Over the past decade, interest in zombies in pop culture has sky rocketed. There have been over 100 games and movies featuring the living dead. George Romeros 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, sequel to Night of the Living Dead, gives its audience insight into these evil symbolic structures known today as zombies. In this film, there are four survivors that take refuge in a huge shopping mall, sealing the doors and creating a zombie-free hideout. This movie is often referred to as one the best horror films of its time and a door way to todays interest in zombies. Throughout the film, the four survivors deal with hundreds of zombies and at the climax are also having to deal with a biker gang.
Although not all four of these characters survived, the mall was a perfect spot for the movie to take place according to a review done by the Spinning Image Company. The mall is a brilliant location, not just for the satirical possibilities it offers Romero, but also for creating some clever, unsettling imagery, said Daniel Auty in his review. Auty is speaking of the several times throughout the film where Romero would cut to a scene of just zombies roaming random parts of the mall. These zombies were different than what we see today however. [The zombies] look silly, they fall over a lot, and Romero mostly shoots them in either broad daylight or the stark fluorescence of the mall (Auty).
The zombies in Dawn of the Dead appeared from the first minute without Romero giving any sort of insight on how it happened. So in order to understand the body in its monstrous state, one must know the origins of the zombie. Many scholars agree that the term zombie originated from the voodoo religion in Haiti. In Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies, writer Elizabeth McCalister discusses these origins in great detail. The word zonbi appears in writing as far back as colonial Saint- Domingue, glossed by travel writer Moreau de Saint-Mry as the slaves belief in a returned soul, a revenant(3).
The Haitians still heavily believe that this is a part of the spiritual world. They say that these entities separate the body and the soul and compel one to work without the other, in this case the body without the soul. Over the years, however, these origins have begun to vanish due to new forms of the zombies. In the early 20th Century, films began to show Eurocentric ideas that created African-Americans to be viewed as these zombie creatures. Films such as White Zombie (1932) and I walked with a Zombie (1943) invariably cast black sorcerers plotting for conquest of and control over white women, and blackness is unmistakably linked with primitive menace, superstition, and the diabolical (5). These views began to change by the time Romeros films came out. Now this monstrous creature is as simple as a ghoul who lumbers around trying to eat people.
Todays society is used to seeing these ghouls in pop culture. Because of the more than 100 shows, movies and video games on the market now, people are more accepting of this idea of a zombie apocalypse. In many places, they have held events, such as 5K races and obstacle courses, that center around a zombie theme. In Muskegon, Michigan they held a zombie apocalypse day where civilians dressed as zombies and chased after those that were dressed as civilians. Zombie participants got creative and tore up and stained their clothing. They also added scars and bloody makeup, said an article in the Muskegon Chronicle.
This goes to show how immune todays society has become to the idea of these flesh-eating monsters. Not everyone is taking it lightly though as some have plans set in stone for when the apocalypse may happen. The CDC, Center of Disease Control, has its own website dedicated to a zombie outbreak. The blog includes a brief history of the creatures, a list of survival tools for a kit and their own plan for survival if it would ever happen. If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. The CDC tells us that it would be taken just as seriously as any other disease, and thanks pop culture and todays society in helping to prepare for that day.
Christopher Moreman takes a look past the plan in his book Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. The author looks into a world that is already ruled by the dead and sees how society would have to live to survive. He speaks for society as a whole through one line by referencing the graphic novel The Walking Dead: In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living (5). The creatures in Romeros Dawn of the Dead may not be the scariest or deadliest of monsters, but it is when they are in large numbers that they can cause havoc. It is hard to deal with hundreds of flesh eating monsters at once no matter how fast or intelligent they may be. Much of the films audience saw Romeros zombie as a symbolic structure of other things that could take down America. McCalister analyzes all of Romeros films on the living dead and the time frame that they were made.
Night of the Living Dead attacks the nuclear American family, patriarchy, and racism; Dawn of the Dead fastens its attention on the deadening effects of rampant consumerism; and Day of the Dead offers an indictment of militarism and American misuse of science and technology (17). These things were on the minds of Americans in the time the movies were made. Now they can be related to something different such as the events going on in the Middle East. Stephen Asma takes a look into the torturing of Iraqi soldiers and how the Americans may be the ones viewed as the evil creatures. In his book On Monsters, Asma references Dr. Philip Zimbardo and his theory called The Lucifer Effect. This idea helps to explain how good people can become evil in specific ways. He focuses on the torture of Iraqi soldiers. The fact that seemingly normal American soldiers engaged in torture and degradation techniques on Iraqi detainees offers more evidence, Zimbardo thinks, for his view that abuse and aggression are not the results of inner character flaws (Asma 413).
He goes on to explain how Zimbardo believes these soldiers were not just a case of just one spoiled apple, but a bad barrel that spoiled anything put into it. In the case of the zombies, one can make the case that everyone on this planet will eventually fall to the disease and it is not because of the one zombie who started it all, but because everyone is infected to begin. These kinds of ideas are what bring the monstrous view of zombies into society. Kyle Bishop writes in his book American Zombie Gothic about how the use of the zombies in Dawn of the Dead creates a connection with the audience. He says that because the zombies look very similar to just another regular human being, it can make the audience feel terrified of the creatures. However, the way that the zombies act can tell the audience obvious differences between one that is still human and one that has turned. Romeros monsters are primarily othered creatures, possessing virtually no subjective, human qualities and encouraging almost no psychological suture with the audience (Bishop 159).
The comparison of zombies to human qualities can go on forever. Asma continues to analyze the psyche of the monstrous through the Id. Rage is a powerful force that, along with other socially deleterious impulses, lives like a frustrated virus in the dark cellars of the Id (354). The Id is the part of the personality that can make decisions unconsciously based off of desire and instinct. In the case of the zombies, all they want and need is food and in this case, the flesh of the protagonists. The zombies in Romeros film were often times the ones being killed, whether it is a gunshot to the head, a bat to the head, a car hood to the head or a screwdriver through the ear. However, Romero kept scenes where humans were eaten by these creatures to give the audience a clear understanding of what to expect from the movie and who would be the good guys. In David Gilmores Monsters, the author discusses of ways on how to approach the monster. Mythologists¦ have written much about the theme of the Epic Hero who goes out to fight monsters in order to rescue maidens or to save society as a whole (12).
The monster is obvious in film but no Epic Hero is there to save the day. Taken this perspective into Dawn of the Dead, the audience can tell that it is society as a whole trying to fight the monsters to save the world from the dead. There are several ways to see why Romeros Dawn of the Dead was up for awards. Much of it was not based off the effects and acting but what thought and background was put into the project. The study behind the zombies was thorough and began giving more meaning to the story. The symbolism of these creatures and how the good human being became an evil, flesh-seeking monster were just two of the things to write about. When all is said and done, the zombies may never come, but if they do, it is because of films like this that could help with survival.
Asma, Stephen T. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print. Auty, Daniel. Dawn of
the Dead. Rev. of Dawn of the Dead. n.d.: n. pag. The Spinning Image. Web. Bishop, Kyle William. American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2010. Print. Gilmore, David D. Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2003. Print. Haiti and the Truth about Zombies. Www.umich.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. . McCalister, Elizabeth. Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies. Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 (n.d.): 457-86. Web. Public Health Matters Blog. Public Health Matters Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. .