Screw Edward and Jacob, I’m hanging out with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) from Zombieland. At least he knows what’s up—rule #2 “Double Tap.” Zombies are becoming more popular than ever. Even Sears has a Web site devoted to zombies. I suggest you check out. It will provide you with many minutes of entertainment. We’ve even had our own fun with the zombies here at Cheaper Than Dirt. Check out our Zombie Week blog posts. Next year, it will be even bigger and better. After all, we’ve had a year to study them. But where did all this zombie stuff come from and why are we getting ready for them?
The mythology of the “zombi” is deeply rooted in the history of Haitian Voodoo. In Haitian folklore, there are stories of people dying and then becoming reanimated by Voodoo priests as a “living corpse.” These living corpses are believed to be controlled by a master, thus there is a great fear in those that believe in zombism in becoming a zombie. Zombie and enslavement go hand-in-hand, as there were instances of Voodoo priests drugging people and enslaving them to work in sugar fields. Much like our made-up zombies today, the reanimated are devoid of free will or conscious thought–driven only by an instinctual and driving hunger.
In 1962, two doctors—one American and the other American-educated at Albert Schweitzer Hospital— pronounced Haitian Clairvisu Narcisse dead. Buried and presumed dead, in 1980 Clairvisu resurfaced in his village. Over 200 people confirmed they recognized him. Claiming that he was turned into a zombie, Clairvisu said he was forced to work with other zombies on a sugar plantation.
Scholar Wade Davis became interested in the subject of the Haitian zombie. He went to Haiti to find the formula that created these zombies. The Serpent and the Rainbow, documents his work. While in Haiti, Davis said he gained the trust of Voodoo priests, who revealed the potion used in making a zombie. Lots of different poisons and toxins went into each potion, including parts from boa snakes, tarantulas, and the bones of a child. Davis discovered two key ingredients that caused the zombie phenomena, tetrodotoxin, a poison from the puffer fish, and Datura Stramonium, a plant. The tetrodotoxin copies death’s appearance almost to a T. Once pronounced dead, the sufferer is given Datura Stramonium, which erases memory and puts the person in a delirious stupor, willing to be obedient—a zombie.
This fact has actually never been 100-percent proven but there is a law in Haiti that states it illegal to make anyone a zombie.
All this crazy hoodoo voodoo trickled into the United States by the way of tourists returning back from trips to Haiti with stories of scary Voodoo practices, and in the 1920s found its way into popular pulp-fiction novels. The 1932 Bela Lugosi film, White Zombie, paved the way for the cinematic zombie. Early zombie films, according to film scholars, were a statement about Americans’ fears of the foreign, and symbolized racial conflicts.
Then in 1968, George Romero’s movie Night of the Living Dead changed everything. Romero introduced us to the cannibalistic, gory, decomposing zombie we see today. Zombie movies now run the gambit from the serious like Land of the Dead where the zombies are quick and use weapons, to the clever like Zombieland, to the inane Nazi Zombies in Dead Snow. However, they all have one thing in common: a small band of people trying to survive it.
Ahhhh. The Zombie Apocalypse. Why do we love it so much? Why do we talk about it so much? Why has it proliferated everywhere in popular culture? Dr. Steven Schlozman (yes, a real doctor), a psychiatry professor at Harvard has his theories on zombies. He says studying the possibility of zombies and the possibility of the zombie apocalypse helps scientists to understand how people behave during worldwide pandemics, how diseases work, and how fear and chaos spread.
When you put it that way, the zombie apocalypse maybe isn’t quite that far-fetched. Most zombies, in both books and movies, became that way from some sort of contamination, either by virus, a chemical reaction, or viral spread. Those, we know, aren’t myths. In fact, Forbes points out, that zombies may directly relate to our fear of AIDS, Ebola, cloning, and genetically modified foods. I’m going to add all the other types of scary diseases such as mad cow disease, syphilis, and all the various forms of flu we have in the world. Have you ever watched Monster Inside Me? Well don’t, because if you thought zombies were a hare-brained idea that could never happen, believe me, you’ll be building a bunker after watching just one episode.
We do have a fear of scientists playing God, messing around with cloning, biology, technology, and so on. The zombie apocalypse helps us deal with those fears. It is a socially acceptable way to deal with our fear of the end of the world. Like, hypothetically, if like, um, that ever happened, “I’d just blow s**t up” sounds much better than, “I might die. My parents are going to die. And my kids are going to die.” What is even more interesting, is the findings of research from io9, they found that in times of social unrest—quite like what has been happening now—the more zombie movies are released.
Regardless if you subscribe to any religious doctrine or not, I am certain that the majority of Americans have thought about the end of the world happening. Earth won’t be here forever. And that, in itself, is a scary thought.
Vampires might be sparkly and sexy, but zombies might be real. So I’m not going to load up my gun with silver bullets, but I will do what I can to be ready. Are you?