Metanarrational Monsters, Part Seven – Zombies: Fear of the loss of Existential authenticity and apocalyptic Endings

Part 7 of 8

Archetype Six: Zombies –


Fear of the loss of Existential authenticity and apocalyptic Endings


“I don’t know what’s happening to me. I’m not alive.

I’m not dead. I’m just…I’m just so lonely.”
Julie, Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)[1],[2]

“The devil is amongst us. Stay back boy, this calls
for divine intervention. I kick ass for the Lord!”
  – Father McGruder, Dead Alive (1992)[3],[4]


Another important metanarrational monster is that of the Zombie. Zombies have been a staple of monster movies for a long time. The first big zombie movie was the classic White Zombie film directed by Victor and Edward Halperin. Another zombie franchise is the Resident Evil series, which is based on the idea of a rouge viral agent being responsible for bringing the dead back to life. In these films, the agent is traced back to the mysterious, powerful, and seemingly all-encompassing Umbrella Corporation. The trouble starts when a research variant of the virus escapes containment and biological suppression measures fails. The underground complex known as ‘the hive’ seals itself off after the accident and a group is sent in to determine exactly what has happened, which is when things get out of control. [5],[6]

There are many metanarrational archetypes present in Resident Evil that make it truly scary. There is, of course, the pretense of petite females toting big guns (perhaps an homage to female empowerment[7]) and lots of blood and gore; but the bigger, scarier issues that give the terror of the Resident Evil films their traction in the imaginations of moviegoers is the fear of the circumstances that make up the backdrop of the story behind Umbrella Corporation and its rouge virus. The trailer for the movie starts out much like any other advertisement for any mainstream beauty product.  For instance, a Google search using the terms “Oil of Olay Skin Regenerist” returns 724,000 results.[8]  If you watch the trailer for the Resident Evil movie “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”[9], [10] and then watch one by Oil of Olay for their Regenerist product line,[11] then as one blogger commented, you might think Umbrella Corporation’s Refinerate and Oil of Olay’s Regenerist were “separated at birth.”[12] There is a shared meta-narrative here, that of rouge science and the potential unpredictability of tinkering with things that are by nature more complicated than our rudimentary understandings for them. Such is the case of our understanding of Genetics. This fear makes up part of the ongoing conversation regarding so-called “Frankenseeds”[13] and “Frankenfoods.” A Google search for “Frankenfoods list” will return 993,000 results. In 2009 the Food Chanel named ‘Frankenfoods’ sixth on the Top 10 Food Trends that year.[14]

But there is much more than just the fear of the etiology (or cause) of a zombie outbreak. There is the fear of the results that would follow such an event. Max Brooks, son of the famous filmmaker Mel Brooks,[15] has created an entire franchise of books set in a post-zombie outbreak, the historical records of the so-called “World War Z.”[16] Brooks followed up with another graphic novel, which claims to be the history of previously recorded zombie attacks in world history.[17] There is even an iPod app that you can download and use to tell if an unsuspecting stranger is a zombie.[18] Brooks and his books have such a huge fan base that a large number of movie trailers have been made by his fans for the forthcoming movie based on his books which utilize various montages and scenes from other zombie movies.[19], [20] There is, in fact, a movie that being produced based on his book. [21] Brooks is not the only innovator to add to the Zombie canon: writer Seth Grahame-Smith has contributed with his book Pride, Prejudice and Zombies,[22] a smashup of Zombies, Victorian England, and Jane Austen.[23] This also is slated to become a movie.[24] Graham-Green has built on his literary success by incorporating vampire mythology in a Civil War historical smashup entitled Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.[25]

There have been various other attempts at zombie humor which include Shawn of the Dead,[26], [27] Redneck Zombies,[28], [29]  and a Norwegian movie that is a smashup of Nazis and zombies.[30], [31] If this is not enough, one can find and play a zombie game[32] on Facebook and join groups like Zombie Awareness Day[33]  and Zombie Apocalypse Awareness.[34]

