Monday, August 19, 2013

Zombies: The Specter of Materialism

I have recently had the pleasure of playing Telltale Games' interactive masterpiece The Walking Dead (I'm not done yet, so refrain from spoiling it for me).

And one thing that continues to astonish me about pieces of media such as this is how much our culture is fixated on the idea of a flesh-eating animated corpse. From World War Z to Zombieland to Warm Bodies, our society obviously finds something intensely fascinating about zombies, to the point where it is perhaps the most identifiable facet of today's mass media. But why? Why do zombies, of all things, capture our imagination so? We obviously don't idealize them, but rather find in them something unnerving and disturbing. And I think I have figured out exactly what it is.

Now, I have often wondered why anyone would fear becoming a zombie if you die before you turn. Isn't it just your body that gets up and eats people? But that's just it - until recently I didn't realize that modern man thinks he is his body. According to him, the mind is just a chemical reaction in a lump of flesh, combined with other lumps of flesh to make a whole. In short, I believe that people today fear the zombie because they fear they already are a zombie.

For what is secular materialism but a belief that we are the living dead? It states that you are a moving, disintegrating lump of flesh, and that you only have life because some accident gave it to you by chance. You are nothing more than a desire to eat, to propagate your kind. And you can only be killed by the destruction of the brain, for our being resides there.

You may accuse me of being unfair to the materialist, but notice that everything in the previous paragraph could be used both as a description of a zombie and a typical critique of the materialist point of view. These points of view came about independently, and unless Christian apologists wrote The Walking Dead as a tool for their own ends (which I find unlikely) I believe that there is some deep unconscious material welling up here.

This is not something unprecedented, for this very thing has happened in another period of the West's history. Just as zombies are the specter of materialism, you see, vampires are the specter of Christianity. Vampires live forever, and they derive their well-being from the drinking of blood. Vampires are a perverted representation of everything Christianity professes to be, and represent the Christian's anxiety over how desirable eternal bliss really is.

But a new age means a new monster, and the fears of eternal life have replaced themselves with a fear of being purely material. We see ourselves in the zombie, for just as we are afraid of becoming a member of the walking dead, we fear the thought of aging more and more, only to rot and decay in the grave. For just as there is no cure for being a zombie, there is no cure for death. For the materialist, death is the end of all things, and the fact that zombies dominate our culture is evidence that we find this very terrifying.

Given the fact that vampires and zombies represent two fears which have dominated the western psyche, I ask you: which is worse? Would you rather be a vampire, cursed to only walk at night, but still blessed with intelligence and emotion? Or instead a zombie, lacking all thinking or feeling other than an instinctive desire to eat? I'd choose to be a vampire, for it seems to me that eternal life is much better than slow decay, whatever the cost.


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