Viewers Say, “Zombies!” Zombies Say, “Uuuurrrrrrrr …”

zombie.JPGOn Halloween night, AMC debuted the long-awaited comic-book-based, zombie-centric series, The Walking Dead. It was a gamble, considering how many horror lovers were probably dressed as zombies and not at their TV sets. But the show still drew 5.3 million fans—making it the best-rated AMC premiere and the highest-rated AMC episode. Ever. (Check out my full review here.)

“It’s a good day to be dead,” AMC President Charlie Collier said.

I don’t know about that. But I do know that zombies have given vampires a run for their money (or, um, feeding grounds?) in popularity for the past couple of years. Writer Annalee Newitz of dug deeper into the flesh-eating undead trend and discovered:

Even correcting for the fact that there are more [zombie] movies being made today [than 100 years ago], you can see that there are distinctive spikes in zombie popularity—and they always seem to fall slightly after a huge political or social event has caused mass fear, chaos, or suffering. That's why World War II, Vietnam, and the current Iraq War are all followed by a zombie rush at theaters. … Is there a causal connection, or is it just coincidence? You be the judge.

I dunno. But since apocalyptic programming has become a global trend (epidemic?) lately, Newitz could have a point. In our world where governments crumble, road rage thrives, bioengineering is common and war always seems to be imminent, the mindless shuffling, decaying undead might be a means to satirize—and better grasp—society’s ills.

Or—and this seems more likely with The Walking Dead—zombies are a means to see how over-the-top gross make-up artists can get, how many angles a skull can be “blown off” and how horrifying it would be to kill a 7-year-old who happens to be undead.

I won’t lie. The Walking Dead is attention-grabbing. But I wonder what need such gruesome storytelling fulfills. In our easy, indulgent lifestyle, do we secretly wonder if we have what it takes to survive an apocalypse? Do we enjoy fantasizing about end of the world, which we think is coming soon? Or do viewers just love to see the entrails of half eaten undead corpses that drag themselves across a park while stiffly mumbling, “Uuuurrrrrrrrr”?

All of the above?

Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

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