A Country Walking Dead: The Zombie as Metaphor in American Culture and Film

dead insideSource: Hampton Institute (Sean Posey)

We are currently living through the age of the zombie-zombie politics, zombie banks, zombie infrastructure, etc. Public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Paul Krugman, and others have used the zombie as a metaphor for everything from our dysfunctional financial system to our alienating political institutions. The popularity of zombies among public intellectuals and its potent symbolism is best reflected in the zombie films of the past few decades, which have traced long-term problems in American society.

For over forty years, the films of George A. Romero, and now the television show ‘The Walking Dead’, have reflected the major failings of social institutions and community in America. Zombie films tend to wax in times of discontent and uncertainty and wane (at least in quality) in times of prosperity and quietude. Romero’s films echo societal themes that are growing increasingly important and increasingly dark. And in the post-2008 era, where institutional failure is so widespread that the term “zombie’ can be freely and accurately applied, we have truly entered the age of the living dead, which is best showcased by the enormous popularity of The Walking Dead.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead introduced zombies to the mainstream public consciousness during one of the most turbulent years in American history-1968. Outside of the dark movie houses, America was tearing itself apart in the streets of the inner cities and in the massive protests against the Vietnam War. The film itself centers on a motley crew of travelers taking refuge in a farmhouse as the dead rise up around them. Filmed outside of Pittsburgh, one can’t help but think of how the countryside would have seemed an appealing escape in 1968 as Pittsburgh’s Homewood and Hill neighborhoods burned in the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The racially tinged power struggle that takes place in the film between Ben (Duane Jones) and Harry (Karl Hardman) mirrored the racial struggle taking place across the country and in nearby Pittsburgh in 1968.

See the full article at Hampton Institute

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