The current wave of zombie entertainment began with 28 Days Later, moved on to Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, which spawned a remake of Day of the Dead, and, from George Romero, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a hit novelty book, and suddenly zombies were everywhere, culminating in The Walking Dead and now World War Z, which became a smash hit in spite of a wave of negative buzz.
Why is this happening? I’d accepted the success of well-made zombie entertainment, but The Walking Dead and World War Z aren’t just hits, they’re phenomenons. Out of nowhere, “zombie holocaust” memes have sprouted all over the internet. People talk about it jokingly, but Americans have spent tremendous numbers of hours studying this hypothetical event, debating its possible causes, running a kind of fantasy-baseball game where they try to think of how best to prepare for one. “Zombie holocaust” is currently one of the defining terms of our culture. We are officially obsessed with zombies.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and then, suddenly, the answer struck me during the government shutdown. “Zombie Holocaust” is the game-plan for the GOP, and has been since George W. Bush
was elected stole the election in 2000.
The thing that makes zombies terrifying, cinematically, is that they are everywhere, they destroy everything, and they don’t stop coming. Just when the protagonist has shot one in the head, five more burst through a door and grab his legs. The most well-laid plans in dealing with them fall afoul of their imperviousness to pain, their multitudes and their ability to just keep coming. And so, instead of rebuilding civilization, the protagonists’ time is all taken up with simply surviving, keeping everyone alive, defending the stronghold.
During the recent government shutdown, I realized that the GOP has been studying zombie movies to glean a viable attack strategy against the hated Democrats. Since the election of Bill Clinton, they have had no ideas for governance, they have existed purely for the sake of destruction. They didn’t like the results of the 1992 election, so they spent all their energy trying to reverse the results of it. In eight years of Bush II, they plundered the treasury, destroyed American infrastructure, squandered our resources and killed millions of people. When they didn’t like the results of the 2000 election, they fought to reverse them until it came down to Bush illegally petitioning the justices of the Supreme Court that his father has instated before he could “win.” When they saw that they were going to lose in 2004, they rigged the results in Ohio as well. When they realized they could no longer win any elections because there just aren’t enough racist whites left in the country, they redistricted all their states so that they could stack the deck of Congress while losing the popular votes.
Finally, in 2008, a black man was elected president by a margin so overwhelming that even the GOP had to concede defeat. They couldn’t take the 2008 vote to the GOP-purchased Supreme Court, so they’ve done the next best thing: turned into full-time zombies. They have no ideas, they have no plan for governance, they have no alternate vision of civilization, they wish only to destroy. They wish to destroy the presidency of any Democrat, and if they can’t they will destroy the government they were elected to preserve. In so doing, they gladly, enthusiastically harm their own constituents, oblivious to their pain, inhuman in their lack of empathy. They’re slow and stupid but they just keep coming, brainless, mindless, impervious to pain and incapable of even recognizing the harm they’re doing to themselves.
Horror movies have always reflected their times, brought the society’s deepest fears to light. Godzilla echoed the horror of the atomic bomb, the Body Snatchers evoked McCarthy, and now zombies impersonate the Republican party. It is the prime metaphor of our national moment.
UPDATE: The Political Omnivore, by the way, has another, equally valid, take on the phenomenon.