||It has been suggested that this article be merged with Living Dead. (Discuss) Proposed since February 2015.|
Zombies in media
Zombies are fictional undead creatures, typically depicted as mindless, reanimated human corpses with a hunger for human flesh. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) where a zombie is a dead body animated by magic. Modern depictions of zombies do not necessarily involve magic but invoke other methods such as a virus. Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein drawing on European folklore of the undead. George A. Romero's reinvention of the monster for his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead led to several zombie films in the 1980s and a resurgence of popularity in the 2000s. The "zombie apocalypse" concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation, became a staple of modern popular art.
The English word "zombie" is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of "zombi". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).
One of the first books to expose Western culture to the concept of the Vodou zombie was The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook in 1929. This is the sensationalized account of a narrator who encounters voodoo cults in Haiti and their resurrected thralls. Time claimed that the book "introduced 'zombi' into U.S. speech".
In 1932, Victor Halperin directed White Zombie, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi. Here zombies are depicted as mindless, unthinking henchmen under the spell of an evil magician. Zombies, often still using this voodoo-inspired rationale, were initially uncommon in cinema, but their appearances continued sporadically through the 1930s to the 1960s, with notable films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
How these creatures came to be called "zombies" is not fully clear. The film Night of the Living Dead made no spoken reference to its undead antagonists as "zombies", describing them instead as "ghouls", (though ghouls, which derive from Arabic folklore, are demons, not undead). Although George Romero used the term "ghoul" in his original scripts, in later interviews he used the term "zombie". The word "zombie" is used exclusively by Romero in his 1978 script for his sequel Dawn of the Dead, including once in dialog. According to George Romero, film critics were influential in associating the term "zombie" to his creatures, and especially the French magazine "Les Cahiers du Cinéma". He eventually accepted this linkage even though he remained convinced at the time that "zombies" corresponded to the undead slaves of Haitian Vodou as depicted in Bela Lugosi's White Zombie.
- 1 Folk beliefs
- 2 Evolution of the zombie archetype
- 3 Modern fiction
- 4 In popular culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Zombies featured widely in Haitian rural folklore, as dead persons physically revived by the act of necromancy of a bokor sorcerer (the bokor is a witch-like figure to be distinguished from the houngan priests and mambo priestesses of the formal Vodou religion). Zombies remain under the control of the bokor as their personal slaves, since they have no will of their own.
There also exists within the Haitian tradition, an incorporeal type of zombie, the "zombie astral", which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor's spiritual power. Bokors produce and sell specially-decorated bottles to clients with a zombie astral inside, for the purposes of luck, healing or business success. It is believed that after a time God will take the soul back and so the zombie is a temporary spiritual entity.
It has been suggested that the two types of zombie reflect soul dualism, a belief of Haitian Vodou. Each type of legendary zombie is therefore missing one half of its soul (the flesh or the spirit).
The zombie belief has its roots in traditions brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans, and their subsequent experiences in the New World. It was thought that the Vodou deity Baron Samedi would gather them from their grave to bring them to a heavenly afterlife in Africa ("Guinea"), unless they had offended him in some way, in which case they would be forever a slave after death, as a zombie. A zombie could also be saved by feeding them salt. A number of scholars have pointed out the significance of the zombie figure as a metaphor for the history of slavery in Haiti.
While most scholars have associated the Haitian zombie with African cultures, a connection has also been suggested to the island's indigenous Taíno people, partly based on an early account of native shamanist practices written by the Hieronymite monk Ramón Pané, a companion of Christopher Columbus.
The Haitian zombie phenomenon first attracted widespread international attention during the United States occupation of Haiti (1915 - 1934), when a number of case histories of purported "zombies" began to emerge. The first popular book covering the topics was William Seabrook's The Magic Island (1929).
Seabrooke cited the Haitian criminal code as what he considered official recognition of zombies - Article 246 (passed 1864), later to be used in promotional materials for the 1932 film White Zombie, reads in part:
Also shall be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made by any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the administering of such substances, the person has been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
In 1937, while researching folklore in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston encountered the case of a woman who appeared in a village, and a family claimed she was Felicia Felix-Mentor, a relative who had died and been buried in 1907 at the age of 29. However, the woman had been examined by a doctor, who found on X-ray that she did not have the leg fracture that Felix-Mentor was known to have had. Hurston pursued rumors that the affected persons were given a powerful psychoactive drug, but she was unable to locate individuals willing to offer much information. She wrote: "What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Vodou in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony."
