A couple of weeks ago I re-watched World War Z. I saw it when it first came out in 2013 and have been pretty well obsessed with it since then. The film is really well done, the zombies are well done, and I find it’s just a thrilling movie experience. Watching it again got me thinking about our cultural fascination with zombies (surprisingly I haven’t seen too much Walking Dead).
Why Zombies Make Good Stories
I think zombies make good stories for a couple reasons. First, they represent a built-in conflict, and as every storyteller knows, you ain’t got no story without a bona fide problem. What’s more pressing than the undead coming to get you?
Loss of Control
Second, zombies, as shown in World War Z (the movie and the book, which I highly recommend), 28 Days Later and the Walking Dead, just to name a few, represent a total breakdown of society. Now, I don’t know if you noticed, but at least in the Western world we are super obsessed with maintaining control at all times in myriad ways. I’d argue that’s why we are fascinated with the total loss of it.
A total loss of control makes everything easy. Decisions become black and white. When survival is on the line, there’s really no questioning what must be done. All our usual responsibilities would simply vanish, and I suspect that would be a great relief to a great many people.
It’s so contrary to all our efforts to maintain a pleasant social order. But as we know, our efforts to maintain that order have resulted in a sick and medicated society. So many of us already live like zombies in our day to day lives. At least if the zombie was a certified Other, it might bring the life back into us.
As a storyteller I’m definitely fascinated by a total loss of control. I’ve seen and observed how people react to myriad situations. I’ve also had to deal with things falling apart. I have that experience.
And in terms of storytelling, zombies are just plain fun.