As the Occupy Wall Street protests have ramped up into
resembling...well, an actual occupation,
Zombie Economics co-author,
CNN's Lisa Desjardins, and I) have
of lower Manhattan now resemble some hellish version of Yippie-style
street theater – coordinated activism meets a Call of Duty bonus level. Like a
telephone operator’s revelation that the threatening, after-dark phone
calls "are coming from inside the
house!", these staggering, funhouse-mirror images represent the
too-late realization that we are facing mortal danger – economically,
emotionally, and perhaps even physically. ("Health care, not wealth
care" read one protester's sign.)
But (to paraphrase a famous tagline): Why here? Why now? Why...zombies?
The answer lays in the creatures’ very simplicity–zombies represent
fear as an isolated, distilled emotion, unleavened by shading or
gradation. In a time of increasing instability and uncertainty, their
lethal purity has become their most resonant facet. Stripped of all
nuance and subtlety, zombies are the apex monster.
To be sure, the undead-as-allegory idea is nothing new –zombies are, as
my friend David Walker once noted, "the perfect blank on which to
project any societal ill"– but as the global economy teeters ever
closer to collapse, the redolence seems to be increasing. Throughout
2011, zombies have been the rule, not the exception, and the trend
shows no signs of abating. AMC's The
Walking Dead –already the cable network's biggest hit– began its
second season with a ratings blowout, annihilating its Sunday night
competition, while World War Z (starring
late-summer depiction of a deadly, casually-spread infection– but a
zombie film minus the actual zombies? With its unflinching depictions
of panic and looting (as well as a stark agoraphobia-as-survival
theme), Contagion seemed an
unlikely candidate for box-office success. Opening at #1, the film has,
to date, grossed more than 76 million dollars.
That the above projects share both bleakness and mainstream appeal is
no accident, for in their grim and grey-scaled worldview, they
underscore the reason for our current obsession with the living dead.
Zombies are, after all, kitsch-proof.
Of the approximately nine billion zombie films, novels, and video games
in existence, only a scant handful –most notably 1998's Shaun of the Dead– have been able
to conjure up anything resembling humor...gallows or otherwise. And
even Shaun (not unlike Left 4 Dead, Valve's massively
entertaining, first-person shooter game series) finds most of its
comedy in human characters; their reactions to the walking, decaying
horror unfolding around them provide most of the film's true levity.
(See also: Zombieland, in
which even the accidental "killing" of Bill Murray is played for
laughs–while the undead themselves remain relentlessly sinister.)
Metaphorical zombies are, like their physical counterparts, resistant
to ridicule, to anthropomorphizing, and to sexualization. No matter the
context –be it suburban Pennsylvania or 19th-century England– the
living dead themselves remain
the same: implacable, unchanging, and stomach-churningly fearsome. For
an age (and a society) drenched in irony, zombies are something
refreshingly alien: a menace which is impervious to snark.*
*It is no
–sparkling and otherwise– have
found their recent applicability limited to soap-opera-style melodrama.
To the list of items (garlic, crosses, holy water, etc.) effective
against Dracula and company, we may now add another: camp.
Which brings us back to Wall Street, and the (living) hordes
converged there. After three-and-a-half years of stock-market tumult,
mass firings, and tunnels which lead only to more tunnel, the fear is
now beyond real–it's in our bones, in our every waking moment.
Lighthearted jokes about unemployment extensions have given way to a
genuine and growing terror that we'll end up homeless (or, worse,
living in our parents' attic). No one registers surprise at a friend's
eviction or foreclosure...or their sudden need to sell a flat-screen TV
for a fraction of its value. No one argues when a loved one takes
And no one expects it to get better next year...anywhere. Bank of
England Governor Sir Mervyn King recently stated that "the world is
facing the world financial crisis in history", his comments echoing
those of Prime Minister David Cameron, who said, "we are at risk of
losing an entire generation." To those who lived through similar
proclamations in the Carter and Reagan years, such statements may sound
like simple scaremongering, and perhaps they are. It may be true that
things are bad but getting better. It is almost certainly true that
media outlets have a vested interest in perpetuating fear
of...anything. (We've also grown accustomed to such dire warnings, of
course, which is why media outlets must amplify and re-amplify their
message – our fear centers don't respond the way they once did.)
Our imaginations, however, don’t lie; they have a knack for
externalizing what we can’t (or won’t) say out loud. Zombies –hideous,
nightmare versions of our normal selves– are warnings from deep within
our consciousness: The danger is real. The danger is growing. The
danger is now inside the house.
a correspondent for CNN
Radio who also reports for CNN.com and CNN television. She works -and
spends a good deal of time employing survival strategies in- the US
Capitol, where she has covered extensive financial issues, including
the collapse of 2008 and the Wall Street reform bill passed in 2010.
has also worked for the Associated Press in Washington, and WIS-TV and
WBTW-TV in South Carolina.
Email: lisa [at] zombieeconomics.com
requests / interview inquiries: info [at]
broadcaster based in Portland,
Oregon. He is the host of The Rick
Emerson Show, which has
enraptured/annoyed listeners since 1998, and of KRCW-TV’s Outlook
Portland. He is also the author
and star of the one-man show Bigger
than Jesus: The
Diary of a Rock and Roll Fan,
well as the feature-film of the same
name, and has displayed his limited acting ability on such television
programs as Leverage.
Email: rick [at]
requests / interview inquiries: info [at]