- Category: General Geekery
- Created on Sunday, 18 August 2013 22:43
- Written by Mark Navarro
- Hits: 2741
Oftentimes, people ask me what the correct origin of zombies is and I never indulge them because the question annoys me to no end. Don’t get me wrong, I get that zombies are cool now. The ubiquity of zombies has led to writers of all mediums trying to deconstruct the zombie apocalypse scenario. As a result, we now have zombies of all shapes, sizes, and athletic capabilities in our video games, movies, books, TV shows, and comics, that what used to be an obsession of a select few has lately garnered a rabid fanbase of unknowing, faddist … corpses.
And I don’t want that. Heck, I want to have people to talk to long after the zombie craze has died down and being a geek is uncool again. To start things off, here’s the answer to that annoying question.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING! There is no correct origin because there will never ever be such a thing as an undead being.
So how are supernatural beings created? What were the “rules” in writing them and where does the appeal come from? The zombie apocalypse is reimagined in every new story; superhero origins are refreshed for new generations. And they have more in common than what you might think.
To answer these questions, review the most popular recurring supernatural beings of all time, movie monsters.
Sex and immortality – these themes defined the Greek Lamia, the original “vamp”, up to the modern day vampire. The most popular vampire, Count Dracula, was also defined by these traits. Through supernatural body glitter, these qualities are also found in Edward Cullen. In Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and all vampire stories, vampires are seductive beings of sin. They represent the problems and the temptations of the upper class.
Werewolves and other dual-type creatures represent the problems and temptations of the middle class. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud posited that civilization is defined by restraint. Feelings of happiness are not free because we are restrained by guilt, morals, worldviews, etc. Werewolves embody the need for restraint because they have to turn on nights with a full moon. Unlike the vampire, the werewolf recognizes the structure of society, but owing to his nature, he is unable to integrate himself because he does not have restraint.
So vampires represent the upper class; werewolves, the middle class. And zombies, they represent the lower class. The zombie’s origin goes way back, even before George Romero. In Val Lewton’s “I Walked With A Zombie”, you’ll see the origin of the "zombi" is rooted in Haitian Voodoo magic. So zombies were originally black men with bulged eyeballs.
Coincidence? Look deeper. In the 1940s, how were black men known to white men? They were referred to as “Them”, “The Great Unwashed”, “The indistinguishable”. Against a slave race, the often-outnumbered master race is still seen as dominant because of education, history, and strategic thinking. In the origin, if the black man was to topple over his oppressors, he needed knowledge. Knowledge is also what makes us better than zombies. ZOMBIES EAT BRAINS. And this is how zombies were originally depicted. The walking dead are a symbol of the lower class’ need for knowledge.
Finally, look at how their respective diseases are spread. Zombies spread their disease through brutality and violence, stereotypically a course of action for the lower class. Vampires spread theirs through ultra sexytime. If things were the other way around, it wouldn’t make sense for aristocrat vampires to beat people senseless to make more vampires and zombie movies would just be… well, porn.
The origins of our fictional characters are a reflection of not just our problems but our fears and obsessions. Supernatural beings hold great power by having access to an “object” full of unknown power and this is why we fear these "things". Fiction then becomes an insight into what we are afraid of at the time the story was written. Some examples are:
Dracula – Fear of foreigners
Werewolves – Fear of nature
Zombies – Originally a fear of magic and the uprising of slaves;
Spider-Man, The Hulk, Fantastic 4 – Originally because radioactivity was a scary concept before. The modern Spider-Man was bitten by a genetically modified spider because that science is currently a mystery.
Batman – Money
Iron Man – Technology
X-Men – Genetics
Superman - Aliens
Captain America - A good government
Wolverine - An evil government
There is no correct origin to our movie monsters or our superheroes. What’s important is that we enjoy the movies, comics, and TV shows today, but know that these media are all an insight to our time and generation.