A Central or West African origin for the Haitian zombie has been postulated based on two etymologies in the Kongo language, nzambi ("god") and zumbi ("fetish"). This root helps form the names of several deities, including the Kongo creator deity Nzambi a Mpungu and the Louisiana serpent deity Li Grand Zombi (a local version of the Haitian Damballa), but it is in fact a generic word for a divine spirit. The common African conception of beings under these names is more similar to the incorporeal "zombie astral", as in the Kongo Nkisi spirits.
A related, but also often incorporeal, undead being is the jumbee of the English-speaking Caribbean, considered to be of the same etymology; in the French West Indies also, local "zombies" are recognized, but these are of a more general spirit nature.
The idea of physical zombie-like creatures is present in some South African cultures, where they are called xidachane in Sotho/Tsonga and maduxwane in Venda. In some communities it is believed that a dead person can be zombified by a small child. It is said that the spell can be broken by a powerful enough sangoma. It is also believed in some areas of South Africa that witches can zombify a person by killing and possessing the victim's body in order to force it into slave labor. After rail lines were built to transport migrant workers, stories emerged about "witch trains". These trains appeared ordinary, but were staffed by zombified workers controlled by a witch. The trains would abduct a person boarding at night, and the person would then either be turned into a zombified worker, or beaten and thrown from the train a distance away from the original location.
Evolution of the zombie archetype
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, while not a zombie novel in particular, prefigures many 20th century ideas about zombies in that the resurrection of the dead is portrayed as a scientific process rather than a mystical one, and that the resurrected dead are degraded and more violent than their living selves. Frankenstein, published in 1818, has its roots in European folklore, whose tales of vengeful dead also informed the evolution of the modern conception of vampires as well as zombies. Later notable 19th century stories about the avenging undead included Ambrose Bierce's The Death of Halpin Frayser, and various Gothic Romanticism tales by Edgar Allan Poe. Though their works could not be properly considered zombie fiction, the supernatural tales of Bierce and Poe would prove influential on later undead-themed writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, by Lovecraft's own admission.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the American horror author H. P. Lovecraft wrote several novelettes that explored the undead theme from different angles. "Cool Air", "In the Vault", and "The Outsider" all deal with the undead, but the most definitive "zombie-type" story in Lovecraft's oeuvre was 1921's Herbert West–Reanimator, which "helped define zombies in popular culture". This Frankenstein-inspired series featured Herbert West, a mad scientist who attempts to revive human corpses with mixed results. Notably, the resurrected dead are uncontrollable, mostly mute, primitive and extremely violent; though they are not referred to as zombies, their portrayal was prescient, anticipating the modern conception of zombies by several decades.
Avenging zombies would feature prominently in the early 1950s EC Comics such as Tales from the Crypt, which George A. Romero would later claim as an influence. The comics, including Tales, Vault of Horror and Weird Science, featured avenging undead in the Gothic tradition quite regularly, including adaptations of Lovecraft's stories which included "In the Vault", "Cool Air" and Herbert West–Reanimator.
Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend, although classified as a vampire story would nonetheless have definitive impact on the zombie genre by way of George A. Romero. The novel and its 1964 film adaptation, The Last Man on Earth, which concern a lone human survivor waging war against a world of vampires, would by Romero's own admission greatly influence his 1968 low-budget film Night of the Living Dead; a work that would prove to be more influential on the concept of zombies than any literary or cinematic work before it.
George A. Romero and the modern zombie film
|Fictional setting||Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction|
|Classification||Undead, influenced by Haitian Zombie, Vampire, Ghoul|
|First appearance||Night of the Living Dead, 1968|
|Created by||George Romero|
The modern conception of the zombie owes itself almost entirely to George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. In his films, Romero "bred the zombie with the vampire, and what he got was the hybrid vigour of a ghoulish plague monster". This entailed an apocalyptic vision of monsters that have come to be known as Romero zombies.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," complained Ebert. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:
"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying."
