brought to the game was a serious, smart voice. Tons of action, of course, but a documentary tone that made it as page-turning as the best magazine writing.
If you want to understand the zombie phenomenon - and hey, who doesn’t? – World War Z is the place to start.