Modern popular culture has always had a particular interest for the so-called ‘walking dead’. Although this has been a reoccurring theme for a long time few would protest that the past decade has shown a dramatic increase of zombies and other soul-less beings in books, movies and television shows. I believe that this increase can be explained in two different ways; the first is a common fear of what will happen if we continue to mess with nature (genetic modification, destroying the ecosystem, and so on) and the other is an individual fear of non-existence. Popular culture has addressed both these types of fears therapeutically and I believe that is why so many people – consciously or unconsciously – find them to be meaningful depictions of reality that offers hope.
In regards to our common fear that we have screwed up nature these books, movies and television shows have presented us to a few heroes in post-apocalyptic worlds that has been able to preserve their humanity while the larger masses has either died or been turned in to walking dead (I am Legend, The Book of Eli, The Road, etc). The heroes then sustains our hope for the future of humanity since their preserved humanity implies that they have within them the capability to start over. In this sense these stories are equivalent to the ancient ‘flood stories’ and they reveal to us what is needed for a new beginning to be possible. Primarily they centre our attention on values of religion, culture and the family and thus also imply that it was the lack of these values that caused the apocalypses our heroes managed to live through. The messages of hope for the future are therefore also inherently critical towards the secularization and demythologization of the modern world.
The other type of walking dead stories is fundamentally different in what they are saying. What they acknowledge is that we actually are the walking dead. The aim is therefore to offer us hope by depicting the walking dead as carrying within them the possibility of becoming human. Hence, Robert Pattinson’s character in The Twilight Saga can resist the inner drive to suck the blood out of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). On the surface this story is about a young girl’s forbidden love for a vampire but what really matters is the counter narrative, which reveals to us that it is possible for the walking dead to love. My analysis is therefore that the message in The Twilight Saga is equivalent to what Richard Dawkins say when he adamantly argues that atheists can be spiritual.
My conclusion from these analyses is that the increase of walking dead in popular culture the past decade is a result of the modern desire for freedom, which has created a rupture in our relationship to God, nature and each other. Our anthropocentric understanding of reality and our unwillingness to exist with and for each other has resulted in a world where nature has been manipulated and ransacked for our own short-term winnings and where humanity has been dissolved into separate entities of walking dead. In light of all this it is no wonder that people experience an existential agony and therefore search for hope and meaning in popular culture that addresses this very crisis of our existence.