It is obvious: we are fascinated by the living dead. Ever since they were established as an archetype by Romero's Night of the Living Dead, zombies have become more popular with age. In recent years, the "zombie archetype" has morphed into the "zombie genre," as more and more media depicting the undead has been released. A phenomenon is an understatement; this is an obsession.
        The zombie genre has ranged from apocalyptic tales following specific survivors (The Walking Dead) to the undead simply just being enemies (Minecraft); some more bizarre stories have zombies invading other popular licenses, such as Star Wars (Death Troopers) and the Marvel Universe (Marvel Zombies). Despite their undeniable popularity, one thing remains unanswered; why are we so fascinated by them? 
        Now, I am but a single fan of the zombie genre; from Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide to AMC's The Walking Dead, I love zombies. I can by no means speak for the rest of the zombie nation, but I can explain why I find stories of zombies so engrossing. So, here are some of the reasons I believe zombies are a powerful storytelling genre.
        1. You never feel sorry for them as enemies, nor do you attempt to "see it from their perspective." They are dead; mindless things attempting to eat you. Kill them. The above image is a terrific example. Depicting humanity's war against the zombie plague, think about what you feel for either side. I don't know about you, but I feel a tremendous amount of sorrow for the uninfected. The image screams chaos, amplified by the desperate and hopeless fight against the advancing swarm. In the front line of the horde, a shirt reads "No Saviour," and a prominent sign in the background reads "The End is Here." Not exactly huge boosts for morale. So, all in all, our hearts stay with humanity and (mostly) whoever is trying to survive. Of course, there are exceptions to this; sometimes zombies are portrayed as still possessing some of their former self or still just a flicker of life in them (Marvel Zombies, Warm Bodies). And most of the time, despite an overwhelming force exterminating the human race, there are still douchebags on the latter side who take advantage of others (The Walking Dead). In conclusion, on a very superficial level, zombies serve as good antagonists for stories.
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World War Z, starring Brad Pitt. The film followed a former UN investigator attempting to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. It is considered to be one of the most realistic interpretations of a zombie apocalypse.
        2. They make our current problems that we are facing in our lives seem trivial in comparison. So, work getting you down? Overbearing bosses, hard-to-meet deadlines, stress building to immense proportions? Well, just think...you could be having to put down friends and family members after they have become flesh eating humanoid shells. Usually the concept of a "zombie apocalypse" is expected baggage with nearly every zombie story across the board, or at least some sort of societal breakdown. The world isn't what is used to be; there are no more utopias, no more safe suburban neighborhoods. No more high school or college, first dates or dances. There is survival; there is "them" and "us." If the world ended tomorrow, what would be important to you? Probably not your job, nor your money, nor whatever precarious situation or turmoil you find your life in. Family, friends and loved ones would be my bet on what you would care about should the dead begin to rise. Not to mention, not everyone you care about will survive; heck, you might have to put them down yourself out of mercy. In order to get through the most trying times of our lives, most of us need something worse to compare it to; "it could be worse," is the popular saying. I'd say compared to what I just went over, that deadline at work would be a breeze.
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Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic and TV show is renowned for it's engrossing storytelling and focus on human survivors following a zombie apocalypse.
        3. Helps us put a "face" on the apocalypse. Our generation has heard plenty of "impending doom" stories, whether it be the failed predictions of the return of Jesus Christ or the infamous Mayan 2012 blabbety-blab. Instead of being scared into action, we've embraced the idea of the apocalypse. Granted, we don't want it happening anytime soon, but we've let our minds run wild with the idea; video games in particular have yielded some pretty fascinating post-civilization tales, such as the Fallout series and the critically acclaimed The Last of Us. So why does the zombie apocalypse seem to be more prevalent, rather than a nuclear or Biblical occurrence? Simple: not much changes. Sure, the emotional toll of putting down people out of mercy or the lack of rules, laws or any shred of the old life is very much a different world, but think about it. Humanity was built to survive and prevail; it's in our nature and design. We fight against all odds, even when we know we won't win. Violence is a strong suit of our species; killing is definitely nothing new. Connecting the puzzle pieces, during a zombie apocalypse we must kill in order to survive. A member of the undead comes at you, you must kill or be killed (and turned). We don't really know the true implications of a nuclear fallout, Biblical event or any other event, but the outlandish nature of the dead being resurrected in order to eat people is a completely human invention. All other apocalyptic scenarios involve nature reacting to the event and the human race being caught in the crossfire. The rising of the dead is, realistically, not likely, so the genre really has been used to give us an outlet to deal with the anger, fear, sorrow or whatever other emotion that is evoked while contemplating the end of the world. This way, it could be dramatic (The Walking Dead), it could be tongue-in-cheek (Shaun of the Dead) or full of dread (World War Z).
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Resident Evil, one of the most iconic zombie video game series.
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Left 4 Dead, from the makers of Half Life, is another dominant zombie video game series.
        4. Brings us together. I think Rick Grimes sums it up pretty well when he chided Merle Dixon. "There are no [offensive racial slur] anymore. No dumb-as-shit-inbred-white-trash-fools either. Only dark meat and white meat. That's us and the dead." This is an underlying theme of all the previously discussed reasons. The zombie apocalypse would bring the human race together like never before. Sure, any disaster event or tragedy would bring us closer together, but the emotional toll of the undead would be the ultimate numbing tool to our differences. Having to see the horror of what the human race has been reduced to, watching each other's backs in order to survive, and unfortunately, losing people would make brothers and sisters out of those who would've been divided by racial lines, religious devotion or societal roles. As ironic as it sounds, the zombie apocalypse brings out the best in us as humans; we work together to survive and come to care for each and every one of those we encounter. Even if they are a danger, we are hesitant to kill the living. The world may end and the dead may rise, but our humanity is our greatest weapon. It not only differentiates us from the lifeless that we are fighting, but it builds a camaraderie, a common understanding amidst the few survivors left. It not only builds our spirits; it builds an army. An army to fight for the living. To fight the dead.
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It all started with this; the first zombies in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
 


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    Ben

    @BennyBoJames (Twitter, Xbox Live)