The Walking Dead on AMCWhy Zombies are Gaining Popularity in Entertainment

This October, on AMC, a new type of television show begins it’s run. The Walking Dead, based on the comic book written by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics. According to the AMC website, “The Walking Dead tells the story of life following a zombie apocalypse. It follows a group of survivors, led by police officer Rick Grimes, traveling in search of a safe and secure home.”(1)

To a guy that loves scary movies, the thought of an entire television series just rocks my world. Now, I’m not just into the gore. I insist on an interesting story or point of view. I’m a huge fan of the episode “New Years Day” in the short lived series Fear Itself, laughed my butt off at Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and have even created my own ‘TOP 10 ZOMBIE MOVIES” on my own blog.(2)

Here they come!

But this past weekend, while the San Diego Comic-Con was in full swing, pictures of shambling zombies began pouring onto the internet from their annual “Zombie Walk,” it occurred to me that zombies are even bigger than the movies, comics, and shows they appear in.

Annually, around the world, there are dozens of “Zombie Walks” (or zombie shambles) where people gather in various states of decay and raise awareness of zombies. The first walk on record was in Sacramento, California in 2001 organized to help promote a film festival and is, still, an annual event. Others have popped up in Toronto, Frankfurt, Brisbane, and many across the United States.(4) The largest, to date, was in Seattle Washington this past July 3 for the “Red, White, and Dead” Zombie Walk and is on record as having 4,200 zombies, according to Guinness World Record, though organizers claim closer to 5,000(3).

Even though zombies have been popular since the 60s, why the sudden explosion of books, comics, movies, video games, and, now, television shows?

Better Dead than Red!

I remembered reading that, in the 50s, the main type of horror movie revolved around aliens taking over the bodies of our loved ones. And that this theme echoed from the Communist (red) scare that was fed by the politics of the time. That your next door neighbor could be a ‘commie,’ sucked in by this ‘evil’ belief.

I generally remembered that each decade had a ‘theme’ and began some online research and quickly found some had already been done by Karina Wilson, a British teacher, writer and story consultant in Los Angeles. Her research echoes what I have experienced myself, with some additional insight. The main idea is that the monsters are a reflection of threats in the real world at the time.

  • 40s – Living under the shadow of Hitler’s predatory animal-like tendencies spawned the Universal movie monsters such as Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein and the Invisible Man. We struggled with the inner monsters and tried to find something ‘human’ within to be able to relate to and understand.
  • 50s – Seeing the effects of radiation of the atomic weapons of the past decade, movies were often about science gone mad. The Tingler, Godzilla, and Them reflected this idea. Towards the end of the 50s, the Red Scare (noted above) spawned Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and It Came from Outer Space.
  • 60s – With the unrest in society, equal-rights, social injustice, the general feeling of ‘fears of living in the Atomic Age” and the terror of social alienation,’ (6) ghost stories, the occult, and armageddon filled the screens making us feel that there were things outside of our control to be afraid of. The Haunting, Rosmary’s Baby, the Birds, and the classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead.
  • 70s and 80s – Revolution ruled the land. Parents didn’t understand their children. And people often tried to stay in the mainstream of what was to be expected of them, rather than stay true to their nature. Because of this, evil children movies appeared, slasher movies where base frustrations were acted out for no apparent reason, and killer animals were spawned. Movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, and Audrey Rose in the evil children category, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th in the slasher genre. Topped off with Jaws, Orca, and The Deep. Even sci-fi movies, like Alien, crossed the bridge from sci-fi to horror in the ‘creature’ category.
  • 90s – Wondering why our parents and grandparents did the things they did, the horror films dove into the psychological and psychopathic minds creating the rise of the Serial Killer. Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, Kalifornia, and Natural Born Killers top the category for the 90s.
  • 00s – With the rise of the internet and global communications, in addition to real terrorism hitting the U.S. On 9/11, horror films reflected a need to move away from armageddon and psychopathic terrorists. The culture needed someone to pay for the real horror going on it the world, and it caused the rise of “Torture Porn” with such films as Saw, Hostel, and Captivity. In these movies, we’re closer to the torturers perspective rather than in movies like Silence of the Lambs. Additionally with the global connection, Asian horror movies became very popular and were often remade. Their pace and structure fundamentally different from the U.S. three act play, and focus on spirits, curses and are very stylized and disturbing giving audiences an immediate discomfort and horror.
  • 10s Back to Zombies! We’re just getting started in 2010. While zombies aren’t the main course, a huge portion of the movies have masses of people/creatures/undead that force the main character to fight for their lives. Movies already released or on the slate for 2010 include The Crazies, Legion, Daybreakers, Survival of the Dead, the 4th Resident Evil Movie, and even Pirahna (a huge number of blood thirsty fish to defeat).

Why the Rise?

While every decade horror movies has developed as a reflection of society, I predict the following; that the economic crisis, social awareness of food quality, shrinking global resources, and the world fears of one person or country controlling their lives, the movies created will continue to be a combination of mass hordes of undead/zealots/thoughtless individuals who attempt to use/destroy everything around them.

However, because of our global connection, the best horror movies will tie several themes together due to collaboration among writers of different backgrounds. Primal fears will be tapped in a way that creates action rather than just sedation.

There’s nothing scarier than being in a hopeless situation where you’re surrounded by hundreds of creatures intent on eating you. And there is nothing scarier in real life, than to be in a situation where it seems the world, government, parents, friends, co-workers, etc. are all against you, you have no way out, and no one who will pay attention to you.

The rise of the zombie genre is a comic, heightened, version of those of us who feel helpless. Instead of living, we shamble through life, looking for the nearest fast food restaurant to consume whatever will fill us, unthinking about the consequences of our diet. We plop down at home, waiting for the television to feed us entertainment.

By actively becoming a zombie, we laugh at ourselves and take action to become noticed. We consciously create a new reality of which we control our direction and fate.

At the movies, where we watch the shambling zombie masses be destroyed, we can face our fears with others and, maybe, step back out into the sunlight eager to live again.

4. Dan Restione (2010-07-06). “Thousands of zombies march in Fremont”

Photo Credits:
San Diego ComicCon Zombie Walk:
Zombie Images from AMC:
Zombie Walk Article Photo by Mike Rollerson: