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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More