The Evolution Of The Zombie Genre Since Its First Release In Hollywood

Since the first introduction of the original zombie movie, society has been intrigued by the concept of the dead walking among us. Many see these mindless creatures as enemies of humanity, which became a plague amongst society, but others may disagree. It is common to see entertainment create vessels in media to reflect concerns, fears, and social structures of the current era. The zombie horror genre does just that, acting as a vessel for creators to express and give form to ideas that wouldn’t be achievable in traditional media, along with a narrative view of all the complex human emotion, psyche, and behavior that wouldn’t normally be explored in our routine lives. This is why people are so infatuated with the zombie genre.

The origin of the term zombie can be traced back to the early 19th century “J’accuse” was the first movie to implement the idea of walking dead with deceased soldiers rising from the dead from their desire to return home. One year later, zombies made another reappearance within “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” as the mindless creatures we know today. This was also the first zombie horror movie to premiere, as the previous movie was categorized as a drama/war movie. The zombie history continues as slaves sold in Haiti were injected with a paralytic drug called tetrodotoxin and buried alive. Once the paralysis had worn off, they would then claw their way out from the ground while still in a stupored state. This is where the idea of the dead rising from the grave and mindless behavior came from.

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The victims of this process would then take the form of the Haitian folklore creatures “zombies,” thus, where the name had originally derived from. However, It was only until an American explorer named W.B Seabrook came into contact with these people and created the book “The Magic Island,” which details his experience with these so-called zombies, did it then officially become part of the pop culture phenomenon we know as today (Blumberg). This early interpretation of zombies was essentially a skewed form of cultural appropriation as the premise of the story was still that of the mistreatment of black slaves and glamorizing the fight against the slaves. The initial conception of zombies would drastically change in 1968 in the night of the living dead by George Romero’s retcon zombies into the flesh-eating monsters most commonly known today. Both “magic island” and “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” highlighted the subjective perception of reality, the destabilized contrast between insanity and sanity, and the duality of human nature. While “J’accuse” brought attention to the horrors of war. The implementation of zombies was all the same; to tell a specific story that had an underlying narrative deeply enrooted in the inspiration of the original creation.

This form of narrative telling usually extends to every and all zombie movie moving forward from this point as the exposition is usually introduced in the same way; the sudden and unexpected outbreak occurred, unleashing a horde of undead and the seemingly unkillable creature known as zombies. The unexpected outbreak is sometimes unexplained but many times due to some unexpected scientific development that humanity couldn’t account for. This plot setup isn’t just coincidental but the actualization of the fears the current society holds. During the 1950s and onwards, the fear of nuclear genocide was rampant due to the uncertainty of other nations coming upon the U.S. with weaponized nukes, which could wipe out countless lives.

Millions were assured that their safety was guaranteed, but this did little to calm the lingering fear of death and destruction, which many thoughts were inevitable. Many saw the mass hysteria hidden within the general population and wanted to depict the general sense of terror thus came the creation of the widespread epidemic of zombies, which flooded the Hollywood market. This depiction of widespread paranoia allowed viewers to relate emotionally, creating an attachment between viewers and zombies. The hypothetical scenario of their worst fears came to reality but rather than cowering in anxiety because of the what-if scenario, it allowed for confrontation, which in turn alleviated some of the fear.

For years, the undead creatures have been used by filmmakers as a form of political commentary conveying the deepest fears rooted within society: globalization, communism, mass contagion, racial prejudice, and the biggest threat of all, mankind themselves. Humans are already known to be selfish and cruel in nature, but what happens when society crumbles and there’s nothing holding us back? The only thing keeping us in check suddenly disappears, allowing absolute anarchy to be set into motion. The zombie apocalyptic world offers a narrative view of all the complex human emotions and psyche which wouldn’t normally be explored in our routine lives. Many post-apocalyptic worlds depict this lawless environment where the biggest threat isn’t the zombies but each other.

Humans aren’t afraid to inflict the most horrendous acts upon each other, and many know this as a fact. It’s instinctual of humans to do anything in order to survive, and this sole reason is why it’s human nature for people to turn on one another every at every chance given. Although I do believe some people are born inherently good and others not so much, inevitable, everyone is driven primarily by self-interest. When placed into a post-apocalyptic world with zombies, a person’s typical first order of business is to find a way to survive no matter what. The other driving force behind any and all actions taken is fear. As H.P Lovecraft said himself, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” With fear and self-interest working in conjunction, it unleashes any and all moral restraints a person would typically have had.

The development of racial segregation is also another social issue that is commonly addressed within zombie movies, as its history is completely parallel to the evolution of the zombie narrative. When compared side-by-side to any and all contemporary zombie narratives, directors and writers have always used their art to reflect upon the numerous social issues of society. This is most prevalent within Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” as the movie heavily emphasizes the racial issue of white supremacists, the fear of equality, as well as the fear of widespread communism invasion, all of which were common social issues during the seventies. The basic premise of the plot is about a white woman fleeing named barbara fleeing from a horde of zombies and taking refuge in a farmhouse. This is where she encounters the black protagonist of the story ben, along with five other characters.

A young pair of the white couple and a family of three, including a child that was originally hiding in the basement. The story shows an interesting power dynamic of racism as Ben and another white male, Harry, begin bickering over what actions they should take in order to survive. Harry is intimidated by Ben’s racial background and refuses to cooperate initially out of his self-respect as a white man. His actions eventually become detrimental to the entire group, as any form of action requires the efforts of all within the group. This power struggle went so far as the point where Harry tried to turn the tides on Ben while amidst an attack resulting in his death and the eventual breach of the house. Harry’s greed for power and supremacy had a direct correlation to the group’s eventual downfall, as cooperation in situations like these is the key to survival. This narrative of the constant fear of hierarchal oppression can also be exemplified in the 2016 film “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” The story explained how the contagion had initially begun in colonized regions, and based on world history, we can infer that such areas include Africa and South Asia. Through a critical analysis of how characters would refer to the origin of the epidemic, it’s clear that they harbor an extreme underlying hate and sense of inferiority towards the region and people when under the imperialistic gaze of the British.

