Our Fears, Our Monsters

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The new trend in pop culture monsters seems to favor an emphasis on the Zombie.  I have been trying with difficulty to identify exactly what a Zombie is, and I think I have come up with a definition that will suffice for now.

The Zombie is a reanimated corpse that has no mind, no memory of its humanity, and no ability to reason.  It is driven only by its incessant ravenous hunger.  It has no strategy in the hunt for “food” which is usually human beings—brain, flesh, etc—and simply wanders until it finds someone to kill.  While they have the behavior of wild animals, they have none of the common sense.  Most apex predators are cunning, extremely cautious, and adept at the art of escape probably more than the art of attack.  Zombies just plow on through with no care for personal safety.  Zombies are not stronger than ordinary people, they are in a constant state of gradual decay, and they cannot be reconstituted into their previous human form.  Other than the fact that they are actually moving about, they have no supernatural powers.  Most importantly, they are not “evil.” They are mindless and soulless, but not demonic or possessed.  They can be destroyed if their heads are destroyed.

However, I have not yet answered the question about why Zombies are so popular today.  If monsters are the mirror of trending fears, then what fears do Zombies reflect in today’s world? My upcoming paper is going to examine the Western pop cultural fears reflected in the monsters from Victorian times forward.  So, I will be commenting on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the “Werewolf” mythology from Kipling, Bierce, Doyle, Dumas, and Guy Endore.  I will also consider the “Mummy” lore from Rice and Loudon.  I don’t think I can do a paper about monsters justice without touching on some tales of madness, and the first name in such tales is Edgar Allen Poe. If there’s time, I’d also want to consider Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Lastly, I would like to look at two of the best Zombie books I can find: I am Legend, by Richard Matheson and Word War Z by Max Brooks.

So, considering that my paper will be a “double” paper (80-90 pages), I think I have enough stuff here to read.  Thankfully, I have already read Bram Stoker’s Dracula recently, and years ago I read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

What I’d like to concentrate on are those monsters who have gone beyond the pages and on to movies and other media such as television.  These monsters haven’t disappeared—they are still around—but now the rage is the Zombie.  To my mind, each monster is representative of a specific type of dark desire or terror, and now I will find out what is driving the popularity of the Zombie.

More to follow!  🙂

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