News / USA

We Can Learn from Zombies, Experts Say

Zombies Date Back to Slavery in USi
X
October 30, 2013 5:23 PM
Halloween, on Oct. 31, is the annual celebration of ghosts, witches and all things scary. Its roots in northern Europe go all the way back to an ancient pagan festival on the day, it was believed, that the dead walked among the living. Today, "The Walking Dead" is a hit T.V. show about a world overrun by zombies. Zombies are everywhere in popular culture right now. VOA’s Steve Baragona looks at why the world is in the throes of a zombie invasion.
You can learn a lot from a zombie.

Just ask zombie expert David Castillo, literature professor at the University at Buffalo.

“They reveal who fundamentally we fear we are, and they also warn us about the collective choices we’re making,” Castillo said.

That's a lot of heavy subtext to lay on the mindless undead. But Castillo believes it can help explain the current obsession with the zombie apocalypse.

Undead hordes have been sighted shambling through streets from Serbia to Singapore in organized zombie walks and runs. “World War Z” has grossed more than half a billion dollars in movie theaters globally. And the hit TV show “The Walking Dead” is in its fourth season.

Something is going on here. Could it be that we see a bit of our future in the zombie apocalypse?

But first, a little zombie history.

“[Zombie] is originally a Congolese word,” explained George Mason University anthropologist Jeffrey Mantz. He says it crossed the Atlantic with African slaves, and “it made its way into the religious practices of various Caribbean communities, most notably in Haiti.”

Zombies came to Hollywood with the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The first zombie movie, “White Zombie,” starring vampire legend Bela Lugosi, hit the silver screen in 1932.

You call that a zombie?

But Haitian zombies might not recognize their American heirs.

For one thing, Haitian zombies don’t have to be dead.

People dressed up as zombies during a 'Zombie Walk', in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 19, 2013.People dressed up as zombies during a 'Zombie Walk', in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 19, 2013.
x
People dressed up as zombies during a 'Zombie Walk', in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 19, 2013.
People dressed up as zombies during a 'Zombie Walk', in Belgrade, Serbia, Oct. 19, 2013.
“Haitian zombies are about the relationship between master and slave,” Mantz said, reflecting the island’s sugar-plantation history. “Someone’s body can be detached from its soul, and that body can be turned into a servant for someone who’s not up to any good.”

Mantz says the undead zombie superimposes a Western concept about honoring deceased relatives.

“In northern European traditions, if you didn’t visit the gravesite, they could come back and get you. They’re called revenants.”

The zombie oeuvre

Castillo says the modern cannibal zombie traces its roots to 1968's “Night of the Living Dead.”

That movie was made during a turbulent time in American history, Mantz notes. “There’s all sorts of social transformations taking place. It’s the height of the nuclear age, with tensions with the Soviet Union.”

You can attach any number of metaphors to the zombies, he says. But what really stands out is not the zombie attack, but how the living respond.

“The two main characters bicker constantly throughout the movie and can’t seem to cooperate on anything. And their lack of cooperation is their own undoing.”

It’s a common thread in the zombie oeuvre, he adds: “This isn’t really about zombies, per se. This is about humans.”

“The Walking Dead” is as much about relations among the living as it is about fighting the undead.

Digital zombies

And “28 Days Later” asks who you can trust when the world comes to an end.

That 2002 movie broke the mold of the slow, shuffling undead.  These were zombies for the digital age, fast as the Internet.

Zombies resonate with us because they represent something we fear is stealing our humanity, and today, Mantz says, “a lot of the technological transformations that are taking place are turning us into zombies, quite literally.”

It used to be television that turned us into zombies, he notes. “Now video games do it. Now we’re staring into our smartphones. Stand around long enough and you can watch two human beings walk into each other, both with their faces buried into their smartphones.”

He’s only half-joking. There is something dehumanizing about our ubiquitous technology, he says.

And it’s sadly ironic, he adds, that the minerals making much of that technology possible come from the Congo -- the same place as the word “zombie," and a place where inhuman atrocities are far too common.

End times

But the question remains: why are we obsessed with the zombie apocalypse now more than ever? David Castillo says it reflects something deep in our psyche.

“Really, there is a general perception of crisis.  More and more we suspect we are living at the very edge. We’re living in the end of times.”

Global warming, disease, terrorism, political dysfunction and economic calamities… Castillo says there’s a sense that maybe the world actually is coming to an end, in a way.

“Our default belief now is that the apocalypse is near. And we don’t seem to be able to stop it. The zombies, in a way, exemplify that. They are that warning.”

And maybe visions of the zombie apocalypse can teach us to get along…before it’s too late.

You May Like

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Lara
October 31, 2013 4:39 AM
I think all generations were living in the end of times. It is in human nature to feel like this.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid