Living with the Living Dead
By Greg Garrett
The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse
When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the BlackDeath and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and telvision shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and cost of survival. We may indeed be living with the dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.