The pop culture landscape is swarming with the living dead, dominating themes in movies, books and magazines nationwide, and giving one CSUEB faculty member extra media attention.
Christopher Moreman, assistant professor of philosophy at Cal State East Bay, has made his way into the limelight several times in the past year with his expertise on the zombie phenomenon that has popped up on television, such as AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and bestsellers including “World War Z.”
Moreman’s specialized knowledge of the living dead attracted the curiosity of several major news outlets including The Washington Post and CNBC.
The philosophy professor paints a vivid picture that illustrates the reasons for the unprecedented growth of zombie popularity in the last decade. He relates the undead craze to America’s discontent with a nation that is deviating from a democratic society to a nation ruled by capitalism, globalism and materialism.
“The zombie as a mindless thrall driven by the single-minded pursuit of devouring serves as a warning against rampant consumerism and the insatiable appetite of dog-eat-dog capitalist greed,” Moreman wrote in an article he published in The Washington Post. “The popularity of the zombie stems from our similarity to that pitiable creature deprived of its soul, forced to labor for the benefit of unknown masters.”
Moreman, who has been dubbed the “zombie professor,” explores the topic in more depth in two recently published books, “Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead” and “Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition.”
The walking dead have evolved through American pop culture, and there are several opportunities to represent what they mean to modern times, Moreman said.
Today's living dead tradition was born from ancient Haitian folklore and Vodou. Prior to their modern day popularity, zombies were more commonly recognized as servants associated with the Haitian slave trade.
The Haitians believed a bokor, or sorcerer, could revive the recently deceased and compel them to do their bidding, because they lacked souls of their own.
As time progressed, zombies gained popularity in mainstream media. The Haitian zombie was transformed into a creature associated with horror and fantasy, and media audiences absorbed its modern representation.
Moreman said an association has developed between the zombies of the past and the zombies of the present.
“People are recognizing things like the mindless slave aspect of the zombie and relating it to aspects of the modern world,” said Moreman.
The pop-culture craze has sparked new zombie rituals among those enthralled with the living dead. “Zombie walks,” or zombie inspired parades, have morphed into annual events around the nation, becoming part of American culture, while the phrase “zombie banks” expresses society’s dissatisfaction with the American banking system.
Other characteristics of the zombie have evolved over time. Moreman says the new figure of the zombie focuses on mindless consumption, whereas the original Haitian-born zombie refrained from feasting on humans for a midnight snack.