Romero's reinvention of zombies is notable in terms of its thematics; he used zombies not just for their own sake, but as a vehicle "to criticize real-world social ills—such as government ineptitude, bioengineering, slavery, greed and exploitation—while indulging our post-apocalyptic fantasies". Night was the first of six films in Romero's Living Dead series. Its first sequel, Dawn of the Dead, was released in 1978.
1980s and 1990s
The 1981 film Hell of the Living Dead referenced a mutagenic gas as a source of zombie contagion: an idea also used in Dan O'Bannon's 1985 film Return of the Living Dead. Return of the Living Dead featured zombies that hungered specifically for brains.
The mid-1980s produced few zombie films of note. Perhaps the most notable entry, The Evil Dead series, while highly influential are not technically zombie films but films about demonic possession, despite the presence of the undead. 1985's Re-Animator, loosely based on the Lovecraft story, stood out in the genre, achieving nearly unanimous critical acclaim, and becoming a modest success, nearly outstripping Romero's Day of the Dead for box office returns.
After the mid-1980s, the subgenre was mostly relegated to the underground. Notable entries include director Peter Jackson's ultra-gory film Braindead (1992) (released as Dead Alive in the U.S.), Bob Balaban's comic 1993 film My Boyfriend's Back where a self-aware high school boy returns to profess his love for a girl and his love for human flesh, and Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) (released as Cemetery Man in the U.S.). Several years later, zombies experienced a renaissance in low-budget Asian cinema, with a sudden spate of dissimilar entries including Bio Zombie (1998), Wild Zero (1999), Junk (1999), Versus (2000) and Stacy (2001).
2000s and 2010s
The turn of the millennium coincided with a decade of box-office successes in which the zombie subgenre experienced a resurgence: the Resident Evil movies (2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012), the British films 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (2002, 2007), the Dawn of the Dead remake and the comedy/homage Shaun of the Dead (both 2004). The new interest allowed Romero to create the fourth entry in his zombie series: Land of the Dead, released in the summer of 2005. Romero returned to the series with the films Diary of the Dead (2008) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Premiering in 2010, the ongoing hit television series The Walking Dead is based on a comic book series of the same name that debuted in 2003. The offbeat 2013 film Warm Bodies, based on the 2012 novel by Isaac Marion, was a romantic comedy told from a zombie's point of view.
Generally the zombies in these shows are the slow, lumbering and unintelligent kind first made popular in Night of the Living Dead. Motion pictures created within the 2000s, however, like the Dawn of the Dead remake, and House of the Dead, have featured zombies that are more agile, vicious, intelligent, and stronger than the traditional zombie. Some are not cannibals craving "brains", but instead behave as "vectors" spreading an infection to the non-infected, as in the television series Helix and the film World War Z. In many cases, these fast-moving zombies are depicted as living humans infected with a mutagenic or mind-altering pathogen (as in 28 Days Later, World War Z, Zombieland, and the Left 4 Dead video game series) originating in a pandemic or in the deployment of a biological agent.
Intimately tied to the conception of the modern zombie is the "zombie apocalypse"; the breakdown of society as a result of an initial zombie outbreak which spreads. This archetype has emerged as a prolific subgenre of apocalyptic fiction and has been portrayed in many zombie-related media after Night of the Living Dead. In a zombie apocalypse, a widespread (usually global) rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization. Victims of zombies may become zombies themselves. This causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading "zombie plague/virus" swamps normal military and law enforcement organizations, leading to the panicked collapse of civilized society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for food and supplies in a world reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness.
The usual subtext of the zombie apocalypse is that civilization is inherently fragile in the face of truly unprecedented threats and that most individuals cannot be relied upon to support the greater good if the personal cost becomes too high. The narrative of a zombie apocalypse carries strong connections to the turbulent social landscape of the United States in the 1960s when Night of the Living Dead provided an indirect commentary on the dangers of conformity, a theme also explored in the 1954 novel The Body Snatchers and the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Many also feel that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxieties about the end of the world. One scholar concluded that "more than any other monster, zombies are fully and literally apocalyptic ... they signal the end of the world as we have known it."
