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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid