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Evil Evolved: Zombies as a social study
Ever since their introduction into the media, the walking undead have been mostly slow, fairly violent and most of all, not particularly bright. Coming back to life seems to dull the senses, increase one's appetite and somewhat simplify one's understanding of brain surgery. Indeed, it's hard to imagine corpses that are basically too dumb to stay down to have much significance at all.
In many ways, this shows. Zombies are a lot of the times treated as place holder threats. They are sent en-masse against small groups of survivors in more movies and games than one would dare count. But is that all that zombies can do? Well... sort of. Zombies are indeed placeholders for a large scale threat that seems hard to imagine for many of us. But in this thought, there lies subtle genius. By being so generic, zombies can teach us things that do apply to more realistic scenarios. By taking a step back and looking at the zombies not as individuals, but rather a huge unstoppable force, or as The Walking Dead or the Last of Us would suggest, an environment to live in, we can learn much about people living in harsh conditions or extreme situations.
Night of the Living Dead is considered one of the most classic examples of such. You strip off the zombies and you basically get people trapped in a house together. They cannot leave without seriously endangering their lives. Just like with a natural disaster. Or a riot. It's hard to say how long it might last. The pressure's high. And people snap.
It's at this point the mind starts to wander to answer various related “what ifs”. Would a person be prepared to risk their life for someone trapped outside? Would they be able to keep their calm. Would they maybe even want to abuse such a situation? Zombies allow us to explore these issues without them ever having to become too “real” per se. They are the politically correct way of addressing human disasters, if you will.
And this fact alone puts the zombies in very distinguished company. For example in John Windham's Day of the Triffids, society crumbles on it's own paranoia and greed, most of the population goes blind and is subsequently attacked by trees. Flesh eating trees. Poisonous, flesh eating trees... that can stroll around at will. Somehow, I'd rather take my chances with the slow, rotting corpses myself.
Or how about a book from a Nobel prize winning author? In 1947 Albert Camus had a book published, called The Plague. It tells the story of Paris in the 40s as it is hit by the bubonic plague. The story is of course fictional- there was no such epidemic in the 40s in France. But of course, France and the rest of the Europe was plagued by something completely different back in those days. Yes folks, Nazis truly are the plague. Makes one wonder what the hell Zombie Nazis stand for these days then...