I’m a huge fan of zombies. Zombies in movies, zombies in books, zombies in comics. I want to write zombies but it seems I can never come up with a story involving zombies that isn’t cliched and done to death.
But the thing about zombies is that as such they’re pretty one dimensional; they want to eat your brain and nothing else. Going “boo” at irregular intervals is hardly captivating storytelling so it’s a good thing zombies lend themselves so well to being used as a metaphor for many different things. Here are some of them.
Zombies as consumerism
The most common metaphor zombies are used for these days is the rampant consumerism so indicative of our age. People nearly trampling each other to death in their hurry to save $20 on a flatscreen tv during a Black Friday sale is easily recognizable in every modern zombie movie. It’s therefore not exactly surprising that the protagonists often end up in huge malls before fleeing the ravenous hoard. See for example: Dawn of the Dead.
Zombies as class struggle
Zombies are a great equalizer. Sure, if you’re rich, you might be able to literally lock yourself away from the horrible world outside but even the rich are never safe from death. The complete fall of society often leads to the strong taking what they need, or else a violent redistribution of material wealth. In the apocalypse, flatscreens are dirt cheap. This point is especially driven home by George Romero’s Land of the Dead where the rich manage to stay rich and live in a gated community, protected by the poor and the middle class. Before outbreak makes the protectors literally eat the rich.
Zombies as isolation
It’s not uncommon for anyone to feel alone in a sea of, sometimes hostile, people. Of course, a cashier taking out their bad day on you by being rude or someone close saying something nasty that hits home is hardly the same as someone literally trying to eat your face off, but… we can still all relate. Some of the most powerful imagery in 28 Days Later comes from this isolation and fear for fellow man.
Zombies as humans
Yeah, yeah. Ex-humans, biggest monsters and all that. But the thing is, humans are really fucking scary monsters. Have you ever heard of the concept of pursuit predation? Well you’re gonna! The way humans hunt is not a big, dramatic event where the burly men find a mammoth and attack it with spears, oh no. Humans find a prey animal, try to wound it as badly as they can and when the prey runs they simply run after it until the poor, terrified creature keels over from exhaustion, heart failure or loss of blood. We are motherfucking komodo dragons, people. Except instead of poisonous saliva, we make up for our lack of impressive biological weapons by being deadly smart.
And zombies, well, they always get you in the end. No matter how far you run, no matter where you hide, zombies will always track you down and slowly but surely chase you to death. And what could be more human than that? (See: every zombie movie ever made.)