While the fear of being eaten by one’s constituents is irrational, there is a greater fear that is much more vivid in the imagination than anthrophagia will ever be. It can be argued that the pervasiveness of the zombie story archetype, along with its various permutations and innovations at both storyline and humor, underscore the real fear of large-scale cultural and organizational disintegration and that fear of the tenuousness of technologically-mediated sustenance/societal structures is not at all irrational. This fear of community instability and an overall loss of control over one’s self partially forms the zombie metanarrational fear archetype. Americans are unbelievably lazy, and as a recent USA Today article suggests, we are so out of shape that even sudden exertion like having sex is likely to trigger heart attacks in some people. As Irving Herling notes, we will drive around for 20 minutes looking for a place to park.[35] More than the fear of being forced to park in a remote location that necessitated walking a significant distance, we fear the loss of control in terms of not even having a car or even a safe place to park it. The recent earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan underscores how one of the most resilient cultures can be reduced to chaos in a short time. Events can and do occur that ignite exponential chain reactions and result in the destabilization of society, and the result is loss of any sense of personal control and autonomy. The stuff of apocalyptic/post- apocalyptic nightmare scenarios can take place and be streamed live, showing the entire world the ongoing effects of uncontrollable circumstances on a global scale. In this sense we do not fear the human dead as much as we fear the death of technology. After all, only when the power was cut to the Fukushima power plant did it come back to life in a horrific, uncontrollable way.[36]

This fear of the intrinsic instability of cities is what serves as the rubric behind Jacques Ellul’s book The Meaning of the City, in which he argues that ‘the city’ represents man’s rejection of God as a guide and source of sustenance and his choice to try to be his own guide and his own source of what he feels he needs to survive.[37] As told through the biblical character of Cain, Ellul argues that the city (as typified by the city that Cain builds) embodies a spirit of self-sufficiency and reliance on self and available technology. In Cain’s placement of his trust in his own resources, structures, and abilities (as represented by the city that he builds which he calls Enoch) the city that he builds, for Ellul, represents a technological rejection of the theology of God and, hence, comes to embody the idea of a type of an evil of pride and an evil of an arrogance of self-sufficiency, decidedly placed over and against that which (in the biblical narrative of Cain) stands in contrast to it: the sufficiency of God and a trust in Him. For Cain, stability and sustenance come to be represented by his city and not by God. But as Ellul point out – the city is fallible, because fallible hands built it. Security gives way to fear – as all the scenarios that can potentially bring chaos are shown. Indeed, these modern scenarios are not that far from that of the biblical and are never far from the imagination of the public or scientists.

In his book Mega Disasters, The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe, Florin Diacu goes through numerous disaster archetypes, exploring both the cause and the potential ramifications that each would bring. Chapters are named after the disaster that it explores, including: “Walls of Water: Tsunamis, Land in Upheaval”; “Earthquakes”; “Chimneys of Hell: Volcanic Eruptions, Giant Whirlwinds” and “Tiny Killers: Pandemics.”

Of these, it may seem that Tiny Killers pose the biggest threat. A recent CBS news affiliate in Los Angeles ran a story about a “drug-resistant superbug” that was rapidly spreading in the local nursing homes.[38] This has been consistently covered both in the media and in books such as author Laurie Garrett’s best selling book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance[39] and Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, which tells the true story of an Ebola Virus outbreak in Washington, D.C.[40] There may be truth in the monster archetypes that are unreasonable to fear, in terms of the fear of them becoming reality: it may someday prove that a zombie-creating virus may be closer to the penumbra of possibility. Any medically-trained person who understands or has seen the late stages of a Rabies infection[41] in a human knows what this kind of fear looks like. Just like an infected animal, the patient can become violent because of a rapid, unpredictable state of escalating agitation that includes hallucinations and general delirium. Once infected individuals reach this state they are, in a very real way, the walking dead, for at that stage in the disease, the mortality rate is 100%. The only treatment is to prevent the patient from harming themselves or others while they die. Rabies – derived from the Latin hydrophobia or “fear of water”[42] – attacks the central nervous system and causes these bizarre symptoms and others such as a fear of water and sometimes of air. How is it that such a virus creates these fears? Could a rabies virus mutate in such a way as to cause auto-anthrophagic compulsions? This, coupled with a rapid onset, could easily bring such a monster to life. How society could resist is the subject of ongoing speculation.

