Braaains — as in, have we collectively lost ours? Yes, the recent instances of drug- or psychosis-fueled cannibalism are horrific, but suddenly everyone seems to be obsessed with the reanimated dead. The buzz got so loud that the Centers for Disease Control (which used the zombie apocalypse meme to clever effect last year to disseminate otherwise likely-to-be-ignored disaster-preparedness tips) felt the need to clarify that there is not an actual zombie apocalypse taking place. There certainly does seem to be a zombie fascination, though, in cultural and economic circles alike.
In a way, the freakout makes sense. Zombie references are everywhere these days; we’ve been warned about the rise of zombie banks, zombie economies, zombie debt and zombie industries. At some level, the zombie seems to be an apt metaphor for modern-day life, in which we’re constantly confronted by mysterious, unstoppable, uncontrollable forces (too-big-to-fail banks, nonsensical fluctuations in our 401(k)s and the real estate market, fees at every turn), and in which we’re encouraged to practice a mindless, insatiable consumption — for the good of the economy, of course — that’s not unlike a zombie’s quest for more and more human flesh.
Even when you think you’re safe (unemployment rates dip, the stock market momentarily stabilizes), another metaphorical zombie appears and sets you into yet another panic. That’s life in the Great Recession era. Here are just a few of the ways that “zombies” keep popping up:
We’re confronted on a regular basis with headlines about Eurozone debt contagion, governments’ powerlessness in the face of financial malaise and public and personal debts gobbling an increasing amount of our resources. From there, it’s a surprisingly short lurch to nightmares about actual shuffling flesh-eaters.
A recent Wall Street Journal article warned investors about “zombie funds,” and troubled equities ranging from Nokia to Facebook have recently been labeled zombie stocks. This seems a little premature, at least in the case of Facebook. A busted IPO, although embarrassing, doesn’t necessarily doom the company to zombie status. One New York Times magazine writer floated this prospect as early as 2009, though, pondering, “Is Facebook doomed to someday become an online ghost town, run by zombie users who never update their pages and packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles?”
Invasion into the marketing industry’s roster of themes, that is. CNET’s recent review of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon declared the vehicle fit for a zombie apocalypse thanks to its rugged, off-road capabilities (no word on how the paint job stands up to feverish gnawing, though). Bonus points to parent company Chrysler for cranking this model out after recovering from zombie status following a government bailout.
An Ace Hardware store in Kansas, meanwhile, rolled out a “Zombie Preparedness Center,” reminding shoppers that it carries home-repair items like chain saws and nail guns that could come in handy in case of a zombie apocalypse. A webpage with an online FAQ includes questions like, “A zombie fell and put a hole in my drywall. What tools will I need to fix this?” (Ace suggests spackling over small holes.)
There are tons of zombie-themed video games, of course, and not one, but two, zombie apocalypse iPhone apps. One from Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide, is appropriately called the Zombie Survival Guide Scanner. It purports to tell you if your friends or other people you scan with your phone’s camera is about to start chewing on your arm. The other, called Zombiegram, lets users create cartoon zombie postcards to friends.
The new website MapoftheDead.com aims to be a little more helpful. Using Google Maps, it locates places like hospitals, gun stores and supermarkets that might be helpful to visit if the zombie apocalypse comes to town. Just remember, though: It’s always the guy twiddling with some electronic device who gets eaten first when the hordes invade. Oh, and good luck finding a place to charge that iPhone after the collapse of civilization.
These perpetually hungry creatures don’t hold a corner on the use of fear and paranoia to sell stuff: The “Mayan Apocalypse” predicted for December 21 of this year has been used to hawk underground bunkers along with supplies like gas masks and dehydrated food. By some account, doomsday bunker sales have soared during the recent media frenzy over zombie-like behavior. Any apocalypse, it seems, can be good for business.
Zombies are an ironic marketing hook, though. After all, the holdout survivors in George Romero’s seminal zombie flick Dawn of the Dead make their last stand against these brainless engines of consumption … in a shopping mall. It’s a pointed critique about our consumerist culture, veiled in horror movie trappings.
It’s likely that at least some of this zombie apocalypse zeitgeist is fueled by an underlying anxiety that we’re not all that dissimilar from our undead counterparts, minus the rotting-corpse factor. What may be scariest about zombies is not that they are after us — but that they are us. We consume and consume without thought and without ever achieving satisfaction, and if we let these mindless appetites stomp around unchecked, we’ll end up destroying everything in our path.
(MORE: Does God Want You to Be Thin?)
Of course, if it turns out we’re wrong, there truly is a zombie apocalypse in the works, and we really are mere moments away from being overrun by the ravenous reanimated, let’s just say we’ll eat our words.