Zombie Monday Madness; Why do we fear zombies?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Clowns, spiders, ghosts, vampires (the non-sparkly kind), things under the bed, heights, giving speeches . . . we humans sure have a lot of fears. Did you know people fear public speaking more than they fear death? That's just silly. But why do we fear clowns? Personally, I blame Stephen King. Despite the fact that zombies seem trendy, our fear of them is not. In fact, the first reference to the living undead predates the bible.

"28 Weeks Later," Fast Zombies
 In "The Epic of Gilgamesh" from around 2500 BCE, the Goddess Isthar threatens to inflict a plague of the living dead on mankind:
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the doorposts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!
Goddesses are so temperamental. Mankind fears the idea of the dead rising? But why?

"Shaun of the Dead" zombies
Zombies are certainly symbols of social unrest, but they also evoke our deeper human fears. What does being dead mean? What happens when we die? When we become a corpse, what happens to our immortal soul? If I can be a zombie, does that mean I still have a soul? Am I an animal or a human or somewhere in-between? The idea of the dead walking amongst the living makes us think about our mortality. If the dead can rise, what does that mean for our spiritual existance after death?

"The Walking Dead's" Zombie Girl
Zombie writers have a lot of different "takes" on this question. "The Walking Dead" shows walkers ambling around with brain-stem activity, but not much else going on. Season 3's Milton question whether or not walkers retain any of their humanity. I guess, considering Milton tried to eat Andrea, he'd probably call that in as a "no" now.  In "I am Legend," the undead transformed into something new . . . a thinking race. But most of the time, zombies amble around in a decayed form, forcing us to confront our own mortality.

"I am Legend" kinda zombie

Coming face-to-face with a zombie require us to think about our own death and to question the after-life. Zombies are scary because our mortality is so scary. Our fear of the unknown is what lurks behind those decaying eyes. If my body rises after I die, does that mean I don't get an afterlife? Am I stuck in purgatory? Death scares many, that is why the fear of coming face to face with the undead is a theme and concern that has been with us since our earliest written works of literature.  
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