What Is It About the Zombie Meme that Gives It Stability and Penetrance in American Culture?
American culture is one of the few cultures, which have embraced the zombie meme readily and incorporated it in many areas of the social life, the entertainment industry as well as traditional festivities and holidays’ celebrations. The active penetrance of the zombie meme into the American culture, in contrast to the European or Oriental cultures, can be explained by the origins of the zombie meme, which according to McAlister (2012) lie in Afro-Haitian religious thought of the colonial times.
The zombie meme came to America with the slavery, thus has been increasing its fecundity with the social and political injustices of the capitalistic world. In addition to that, there is a growing number of people who are not satisfied with their way of life, partially because of the negative influence of the consumerism, when everything is considered to be a commodity sold or bought for money. They voice their concerns that the social order they want to live in is endangered by the corruption and the decay of the economic prosperity of the country (McAlister, 2012).
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The past decade has also witnessed the technological and natural disasters that happened in the world and in the US in particular, thus the zombie meme has a direct tie to the disasters and fit the national mood supporting the survivalist fantasies of the post-apocalyptic world. It is the feeling of insecurity and the threat of death that have been raising the popularity of the zombie meme in the American culture over the past 10 years (Bishop, 2009).
The stability of the zombie meme in the American culture and its high level survival ability can be explained with several arguments. Firstly, the connotation of a zombie as the body without a soul and consciousness (McAlister, 2012) and with no real emotional capacity (Bishop, 2009) is related to the slavery and reminds how the enslaved workers were treated and how they had to behave, abiding the orders of their masters and not making any decisions on their own.
If we consider slavery to be a source from which a zombie myth originated, as McAlister points out (2012), then the history of slavery itself is a fertile ground for the zombie meme to continue living and replicate itself in the diverse forms within the American culture. The zombie meme becomes a useful and multifunctional tool of the cultural work in helping the social group to remember the history of their ancestors.
With zombies considered during colonial times in Central Africa to be the bodies deprived of their souls (McAlister, 2012), having a black man as a movie protagonist survive the end of the world and outlive everyone else is one of the allegoric ways to tell the next generations about the history of enslavement and the freedom fighting of black people.
Secondly, the zombie meme incorporates the notion of death, spurring people’s interest by relating to one of the troubling questions that people face throughout their lives. Zombie is a dead body without a soul; therefore every mortal human being can see how he or she might look like after death, what will happen to his or her body (Bishop, 2009).
The body is a container of human life, and by functioning it ensures that a person lives. It is an ultimate form of biological living for people. Therefore, apart from fearing death people are also interested to know more about it and thanks to that the interest in the zombie meme is also staying high.
Applying Dawkin’s theory (1976), the zombie meme could be also assessed as a selfish one due to the fact that it attracts attention and occupies memory storage in people’s brains by being directly related to the portrayal of death. Fear of death keeps the zombie meme alive for a long time.
Thirdly, the zombie meme also uses a written and spoken word as well as cinema industry to replicate itself, as every other meme (Dawkins, 1976), demonstrating the aftermaths of malfunction of the system and the social order. Zombie represents everything opposite to a happy alive person.
That is why it is an appealing allegory, which is used in different formats to show what a rotten system can do to a person. If a person does not make his or her own decisions, but follows someone’s orders sacrificing his or her health and time for material benefits of others, a person is basically used as a machine, just a working body without own life.
When the zombie meme is used to portray injustice and malfunction of the system, it is perceived as a victim, as a sign and a symptom of the social disorder, a warning of what may happen to anyone (McAlister, 2012). It would not be difficult to fight zombies if the social order is at place and police or military forces are functioning properly, thus zombies would not be scary in the usual circumstances.
Although they are driven to kill people and eat human flesh, one does not have direct anger or hatred for them. Instead, one would blame the system or evil living men for their deeds, which led to turning people into zombies.
The influence of the system is seen in all zombie movies. In most cases zombies are depicted as killers who kill and eat people. But in fact, if we consider the idea of corporate zombies’ protests as an example, this is an attempt to show other people that the corporate America is evil to them. It sucks the life out of them, giving paper, i.e., money banknotes, in exchange.
In the soup of the American culture the zombie meme has evolved from a myth of the mystical enslavement of souls and bodies and the reminder of the slavery of black people to a bit different direction. In the modern US pop-culture, cinema and video games industries in particular, the zombie meme, as McAlister (2012) outlines, implies dead persons “who are still alive and driven to kill and cannibalize the living ones” (p.457).
This connotation gives the zombie meme the rebellious features that are used in many areas of the social and professional life of the society. The image of slave workers standing out against their owners and protesting against social injustice is widely used to conduct social protests.
“Zombie walks” in many US cities, one of them being a corporate zombies’ march on the Wall Street (Minchillo, 2011) can serve as the vivid examples. In this case the zombie meme preserves its original meaning of being a rebel who is standing up against the slavery.
Fourthly, the apocalyptic scenarios also help to sustain the zombie meme, simply showing that death is upon us if a terrible technological or a natural disaster happens to the world, such as an atomic war, a deployment of the weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks, pandemia etc. While considering different possible scenarios of the end of the word, the zombie meme is a perfect tool to show death in reality.
Thus, a cinema producer can use the zombie meme for production of a science fiction movie. And if a producer develops the zombie meme diversifying zombies into mutated, radioactive or hybrid monsters, the copying-fidelity quality may be lower, but the resemblance of the zombie movie to the possible scenario of the real life will be higher. And it therefore helps the zombie meme penetrate the American culture and stay popular for a long time.
For example, if a deadly virus kills people and it is transmitted with air or water, people are infected and their flesh is eaten by the virus on the microscopic level. Using the zombie meme is an efficient way to use allegoric metaphor and still depict a possible reality of the post-apocalyptic world.
Zombies are not personified, they are dead people, but they are not friends or relatives of the living people anymore. They are containers for death to spread around and kill people. Although zombies bring chaos into the post-apocalyptic world, it also can be said that zombies are cleaning the planet from bad things of the old system and creating space for the new social order.
With the high level of computerization and penetrance of information technologies in Americans’ everyday life the zombie meme has a possibility to replicate tremendously securing a long-term successful fecundity for itself. The movies, video games, TV shows, books, comics and cartoons serve as a highly efficient transmission channels for the zombie meme to penetrate the American culture and propagate itself in the brains of many people from different generations. For instance, with the help of video games people are able not only to read or to watch the story, but to become part of it.
All this vests the zombie meme with the high-level quality of survival, multiplies the copying-fidelity effect and makes the zombie meme a strong and practically immortal replicator within the American culture. And with every new edition of the comic series, a song remake, a movie sequel, or the next book about zombies the interest in the zombie meme will be revived and the living age of the zombie meme will be prolonged.
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