Continued from Part 1.
The modern zombie genre began in earnest with Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend and George Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead. Both stories focus on hordes of shambling undead attacking the human survivors of the apocalypse, typically by besieging the shelter of the survivors. From these sources sprang an entire genre of zombie apocalyptic fiction. Romero’s trilogy of Dead films inspired literally thousands of zombie films and novels. The Zombie Movie Database website currently counts over 4600 films which contain zombies. However, the zombie genre also holds great sway in popular culture. Video games like the Resident Evil and Dead Rising series, Dead Island and Killing Floor are all extremely popular, selling millions of copies. Clearly the zombie holds great appeal to both the horror enthusiast and mainstream audiences.
Like the survivalist apocalypses, the zombie story makes the prevailing social institutions incompetent or malevolent, such as the sheriff mistaking Ben for a zombie in Night of the Living Dead or the military using nuclear weapons on a city overrun by zombies in Return of the Living Dead. Many times, the zombie apocalypse is brought on by the old order, either as a government or corporate experiment or accident. Furthermore, any help provided by the government is limited, suspect or worthless, such as plutocracy established in the film Land of the Dead. In any case, the social order quickly collapses and anarchy prevails in the typical zombie genre formula.
Introduction: I gave a presentation at the 2007 Popular Culture Association Conference about the link between the survivalist movement and the zombie genre. I’ve divided my presentation into two blog posts. In part 1, I focus on the survivalist movement while in the second part, I discuss its connection to popular zombie narratives. The second part will be posted Tuesday.
Civilization crumbles apart as the Other lay siege to its last bastions of safety. Millions die or are converted to the Other during the assault. Only small groups of isolated citizens survive the apocalypse safe from the Other. They collect stockpiles of weapons and supplies to build a better future, utilizing craft and military skills to maximize the effectiveness of their tools. Many times, the survivors are overcome by the Other, but die in a blaze of glory before succumbing to the horde. The post apocalyptic world is a new frontier where only the skilled and wise adapt and survive. This story formula is not unique to the zombie genre. Survivalists have been telling similar stories since the start of the Cold War. While zombie aficionados do not sincerely believe their tales of apocalypse will one day come true, both the survivalist and zombie mythos share several key motifs. In particular, the concept of bricolage is central to both genres, as the protagonists of these stories overcome the Other (in the form of the undead or various barbaric armies of the New World Order) through skilled tool use in a variety of fields. In this sense, these stories aim for the same goal, the reassertion of individuality over the savage multitudes of the world.