Zombie culture’s mass acceptance excites and troubles me. I liked zombies before they were cool—pun not intended. Thank God (or Whatever’s in charge) for the films of George A. Romero, who single-handedly, if not intentionally, created the culture known as “Z.” Ironically, his seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) contained not one utterance of the Zee-word. As a teen in the early 70s, I was both fascinated with and terrified of death; spent many nights basking in the phosphor-dot glow of TV horror. Social anxieties plunged me ever deeper into fantasy; books, movies, and drugs became the three pillars bracing my personal “civilization.” Soon even those wonderful vices weren’t enough…so I became a horror writer.
At Kent State, I discovered the works of Carl Jung, triggering in my soul a detonation of fierce black light. Don't worry, the shambling zombies are very much with us, haunting empty white space between these words. Jung, and his biographer/confidant Aniela Jaffe, introduced me to "the melancholy of the void," the conflict between knowledge and faith, and the growing gulf between Nature and Mind. These insights did little to lessen my metaphysical anxiety, but at least I knew why I suffered. Romero's Dawn of the Dead premiered in 1978; a lurid, graphic satire of consumer culture filmed mostly in Monroeville Mall, outside Pittsburgh near where I would one day live. Several years later, I began my five-year gig with World Fantasy Award-winner The Horror Show magazine, but continued to devour books by Jung and his ilk. Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead, compared to which Dawn is a festival of comic-book colors (as he intended), found me chasing deadlines and interviewing for the magazine my horror heroes, some of whom shared my bleak outlook. None of us dreamed that zombies would "blow up" the way they recently have. The Walking Dead...World War Z...Zombie [Something!]. I see the mass acceptance of Z-culture as both wonderful and alarming, perhaps even a projection of our collective unconscious. Fear of nothingness and annihilation, mingled with powerless fantasies of being reduced to meat puppets shorn of personal responsibility, and the annoying ball-and-chain of ethics and morality. These various entertainments howl with fright, mockery, and aggression. As noted by Aniela Jaffe, have such works arisen from the despair of a doomed world? Are we sick with Sartre's existential nausea? Addicted to the past, looting it for pre-9/11 memories of what we once were? Maybe we're just venting.... I hope so. How about you, Zeople?