An especially vivid imagination is not required to imagine how society would be in a zombie apocalypse. Steven Schlozman, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical school and author of the new zombie best-seller The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse, argues that in many ways our so-called modern society is structured to create a sense of disconnection and alienation. Even amidst all the interconnectivity, there is a feeling of becoming merely a disconnected automaton.[43] Because of all the pleasures and availability of modern technology we are tempted to feel completely at ease. But in the growing technological advancement and consequential rampant consumerism, we are more in touch with our technology then with those around us, even if those technologies purport to bring us closer together. This sense of societal disconnect has been growing at an alarming pace. As Robert D. Putnam points out in his book Bowling Alone,[44] in years past, culture intrinsically worked to foster interpersonal relationships. Modern culture has shifted away from this and created a sense of pervasive isolationism and alienation. The zombie represents a statement against this type of cancerous consumerism.[45] Perhaps we don’t need a strange mutation of the Rabies bacilli or other such pestilence. Perhaps we already are all zombies.


[1] IMDb entry for the Return of the Living Dead III (1993).

[2] Trailer for Return of the Living Dead III (1993).

[3] Trailer for Dead Alive (1992).

[4]  IMDb entry for Dead Alive (1992).

[6] IMDb entry for Resident Evil (2002).

[9] Trailer for Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004).

[10] IMDb entry for Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004).

[15] Internet Movie Database biography for Max Brooks.

[19] World War Z fan-made “fake” trailer (this movie has not been made yet – but it is a trailer publicly created by its fans of the book, using various movies scenes from other zombie movies).

[20] A second World War Z fan-made “fake” trailer.



[24] IMDb for the unreleased movie based on the book Pride Prejudice and Zombies (2013).

[26] Movie trailer for Shaun of the Dead (2004).

[27] IMDb entry for Shaun of the Dead (2004).

[28] Movie trailer for Redneck Zombies (1989).

[29] IMDb entry for Redneck Zombies (1989).

[31] IMDb entry for Dead Snow (2009).

[33] A Facebook ‘like’ page for “Zombie Awareness Day”.

[34] A Facebook ‘like’ page for Zombie Apocalypse Awareness: Forrest County Division.

[35] “Walking, any kind of physical activity on a routine basis – risk is reduced [of having a heart attack while having sex or a burst of exertion] substantially, even by doing that. I mean, people will go around for half an hour looking for the closest (parking) spot to the gym, but that is the mentality of our world.” Irving Herling, Director of Consultative Cardiology at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Burst of Exercise, sex can hurt heart, USA Today, Wednesday, March 23, 2011.

[36] Meltdown. Time Magazine, March 28, 2011, page 34.

[37] “Cain has built a city. For God’s Eden he substitutes his own, for the goal given to his life by God, he substitutes a goal chosen by himself – just as he substituted his own security for God’s.” The Meaning of the City, pg. 5.

[43] “Q:  You’re the psychiatrist. Why do we love zombies? A: The construct of the zombie – the mindless, stumbling about – feels increasingly like our world. It feels like going to the DMV or like sitting on hold with your HMO and talking to a machine, What we increasingly characterize as modernity is increasingly disconnected and disembodied. Feels zombie-like. “  Steven Schlozman of Harvard Law School. From The ‘Secret’ about zombies, USA Today, Friday, March 25, 2011, pg. 14D.

[45]  “…in a discussion of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead cycle, Noël Carrol points out that these films are ‘explicitly anti-racist as well as critical of the consumerism and viciousness of American society.” The Philosophy of Horror, pg. 122.



About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
This entry was posted in Cinema Studies, Cultural Mythology, Dystopicism & Fear, Existentialism, Horror (Classic), Philosophy Studies, Propaganda Studies, Uncategorized, Zombie Archetype & Apocalyticism/Dystopicism Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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