When trying to observe the actions of humans when thrust into a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, it is hard not to obverse the zombies as well, considering their overwhelming presence; from the perspective of most people, after observing how these creatures act, most would see the zombies synonymous with the word evil as many see the death and destruction typically following an infectious outbreak of undead creatures, but is it fair to call this mindless beast the evil monsters of the story when they lack the ability to choose their behavior? Evil isn’t the proper term to identify these mindless creatures as they lack the mind to make a cognitive decision. If zombies were self-aware of their actions and chose to hunt down every human in existence, then and only then could one classify their existence as evil, but because zombies lack the ability to choose good over evil, this classification wouldn’t be correct.

Zombies act out of pure instincts like any other animal on earth, with their desire to feed on human flesh being only a desire, not a choice. Unconditional evil isn’t necessarily evil; it’s just things and how things go. If one were to enter a lion’s den and be mauled to death, they aren’t the victim of evil but nature. By faulting things, zombies for eating flesh are simultaneously faulting a lion for eating another animal. However, if someone had intentionally pushed another person into the den, then the story changes entirely. Mankind is the only creature gifted with the power of moral choice, but that gift of choice is also the root of all evil. The zombie culture itself has reflected this human nature of evil, with the zombie virus being merely a catalyst for the fear and paranoia that causes people to do the most atrocious things in the name of self-preservation in the presence of lawlessness.

The zombie genre itself has evolved dramatically from its first introduction into the Hollywood scenes, yet its purpose has stayed the same with each iteration of the franchise. Every addition is so similar yet so drastically different from one another as they each address a specific social issue which varies from era to era. To the fear of atomic destruction, fear of mass contagion, the spread of communism, and racial mistreatment, The vessel which zombies give to creators to express they/concerns and opinions are similar to that of no other creature as its representation of the stark contrast to humanity only further highlights the destructive nature we as humans contain. Even more significantly, they have allowed the viewers to observe the behaviors of an individual in a setting one could only imagine but still test humanist morality through the trials of the zombie world.

One Of The Most “Useful” Monsters Is Zombies

Is the idea that monsters are useful insane to even consider? Stephen T. Asma once stated, “The monster concept is still extremely useful, and it’s a permanent player in the moral imagination because human vulnerability is permanent” (65). Most people would agree with this statement, although many of us are not fans of monsters. The term monsters do not only pertain to the big furry creatures that star in our nightmares. ‘Monster’ is a very broad term that can be applied to many other things besides the immediate image that comes to most people’s brains when they hear that unsettling word. Examples of monsters include; cyclops, zombies, and vampires, as well as more abstract ideas such as anxiety and depression. A monster can lie within one’s brain, not necessarily right in front of someone’s very eyes. One of the most “useful” monsters is zombies.

People all around the world are genuinely scared that a zombie apocalypse could occur any day now. This fear has been instilled in people for an extremely long time. There are many platforms where gruesome characters are portrayed. Our textbook for this English class includes essays on zombies. There have been many movies made about flesh-eating human lookalikes. There are even modes in some video games where the main objective is to kill as many zombies as possible within a certain amount of time. “Roughly 5.3 million people watched the first episode of The Walking Dead on AMC…” (Klosterman 40.) The reason this idea of zombies is useful is that it is very humbling to be scared or nervous every once in a while. I am sure no one is genuinely petrified of zombies. Some people may just think about zombies every so often and just have a small feeling of discomfort. This could be better than being completely content at all times. Also, it is possible that companies can benefit from people being slightly offset by the thought of a zombie apocalypse.

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Without a doubt, there are people that are prepared for this to happen. Maybe people have bought supplies that would possibly help them or aid them if an unexpected attack happened. Unfortunately, big companies thrive on the fear of everyday consumers. Being scared keeps the imagination young, which is necessary for people of all ages, of course. Small children are definitely more likely to be scared of zombies because they don’t realize how ridiculous that sounds. The younger generation is more oblivious to what’s likely to happen in society since they are not experienced in the real world yet. Kids are also influenced by the media greatly. They can hear the most absurd of things online, take it for the truth, and spread it to their friends, who will also believe it! Older people are another candidate for being nervous about zombies because once they get super old, they do not exactly have the best reasoning skills.

Although unlikely, middle-aged people may still benefit from thinking zombies are real. Believing in something imaginative keeps us from only thinking about the harsh realities of everyday life. Monsters are just defined as things we don’t quite understand, and perhaps that is why people are afraid of them. We tend to be frightened of things we are unsure or curious about. I think zombies are somewhat believable because they sort of resemble human beings since they are just a dead version of a “normal” person. Maybe monsters can even teach us about ourselves, such as what makes us feel fear and why. “The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is you do.” (Klosterman 41.) It is very interesting to find all of the very different ideas people have about monsters. Something so unrelated to zombies is being compared to them in this sentence of Klosterman’s.

Most people wouldn’t compare a zombie attack to their everyday 9-5 work week. It is sad to realize how many monstrous situations actually can compare to our day-to-day lives. Whether it be in my English textbook, my brother’s video games, or on my dad’s television, zombies are here and here to stay. Although monster stories haven’t always been my cup of tea, I am much more open to reading on the subject now that I have a different point of view on what a “monster” is. The idea of monsters is useful, especially the type that is worn down and trying to eat us alive.

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