Z is for Zombie Fiction

| March 22, 2014

I am probably one of the biggest babies out there when it comes to the horror genre, but for some reason, I find myself really drawn in to works of zombie fiction. While the experience of reading books like World War Z (the book, mind you, not the terrible movie adaptation with Brad Pitt) or watching shows like The Walking Dead (and realizing I may be a hypocrite for not having read the graphic novels) is extremely stressful, I feel like the experience is often worthwhile for a variety of reasons.

People in general tend to fear death. Zombie fiction not only provides an outlet for not only experience of what it means to be dead (which is frightening enough) but also an experience of what it might mean to be dead-but-not-dead. It seems that the latter is depicted as being almost a worse fate—although your physical body lives on (although in a decaying state), most zombies are depicted with a loss of human consciousness (so no real sense of self that is reminiscent of your pre-death self) and a taste for human flesh (which means that you would be inflicting pain onto others with your death—something that most people tend to avoid).

It is doubtless that zombies, as they exist in popular culture, often exist as a form of metaphor. What that metaphor is can take on many forms—from George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and commentary on consumerism, to pandemic-like outbreaks or simply a fear of death and the unknown. However, zombies offer a creative outlet to explore the effects of these concepts.

They also offer an opportunity for thought experiments and learning. For a course last semester, I developed an entire unit for high school students surrounding apocalyptic fiction and the ethical experiences they create. Although I doubt I’ll ever convince a school to let me actually teach it, the possibility is still kind of fun. The moral implications of a massive event like a zombie apocalypse bring up issues around the definition of personhood, utilitarianism, moral imperatives, and what the definition of “humanity” means in times of grave peril. These ideas, and the actions that characters often take that explore them, may be one of the main reasons why I enjoy zombie fiction as much as I do. And maybe the optimist in me enjoys the experience of seeing how, in spite of horrible events, the human capacity for hope is portrayed as sticking through it all.