Why are we so obsessed with zombies? – and vampires for that matter. The zombie genre economy is worth billions of dollars. Nir Eyal (Hooked) compared the rise of the zombie genre to technology’s unstoppable progress, that the ‘fearful malaise’ is to do with ‘the thought of being involuntarily controlled’.
Yes, technology will take over a great deal of our economy, we see this happening already. This will make humans redundant in many fields, so the threat of human extinction in this sense, is a real possibility.
Eyal suggests that we fear being controlled by technology, we fear being dominated (or determined) by this ‘lifeless’ external force. Technology is ‘undead’ since it is not alive yet has a forceful existence.
Aside from Eyal, the usual deposited reason for the zombie obsession is due to heightened feelings of fear and anxiety during scary times. This anxiety and fear needs to manifest (be put) ‘somewhere’, so zombies are simply ‘somewhere’ to project our fears, and the fear of an apocalyptic scenario.
These points, whilst valid, didn’t ‘nail it’ for me.
In our lives we find ways to survive our existence. Life is a struggle at times, as you know. When we partake in some kind of zombie experience, Walking Dead or other, we feel part of a ‘survival group’ – surviving alongside them. This takes us away from our own existence. It is commonly known that we use TV as escapism from the real world, joining a life other than our own. But with zombie addiction, we are putting the responsibility for survival onto someone else’s plate – ‘they can survive not me’, having a holiday from the existential crisis of our own lives!
When we relate to ‘survival’ in the zombie experience, we are in fact relating to the archetype of Existential Survival, a primal experience that we can all relate to as a collective species.
The genuine sadness that occurs when a box-set or season is over, reveals the level of attachment that we have (this varies), determining the level of existential angst from which we escape individually: the sadder we are, the more we needed the break!
The Zombie Psyche
A new disturbance has emerged. I call it the Zombie Psyche. Over the years, in parallel with the rise of the zombie craze, I have noticed a rise in people who struggle to connect and relate at a deep or intimate level, sometimes a complete inability. This fits in with Simon Sinek’s idea of the Millenial type, in a nutshell – a group of people with social connection issues. But it’s not just the Millenials who are prone to the Zombie Psyche, current and prevailing society are too.
On a side note, I’ve noticed Millenials hate being called Millenials – wouldn’t you? So it is important to stress that the terms Millenial and Zombie Psyche should not be used as a critical label, but for descriptive purposes and as a possibility!
This trend corresponds to characteristics of the undead:
Zombie: They are undead – meaning dead yet alive.
Human Counterpart: They exist on one level, but the existence is minimal.
Zombie: They are unable to relate to each other/the outside world.
Human Counterpart: They have problems with intimacy and connection.
Zombie: They walk around, simply following what they are drawn too without intention.
Human Counterpart: They lack a snese of deeper purpose & passion about life, following what they think they ‘should’ do, lack meaning & depth about what they are doing & why, ultimately about who they are.
Zombie: They are empty – there is nothing ‘inside’.
Human counterpart: They feel lost when it comes to knowing themselves at a deeper emotional level and are often ‘cut off’. Have varying levels of being ‘dead inside’. Some are harder to reach than others.
Zombie: They are driven by their ‘urges’ to ‘gratify’ (insatiable hunger).
Human Counterpart: They are driven by achievement & gratification, materially driven to the detriment of the self in some way.
Zombie: they are an isolated groups of outsiders.
Human Counterpart: They are socially awkward – can only relate so far, therefore feel separated & isolated on the inside.
Zombie: Whilst scary on the outside, they are actually fragile (die easily).
Human Counterpart: The outer self (capable & confident) doesn’t correspond to the inner self. The inner self is prone to depressive anxieties & even suicide if the outer self is broken in any way.
Zombie: Minimal range of expression – predominantly anger, violence, savagery.
Human counterpart: Because there is less range and depth of emotion, extreme emotions are the easiest to access. These extreme emotions are hard to control due to the absence of a neutral zone monitoring the range.
All of the above can develop at varying levels, dependant on a person’s background and upbringing, which is a determining factor.
Zombies R us
Zombies are also a reflection of the darker side of ourselves. They mirror our dark side or ‘Shadow’ side (Jung). This means that our fascination with zombies, can be a way of trying to connect with our dark sides. Connecting with our dark side isn’t a bad thing, as Star Wars suggested. It’s actually important to accept our dark sides as part of us, so that the dark side doesn’t fight for acknowledgement in some heinous way: the more you cut it off, the bigger it wants to be. Not to sound too Yoda-like.