Due to a large number of thematic films and video games, the idea of a zombie apocalypse has entered the mainstream and there have been efforts by many fans to prepare for the hypothetical future zombie apocalypse. Efforts include creating weapons and selling educational material informing people on how to survive a zombie outbreak; while most of these are tongue-in-cheek and do not represent an authentic belief that a zombie apocalypse in the near future is likely, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has used the fictional scenario to demonstrate survival and emergency-preparedness techniques that may be useful in a 'real-world' setting.
There are several common themes that create a zombie apocalypse:
- Initial contacts with zombies are extremely dangerous and traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, hampering survivors' ability to deal with hostile encounters.
- The response of authorities to the threat is slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment. This results in the collapse of the given society. Zombies take full control while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters' subsequent attempts to survive on their own. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.
In popular culture
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Artist Jillian McDonald has made several works of video art involving zombies, and exhibited them in her 2006 show, "Horror Make-Up," which debuted on 8 September 2006 at Art Moving Projects, a gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Artist Karim Charredib has dedicated his work to the zombie figure. In 2007, he made a video installation at villa Savoye called "Them !!!" where zombies walked in the villa like tourists.
From 2005, Marvel Comics used zombies and the zombie apocalypse scenario as the focus of their series Marvel Zombies, in which the superheroes of the Marvel Universe on another Earth were transformed into zombies due to a virus.
DC Comics continued producing zombie comics on their digital imprint Zuda Comics.
The Black Cherry Bombshells takes place in a world where all the men have turned into zombies.
In anime and manga
There has been a growth in the number of zombie manga in the last decade, and in a list of "10 Great Zombie Manga", Anime News Network's Jason Thompson placed I Am a Hero at number 1, considering it "probably the greatest zombie manga ever". In second place was Living Corpse and in third, Biomega, which he called "the greatest science-fiction virus zombie manga ever".
Zombies are a popular theme for video games, particularly of, but not limited to, the stealth, survival horror, first-person shooter and role-playing game genres. Important horror fiction media franchises in this area include Resident Evil, Dead Rising, House of the Dead, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, Dying Light, State of Decay, The Last of Us and the Zombies game modes from Call of Duty title series.
PopCap Games' Plants vs. Zombies, a humorous tower defense game, was an indie hit in 2009, featuring in several best-of lists at the end of that year. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game Urban Dead, a free grid-based browser game where zombies and survivors fight for control of a ruined city, is one of the most popular games of its type.
Over a year later, the developers of the mod created a standalone version of the same game, which currently is in early-access on Steam, and so far it has sold 3 million copies since its release in December 2013
Outside of video games, zombies frequently appear in trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game which even has a Zombie-Type for its "monsters", as well as in role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop wargames such as Warhammer Fantasy and 40K.
Many companies from around the world have also put strong focus on creating products geared towards the 'zombie' culture. This list includes a company in California, Harcos Labs, that sells bagged Zombie Blood and Zombie Jerky in specimen style pouches;
In print and literature
Lovecraft touched on the theme of zombies, with the short stories "In the Vault," "Cool Air," and "The Thing on the Doorstep." He also used zombies of a sort in his "collaboration" "The Mound" with Zealia Bishop.
In the 1990s, zombie fiction emerged as a distinct literary subgenre, with the publication of Book of the Dead in 1990 and its follow-up Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 in 1992, both edited by horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector. Featuring Romero-inspired stories from the likes of Stephen King, the Book of the Dead compilations are regarded as influential in the horror genre and perhaps the first true "zombie literature".
Recent zombie fiction of note includes Brian Keene's 2005 novel The Rising, followed by its sequel City of the Dead. The Rising proved itself to be a success in the subgenre, even winning the 2005 Bram Stoker award.
Famed horror novelist Stephen King has mined the zombie theme, first with his 1990 short story "Home Delivery". In 2006, King published Cell, which concerns a struggling young artist on a trek from Boston to Maine in hopes of saving his family from a possible worldwide outbreak of zombie-like maniacs. Cell was a number-one bestseller upon its release.
