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, West in Standoff Over Syrian Refugees

    Turkish government refuses to admit refugees, the first in a wave of civilians fleeing offensive by Assad regime in northern Aleppo countryside

    Jailed American Testifies About Islamist Involvement in Mumbai Attacks

    David Headley testifies via video link that Pakistan-based Islamic terror group made two failed attempts to mount strikes in Mumbai in months prior to coordinated assault

    These Are the 10 Smartest US States

    A new report breaks down the nation's best and brightest

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.