Life lessons from a brain-munching zombie army


Here’s the thing about zombies: They have something important to say about us and the way we live our lives…And there’s a lot of them about.

I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the fact that zombies are really popular. I’m talking about films, computer games and TV shows.

I started counting iPhone apps containing the word ‘zombies’ and stopped after coming across the game “farts versus zombies” – and I’d reached 200 by then. And yes, in this game you do save yourself by farting on zombies. (Natch.) Incidentally, there are only about 100 fart games on the app store which just shows how insanely popular the zombie genre is: more popular even than farts which themselves have provided entertainment for over a million years.

This Zombies-as-entertainment trend is significant. I say this because the relationship between pop culture and the state of our collective psyche is well-documented. For example, consider how America’s neurotic response to its new role in a new world order post ww11 was reflected in the development of Film Noir – shadowy films in which you couldn’t always tell who was good or who was bad or what was real or what was fake.

So, what does it say about our collective state of mind that we can’t help embracing zombies?

Of course, by now you know the punchline is that it’s because – somehow – we are all zombies.

Sure, that’s coming. But there’s more to it. You see, the way zombies are portrayed has changed. And it is the way this has changed that should be ringing alarm bells.

When Zombies first hit the big screen the undead had hope. Now they don’t. There you go – that’s the kicker. The first zombie movie was White Zombie (1932), and as you’d expect the Zombies were demoralised and undead and grim. That’s the minimum requirement, after all. But the old school undead were markedly different from today’s species in that they were slaves of an evil Voodoo priest.

The original zombies had an enemy: Voodoo.

“Crucially, the ending of White Zombie  in 1932 and other films of its time spoke of hope and featured the overthrow of the controlling voodoo master by the zombie slaves”, according to Dr Nick Pearce who has researched the story-telling at the University of Durham.

And over time the voodoo element of the story got dropped. Does the modern Hollywood zombie doesn’t care about voodoo? No, sir. It just wants to kill, eat some brain, and pursue a hopeless existence. There’s no fightback. There’s no enemy for the zombies to struggle against. No redemption. They just go round munching until …the film ends or they die. Or someone farts on them.

Such is the fate of the modern zombie. With no voodoo priest to overthrow the contemporary zombie cannot seek freedom, cannot resist, cannot dream of a better future, doesn’t have an end. It’s a bleak picture. Pearce warns: “Zombies may well be popular today because they speak to a similar feeling of powerlessness shared by many members of our society.”

Kerpow! So now let’s take a look in the mirror. The real life zombie works all day, comes home to watch films about zombies, which are punctured by advertising for heavily branded goods. And at the weekend marches to the high street to consume (not br-ains but) br-anded goods.

But if we are all zombies programmed to consume high street goods, cars and mortgages until the end of time then who is the “controller” we should fight against?

The knee-jerk reaction is to say the enemy is advertising because it has turned us into an army of consumers who fetishise products and brands.


But it ain’t that simple. The controller is nowhere and everywhere. It’s the very system we live in. And I think this helps explain the strange directionlessness of the Occupy movement. On the one hand it’s a worldwide and passionate movement that persists determinedly and on the other its target is never articulated simply because it isn’t clear what that is.

In a similar vein,  today in the UK we see the largest public sector strike for 30 years. The strike – protesting against cuts in the public sector pension provision – is enormous and yet it hasn’t galvanised public opinion in the way you’d expect from a strike this large. I think this is because while people may sympathise, the target here is similarly elusive. In this case the enemy is not enough money, and it’s hard to protest against that. It’s not an enemy you can lash out at.

So, here are two examples of large protests struggling to identify what it is they want to change, neither of them having a clearly defined voodoo overlord to overthrow.

Faced with the subsequent sense of frustration and powerlessness this brings, we find ourselves collectively at the point of the zombie army that doesn’t know who to overthrow to win their freedom.

At the individual level you might also want to protest about your situation. But blaming other people is about as fruitless as munching your own brain. To change your situation you are compelled to turn to you own resources to create jobs, find new values, find meaning.

In other words at the point you discover you’re a modern zombie – which is to say that at the instant you realise that while things ain’t how you want them but there is no voodoo controller  – that’s when you  have to make the change yourself. It’s time to make your own path. Dance. Sing. March. Ignite your rockets. Fire up the engines. Whatever it takes: Leave the world of the undead. Be the change. Stop talking, start doing!