Our fascination with zombies is also ‘sensing’ the generic possibility (or risk) of becoming mentally undead ourselves. It’s like thinking about the thing that you dread being, or being fascinated with something that you unconsciously fear. Our fascination with zombies can be the fear of actually becoming a zombie metaphorically.
‘Unconsciously, we have been cleverly pre-empting the very real risk of becoming undead humans ourselves’
Some people, fanatics you might say, have predicted an actual zombie apocalypse. Well perhaps they are right, but it’s not the ‘Undead-Dead’ that threatens, but the ‘Undead-Human’.
Last year, I sat at a table with a group of people, a format that easily enables discourse. When I looked around at each person to connect with them, each person had their head down, either in a lap top, phone, or nothing! Lovely people don’t get me wrong, but no-one wanted to connect with each other. When they looked up, eye contact was averted. It was a surreal experience. I observed how, to them, it felt completely normal not to relate or connect in that moment. A moment that didn’t require it. These were not Sineks Millenials by the way, these were adults who’d chosen not to connect.
The more we allow these moments of disconnection to happen, the more we create a habit of disconnection, until disconnection becomes normal. We risk becoming Blade Runner Replicants who mimic relationship instead of experiencing it, or risk developing a Zombie Psyche.
Of course, this habit is continuously reinforced by technology that presents us delicious ways to connect that aren’t directly relational. But I am not anti-technology, because we could actually use technology to provide solutions, becoming an active creator rather than a victim.
The Ghost in the Machine
So, if we are heading towards a zombie society due to the increase and prevalence of a Zombie Psyche, what will the cure be? Let’s re-phrase that question: How will we retain intimate connections going forward? This is a general question regarding mental health and the rise of technology.
Ironically, some answers lie within the zombie stories. There is an answer within the message. Ghost in the machine.
I’ve mentioned how we are relating to the existential theme of survival. We are also relating with two other powerful themes. The first is ‘Community’. We repeatedly see that when all collapses, the community gradually gets back together, leading to a feeling of safety, calm and security. Community is key to survival. We see that it is hard to survive alone, easier with others. After some sort of traumatic collapse, the community always eventually comes back together, repairing the separation and healing the damaged individuals. The zombie stories reflect our tendencies to isolate ourselves and how important it is to have relationships and be in a community, however difficult. In these stories we relate to the move from isolation (our loneliness within) to community (feeling ‘part of’ a group), which some struggle with more than others.
I was recently asked a question: ‘If everything collapsed, no phones, no banks, no ownership of property, no shops for food, no utilities – what would you do? What would happen? My answer was that we would have to come together as a ‘community’, and someone added: since there would be no money, we would have to trade our abilities instead.
The second powerful theme in the zombie stories is ‘Emotional Breakthrough’. We repeatedly see characters having emotional breakdowns. I call these breakthroughs because they create a deeper connection with ourselves and others. When we see another human being vulnerable with raw feelings, we are moved by it (it hurts), yet we are drawn to it, seeing the opposite of our tendency to cut off feelings. In life, people revert to a default mode of self-protection, hiding true feelings and emotions for various reasons, cutting off from each other. In these witnessed moments of self-catharsis, we are in fact relating to the raw parts of ourselves, often repressed, but ultimately the REAL us. We relate to the raw and ‘un-cut’ versions of ourselves, the self that is capable of relating and connecting in a healthy way – the beautiful self.
Whilst there are some negative psychological trends with some people affected more than others. There are also positive trends, proving that human beings have within, the capability of moving towards a healthy position on their own: self-actualisation (Rogers).
This is shown by the increase in Bloggers/Vloggers, myself included. People are sharing themselves now more than ever, taking risks in doing so. Some risks more cathartic than others! The increasing theme of ‘telling stories’ is a vehicle for people to share and connect with each other at a more intimate and relatable level. People in speaking positions are ‘working this through’ in their own natural way. Sharing themselves a little more than they normally would, being more transparent or more open. What is really heart-warming, is that a great deal of this sharing is benefitting others, leading to a greater feeling of community and connection.
If you are experiencing a sense of urgency to share yourself, give, or contribute, this could be the healthy you attempting to move towards connection and community. Why not embrace this in a way that helps you and others.