Walking Dead Essay

The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic television show based on the ongoing series of black-and-white comic books of the same name. One may think that a film about zombie-apocalypse cannot be anything else but low-quality trash, but, surprisingly, The Walking Dead shows that it is not always so.

The reason for it is simple – although the plot is placed in the environment of Earth after a pandemic of an unknown disease turning people into zombies, a plotline, which is becoming increasingly more popular during the last few years, the action of the series is not in any way concentrated on zombies, centering its attention on people living in a ravaged world and fighting for their lives in an extremely hostile environment. The all-consuming danger could have been completely different: nuclear winter, rabid animals, global drought – and the main plot still would have been the same.

Because relationships between ordinary people placed into a situation from where there is no way out, which has absolutely no prospects for future, where the only success one may have is to live a little bit longer, turn out to be much more interesting than the actions of any superheroes fighting the hordes of walking dead with their bare hands, for in this case every viewer, at least subconsciously, tries to think of what he would do in similar circumstances, however incredible they are.

Although it may be hard to…

Consumers and critics of pop culture today are finding themselves surrounded by zombies. Like the ubiquitous undead in a Romero or Fulci film, zombies are appearing everywhere, and taking on a variety of forms. Now, even the barriers securing the ivory tower of academia have fallen to the living dead, and academics must try to contend with the zombie horde. It is in the spirit of the resurrection of the zombie’s popularity that Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton’s volume collects articles from scholars across an eclectic variety of disciplines, each dealing in some way with the subject of the living dead.

The book is ostensibly divided into three sections: “The Zombie in Humanity,” “Zombies in the Sacred,” and “Zombies into the Future.” These categories are loosely defined at best. “The Zombie in Humanity,” by way of example, contains a critical feminist interpretation of undead-themed pornographic films, an article comparing the way society views participants in “rave” dance parties with the way society views zombies, and a highly enjoyable article discussing the use of zombie and undead metaphors and analogies in legal writing. Along with Matthew J. Weise’s “How the Zombie Changed Videogames,” Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan’s “ ‘Corporate Zombies’ and the Perils of ‘Zombie Litigation’: The Walking Dead in American Judicial Writing” is one of the standout pieces of the collection.

If there is one theme tying together the disparate articles in Moreman and Rushton’s volume, it is the reason for the zombie’s longevity as a cultural phenomenon. More than other horror tropes or childhood boogeymen, zombies are highly adaptable. Weise’s article does the strongest work in clearly explaining a concept mentioned repeatedly—perhaps repetitively—throughout the book: how cultural icons can be changed by society to mean or represent whatever it is we need or want them to represent. Weise explains that zombies are “what Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott (1987) call a mobile signifier, a cultural symbol that shifts meaning over time and in different contexts” (151). As Moreman and Rushton’s book chronicles, zombies can be, and have been, used to embody the fear and violation that comes from loss of agency and social status, to satirize consumer culture, to point out the result of government and corporate malfeasance, and, of course, to make audiences question their own views on the hereafter. Is a soul really at rest if the body is still walking?

Unfortunately, most of the collected pieces are not as strong as either the Weise or the Sutherland and Swan article. Many of the chapters seem to have been written primarily—or even originally—about the respective author’s actual field of interest but tailored in such a way to fit into a collection designed to capitalize on the zombie craze. It is also dubious as to whom the book should be recommended. Moreman and Rushton’s volume is not intended for the lay audience or the casual zombie fan looking for an undead fix; the articles are clearly intended for academics. The book’s broad interdisciplinary approach combined with the repetition of the same message—that zombies can be used as metaphors or icons by society in a variety of ways depending on society’s needs and purposes—throughout so many of the chapters makes it a book that is at once a bit too shallow and a bit too broad [End Page 254] for the classroom. It is possible that instructors could use individual articles to suit their seminars. James Reitter’s chapter on the films of Lucio Fulci, for example, lends itself well to any course on horror cinema. With apologies to one of the silver screen’s first reanimated monstrosities, love dead, hate living . . . unable to endorse book. [End Page 255]

Salvatore James Russo

California State University, Dominguez Hills
srusso@csudh.edu

Copyright © 2015 University of Toronto Press

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