Aside from Cell, the best-known current work of zombie fiction is 2006's World War Z by Max Brooks, which was an immediate hit upon its release and a New York Times bestseller. Brooks had previously authored the cult hit The Zombie Survival Guide, an exhaustively researched, zombie-themed parody of pop-fiction survival guides published in 2003. Brooks has said that zombies are so popular because "Other monsters may threaten individual humans, but the living dead threaten the entire human race.... Zombies are slate wipers."
David Wellington's trilogy of zombie novels began in 2004 with Monster Island, followed by two sequels, Monster Nation and Monster Planet. Jonathan Maberry's Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead, released in August 2008, interviewed over 250 experts in forensics, medicine, science, law enforcement, the military and similar disciplines to discuss how the real world would react, research and respond to zombies. In 2009, Katy Hershbereger of St. Martin's Press stated "In the world of traditional horror, nothing is more popular right now than zombies.... The living dead are here to stay."
The mashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith combines the full text of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with a story about a zombie epidemic within the novel's British Regency period setting.
In television and video
Many pop culture media have paid tribute to this video, such as a viral video (nearly 50 million views) which featured 1500 prisoners in orange jumpsuits recreating the zombie dance, and zombie films such as Return of the Living Dead 2.
In 2013, the AMC series The Walking Dead had the highest audience ratings in the United States for any show on broadcast or cable with an average of 5.6 million viewers in the 18-49 year old demographic. The show's racial "issues" were parodied on Saturday Night Live.
Government and media response
On 18 May 2011, the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse providing tips to survive a zombie invasion as a "fun new way of teaching the importance of emergency preparedness". The CDC goes on to summarize cultural references to a zombie apocalypse. It uses these to underscore the value of laying in water, food, medical supplies, and other necessities in preparation for any and all potential disasters, be they hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or hordes of zombies.
On 17 October 2011, The Weather Channel in the United States published an article, "How To Weather the Zombie Apocalypse" that included a fictional interview with a Director of Research at the CDD, the "Center for Disease Development". Questions answered include "How does the temperature affect zombies' abilities? Do they run faster in warmer temperatures? Do they freeze if it gets too cold?"
Use in theoretical academic papers
According to a 2009 Carleton University and University of Ottawa epidemiological analysis, an outbreak of even Living Dead's slow zombies "is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly." Based on their mathematical modelling, the authors concluded that offensive strategies were much more reliable than quarantine strategies, due to various risks that can compromise a quarantine. They also found that developing a cure would merely leave a few humans alive, since this would do little to slow the infection rate.
On a longer time scale, the researchers found that all humans end up turned or dead. This is because the main epidemiological risk of zombies, besides the difficulties of neutralizing them, is that their population just keeps increasing; generations of humans merely "surviving" still have a tendency to feed zombie populations, resulting in gross outnumbering. The researchers explain that their methods of modelling may be applicable to the spread of political views or diseases with dormant infection.
A follow-up to the above paper explored the possibility that a zombie apocalypse may already have occurred at other locations in the universe. The study by Kane & Selsis showed that even a conservative estimate of outbreaks of zombie infections (referred to as Spontaneous Necro-Animation Psychosis or SNAP) would mean that there are least 2,500 contaminated planets within 100 parsecs of Earth. They thus conclude that this helps to explain the Fermi Paradox due to the devastating effect of encountering such planets during the planetary exploration phase of an advanced civilization.
Adam Chodorow of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University investigated the estate and income tax implications of a zombie apocalypse under United States federal and state tax codes. He notes that being dead is different from being undead, and states that "most self-motivated zombies likely would be considered alive under most state law definitions", similar to victims of strokes or Alzheimer's Disease, or those in a persistent vegetative state. Whether a reanimated zombie should be considered the same being as when it was originally alive is, according to Chodorow, much less clear. Due to such potential legal complications, he recommends that legislators enact special tax laws for the undead.
Neuroscientists Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen have built a side career in describing the nature of a zombie brain in considerable detail, based heavily on real world neuroscience ideas. Their work has been featured in Forbes, New York Magazine, and other publications.
- Doomsday film
- Jiangshi fiction
- List of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
- List of zombie short films and undead-related projects
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