In my last post, (Ramblings and the Return of the Procrastination Demon), I hinted that I may want to discuss what defines a monster in my next “Weekly” Creature Feature. I’ve decided to do this through the utterly amazing AMC TV series “The Walking Dead“, based on the comic book series of the same name.
The Walking Dead follows a diverse group of individuals, lead by main character Rick Grimes, who have been thrown together in an effort to survive the zombie apocalypse. This series shows us what can happen when living outside of conventional societal norms. It capitalizes on conflict within the circle of survivors, using their choice of characters to add to the overall feeling of ominous tension, invoking the sense that things can go really wrong, really fast.
Living through a zombie apocalypse takes its toll. They are in continuous survival mode. Something they have in common with the walking dead.
So what does it mean to be on the human end of a monster war? Maybe it’s a good look in a not-so-fun-house mirror. Maybe it reflects the worst of humanity so that we can pull together and realize the very real connection we have to one another. We have something the walking dead can never have: hope for a better future, faith in something bigger than ourselves, and the ability to put differences aside and pull together in a time of crisis. We have spirit.
The difference between a corpse and a zombie seems to come down to mechanics. In The Walking Dead, and many other zombie stories, the primitive part of the brain still functions, to a certain point, after death. They still have most of their senses: hearing, smell, sight and presumably taste (not too sure, nummy brains anyone?). But these senses seem to be used for a single-purpose: to consume.
According to The Zombie Survival Guide “The lungs of the undead continue to function…” which “…accounts for a zombie’s signature moan.” But they are unable to “…extract oxygen and remove carbon dioxide” meaning “the entire human respiratory system is obsolete”. So literally speaking, zombies may have breath, but not in any way a living being would have. What they lack is the breath of life.
What separates us from them is something more than the mechanical workings of biological life forms. It’s the two things zombies lack: blood and breath, the building blocks of the life force—it’s spirit.
There are many connections between the word and concept of breath and the word and concept of spirit; the English word itself is from the Latin word spiritus, meaning “breath”. Think also of the concept of pranayama (meaning “vital air” or “spirit energy”, found in both breath and blood), and the fact that the Scandinavian and Chinese use the term ‘breath’ to refer to spirit.
Zombies represent the mindless obeying of our physical appetites, without consideration of the moral and/or spiritual consequences. These monsters are used to make social commentary on the evils of capitalism and our obsession with consuming and destroying.
Is The Walking Dead a warning of the dangers of a consumerist culture that encourages us to live our lives selfishly, consuming and destroying everything in our path until we burn out and die? Nothing is really made to last anymore after all. It’s expected that we will drive that new car until it goes out of style, and then we will dispose of it and buy a new one.
Is The Walking Dead making a statement about spiritual emptiness? These two ideas are linked. The creators of The Walking Dead have yanked this group of survivors out of the everyday everyone-for-themselves-let’s-consume-and-destroy-until-we-die kind of lifestyle. The survivors are forced to be in opposition to the walking dead—that part of humanity that is soulless and bent on destroying one another.
We despise zombies for the obvious reason of hello-they’re-gross, but we also despise zombies because they represent the lowest of the low of our own potential.
A life without soul.
Why Are Zombies Consuming Our Culture? by Kristen Lamb
Official Government Advice: Run Away Screaming by Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink