Will the zombie phenomenon ever die? Like the rotted corpses themselves, it seems that they just keep coming back in hoards with no end in sight. And with Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet debuting this Friday—a show featuring Drew Barrymore as a flesh-eating suburbanite—it would appear that we’re in for yet another surge of zombie-mania.
The Netflix series follows legions of zombie-based films and media–The Walking Dead, World War Z, 28 Days Later, Zombieland, Resident Evil–that have experienced discernible amounts of monetary success and acclaim. But the question remains: why zombies? Better yet: why zombies all the time? What is it about these slow moving, brain-munching creatures that captures audiences so intensely?
A video from the online series Idea Channel attempts to explain our fascination. To begin, the video argues that we, as a society, have long loved monsters—Frankenstein, vampires, werewolves and the like—because they symbolize something real in our own lives, often something that we aren’t fond of.
As is common with mainstream monster flicks, we watch a protagonist, representative of us, either defeat these creatures or live in solidarity with them. In other words, “We watch ourselves persevere in the face of extreme menace, and that feels kind of nice,” the video states.
Monsters almost always relate to something the world currently fears. For instance, after the nuclear bomb hit Japan, movies depicted casualties dealing with fears of the nuclear age (see: Godzilla). Later, in the 1970s when murderers like Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer made national news, we witnessed the emergence of slasher flicks depicting deranged serial killers like Michael Myers and Jason.
So which fear does our generation’s fascination with zombies represent? The answer is technology, as these lurching, animated corpses are merely victims of circumstance who are “basically just running a program.” To many people, technology staggers forward, completely uninterested in humanity, not unlike zombies. Technophobia (the fear of technology) is a very real thing, especially in times of great technological upheaval. And in our current cultural landscape, one where we panic if our phone’s out of arm’s reach, it’s understandable that some feel threatened (or pursued) by technology and its growing capabilities.
So what is it about zombie films that makes them so satisfying? The heroes return to a simpler time, which is an idea many find comforting. The film’s protagonists often choose to forgo technology and infrastructure for survival, instead opting for simple weapons and handmade machines. Consider also that the classic survival plan in these films is to retreat to an island or other unpopulated space where natural resources are plentiful. In escaping the zombies, they also get back in touch with nature.
We are experiencing an evolution in the zombie genre, however. In more recent depictions, we see a growing number of non-threatening zombies types, a trend that similarly impacted vampires, from Dracula to Edward Cullen. Instead of being viewed as dangerous cannibals who threaten our way of life, zombies are gradually becoming pets (Fido), love interests (Life After Beth, Warm Bodies) and most recently, in The Santa Clarita Diet, a fully functioning mother, neighbor and wife.
As for when this zombie madness will end, nobody really knows. But times change, and the horrors we put in our movies change with them. But by then, we’ll be more than ready to lodge that last bullet into the zombie’s cranium.