Word-o’-the-Week Special Guest Blog: Zombie (By Molly)
Hey, folks! I’ve been meeting deadlines this week before a month-long freelance hiatus. So my super-awesome pal Molly from Grad Cool offered to research a word of her choice, and it just so happens that it is very appropriate to the Halloween season! Without further ado, here’s M’s take on this week’s work: “Zombie.”
“What’s in your head, in your head, zombie?” –The Cranberries
I’m the kind of person who is always at least two years behind pop culture. I discover most TV shows after they’ve gotten about three seasons out on DVD. I dabbled in the first three Harry Potter books for about five minutes in the eighth grade, then left them alone until the final book came out in 2007. And don’t even get me started on Coldplay, which I didn’t even discover until their Viva la Vida album in 2008. They’ve been around since 1996! Jeez.
All that goes to say that I seem to find myself perpetually behind the times. And my latest obsession with ZOMBIES is no exception. For years (decades, even), the whole western world has been overrun with the fear of zombies. People have been freaking out about the imminent zombie apocalypse and creating intricate plans to prepare for it; I, meanwhile, have been la-dee-da-ing through life without so much as a brain-smashing self-defense baseball bat to my name. I mean, my ignorance was so bad that I didn’t even know who George Romero is. Really.
So at the beginning of October, I decided enough was enough. I was going to educate myself on zombie culture if it was the last thing I did (before the zombie apocalypse, anyway). I declared October “National Molly-Needs-to-Learn-About-Zombies Month” and set out expand my zombie knowledge horizons. And after a bit of discussion with of my Zombie Expert friends, I decided to commence my zombie education with 28 Days Later, then get dabble in The Walking Dead, and finally round things off nicely with the original zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead.
Part of my zombieducation has included trying to figure out what exactly zombies are and what they actually represent in our culture. The OED gives four definitions of the word. Apparently anyone who is “dull, apathetic, or slow-witted” is a zombie. In World War II, Canadian soldiers who got drafted to serve on the home front were zombies. And a dranky drank comprised of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice is called a zombie.
But the definition I’m most interested in is listed first in the OED’s entry, and describes a zombie as, “[i]n the West Indies and southern states of America, a soulless corpse said to have been revived by witchcraft.” This definition was first used in 1819 and is pretty close to our current cultural understanding of zombies, but it’s not quite up to par. And sure enough, a closer inspection of this entry shows that the OED has been sleeping on the job. The zombie definition hasn’t been updated since it was published in 1986! What the heck, OED?
Thankfully, though, Wikipedia’s much more helpful on the matter, differentiating between the aforementioned witchcraft zombies and the pop culture ones I’m interested in. Here, I find that zombies are “mindless, reanimated corpses with a hunger for human flesh, and particularly for human brains.”
It turns out that zombies have been around for a while now. Ever since people have been writing, they’ve been writing about zombies. They’ve just been called different things, like “revenants” and “vampires” (no, not the glittering kind, Stephanie Meyer; the I-vant-to-suck-your-blood kind). And throughout the ages, they’ve always had one thing in common: they are undead and they want to terrorize humans in some way, whether it be sucking their blood or eating their brains.
Several zombie critics, notably Chuck Klosterman and Lars Bang Larsen, have concluded that zombies represent our culture’s fear of capitalism and its all-consuming consumerism. I agree with them that zombies represent the postmodern era’s loss of individuality and autonomy.
But I think zombies are saying something even more interesting about our culture. The Otherness of zombies, their undeadness, is what’s important: they once were humans, but now are not; even in their undeath, though, they still maintain many of their human physical features, but are still soulless and mindless monsters. Fear of zombies has to do with humanity’s fear of the Other becoming unrecognizable, or, more specifically, becoming the familiar. Zombies embody the fear that one day, the world that you know and love will change instantly into a strange, lonely, and dangerous one that still looks the same as the old world. The zombie apocalypse, therefore, represents an event in which everything in the world changes, but few people notice or care because, on the outside anyway, everything is still basically the same.
That’s my take on zombies. What do you think about them?