The Associated Press sent out an interesting item the other day about a researcher in South Carolina, whose specialty is the study of zombies. Now, that might not actually strike people as all that interesting: There are zombie survival guides; zombie defense training classes; untold movies, TV shows and video games featuring zombies; zombie banks and zombie parades ... For being a fictional bogeyman, the zombie is fairly ubiquitous. Why shouldn't there be zombie studies?
That's exactly the point of Clemson University professor Sarah Lauro's work: Why are zombies such a pervasive feature of 21st century culture? Her answer: Because, by and large, our society--even beyond the United States--is deeply dissatisfied with itself.
Pop psychology is always tricky, relying as it does on analogy, but Lauro's conclusion makes sense on a gut level. At the beginning of this century, the zombie as a cultural meme was most closely associated with late-night B-movies. The iconic zombie film was George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and it was in black-and-white. Then came 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and suddenly, zombie films were popping up like, well, zombies. And these were not your typical shambling carcasses: In most cases, the 21st century zombie is sneaky, fast-moving, tenacious and exceedingly difficult to dispatch. He or she was also a nice enough person to begin with, but due to a government foul-up (or sinister plot), got infected with a disease/weapon and now has to be killed with a shovel.
That sounds like a good description of our national milieu and persistent political and economic troubles--the mindless, frothing rage associated with zombiedom fits as well (we're looking at you, Tea Party).
Throw in our obsession with TV focused on the moral/political corruption of extreme wealth and power (House of Cards, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, which--bonus--includes zombies), and it seems pretty clear that we're transitioning into a new cultural age; call it Lifestyles of the Rich and Malodorous.