IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Fellows > Douglas Rushkoff
What You Can Learn from Zombie Movies
Doug Rushkoff   Aug 16, 2007   Discover Magazine  

The undead are everywhere these days.

The popular summer movie 28 Weeks Later pits them against the U.S. military. The comic series Marvel Zombies has them eating the Silver Surfer. The video game Dead Rising lets players attack them with weapons ranging from hockey pucks to shower heads. A recent CBS pilot, Babylon Fields, imagines what would happen if the undead tried to integrate back into their former lives.

No other horror creatures invite quite the same breadth of paranoid speculation as zombies, perhaps because they embody such a pure, reflective sense of terror: animated corpses dependent on living flesh for survival. No wolf mythology, no castles, no capes, no fangs; just dead people eating flesh. In short, except for the “being dead” part, they’re just like us. I’d venture this accounts for their popularity over decades of cinema, as well as their more recent migration to other popular media. Zombie movies force us to figure out what, if anything, differentiates us from the monsters on the screen.

The zombie legend originated in the spiritual practices of Afro-Caribbean sects that believed a person could be robbed of his soul by supernatural or shamanic means and forced to work as an uncomplaining slave. Canadian ethno­botanist Wade Davis studied Haitian voodoo rituals in the 1980s and determined that a kind of “zombie” state can be induced with powerful naturally derived drugs. In horror films, people become zombies by whatever process is deemed scariest by the filmmaker of the era—magic, possession, viral infection—but the result is the same. The victim becomes a walking corpse, a human without a soul.

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Douglas Rushkoff is a fellow of the IEET, author of a dozen books and comic books, producer of two award-winning Frontline documentaries, and his essays have been published widely.

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