For a while now, I’ve been pondering the contemporary obsession with zombies, the living dead, the undead, etc., and it’s been bothering me.
Partly because it’s an interesting phenomenon.
But mostly, it’s because I hate zombies–HATE them! When I was a kid, my brother saved up his money from his first job and bought our family’s first-ever VCR (yes, to those with whom I work in campus ministry, that makes me pretty old!). He presented it to us all on Christmas, and that night, we watched the only video that he had–“Night of the Living Dead,” that zombie-movie classic. Yes, it’s a genre-setting set piece and all that, but when you’re a little kid who’s a little afraid of the dark anyway, it’s pretty terrifying stuff. Sometimes in my nightmares…well, you get the point. [Shudder]
So I’ve been interested lately to see how much emphasis there is on zombies and zombification (is that a word) in our culture. Zombie movies, a TV show, t-shirts, books (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone?), cartoons…you name it, there’s probably a version with zombies. Plus, the internet is rife with memes about “surviving the zombie apocalypse,” and rumors of how such a “zombpocalypse” will happen. Sometimes, I even get the impression that there’s a little bit of truth behind these fears!
And that’s the point of this post–there is something behind this obsession with zombies–and here’s what I think it is:
One of the tropes of the zombie genre is that there is a always a group of survivors, battling it out against the zombies in a battle to see who will ultimately survive–the brain eaters, or the “normals.” If it’s a feel-good ending that one is looking for, then the “normals” win the day. If one is after a more existential “why-are-we-all-here” kind of ending, then the brain-eaters might win out, or at least there might be a sense of “no end in sight” to the battle. Either way, the feeling is that it’s far better to be a “normal” than a “brain eater” in the end.
And that’s what I think is behind our obsession with zombies. In our culture, everyday life can sometimes feel like being a zombie. Sure, we don’t go around eating brains and guts, but the way so many people live their lives resembles the shuffling, follow-the-crowd, grunt through life kind of existence that zombies display in the movies and literature. Shuffle to work, drudge your way through tasks that seem at times menial and even dehumanizing, shuffle home, watch TV, repeat…just like all the other trudging, grunting zombies around us. So, it can be comforting to believe that, in the zombie apocalypse, we might be the “normals” after all–the ones who discover their true potential and power when faced with an unprecedented enemy of global proportions. We want to feel like the lone survivors, because we want to hold on to the idea (or the fact?) that we are really unique, different from the rest–not a zombie, but a “normal.”
I get it. We all want to be the exceptional ones–not the mindless brain-eaters who merely consume their way through the world. But how does one accomplish this?
I (obviously) turn to my faith. Scripture teaches that we are all unique human beings, created in God’s image:
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you…” (Jeremiah 1:5a)
“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unmade substance.” (Psalm 139: 15-16a)
Created in God’s image, we are loved by God–deeply and intimately loved, as a father or mother loves a child. So you see–we’re already the “survivors” or the “normals”–God has created each one of us to be a unique person, to do a special task. You’re not a monster, or a zombie–you’re a child of God! And, by the way, so are all those around you.
Maybe it’s time that we stopped obsessing over zombies. My sensitivities would certainly appreciate it. But maybe if we focused less on a few sole survivors among a sea of undead bodies, we might begin to realize the potential in ourselves, and in the people around us whom we might have written off as part of the brain-eating crowd. Then we’d see that we (and they) have gifts to give to the world, gifts that would help us not only survive, but thrive, in a confusing and sometimes demoralizing world.
From one survivor to another,