First off, you have to recognize the fact that the current worldwide zombie expert is the son of Mel Brooks and his deceased wife Anne Bancroft. His name is Max Brooks and he is 41 years old. More about Brooks later.
You can look up definitions of zombies and you’ll get stuff like "fictional state where a corpse has been reanimated by magic or occult means." Fictional or not, the zombie concept originated in West Africa. There are all sorts of theories about the birth of the zombie, no doubt from cases where a human was believed to be dead and actually was not, or witnesses to persons believed dead only to be under the influence of some natural substance that rendered them "zombie like." Some of the more interesting accounts of zombies come from Haitian culture, where it is suspected that certain powders with psychotropic elements allowed a shaman to exert some type of control over the zombie victim. That’s relatively plausible stuff, right?
The introduction of zombies in mainstream American culture dates back to the 1932 film "White Zombie" starring Bela Lugosi. That horror flick was loosely based on the book "Magic Island" that had come out three years earlier. From there the concept of the zombie was off and stumbling, er, running. It’s my opinion that two of the most influential bits of media that propelled zombies to their current pop culture status are George Romero’s 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" and Michael Jackson’s classic video "Thriller." Being familiar with both of these works, it’s obvious to me that Jackson’s video evolved the zombie to new heights with the choreographed funky horror beat of the undead. Add in the brilliantly vivid decay and diversity of Jackson’s zombies and suddenly it was a whole new zombie world.
I have no illusions about the specificity of zombie lore in our current culture. This is the realm of serious nerds who possess zombie minutiae of doctoral thesis proportions. "Baloney" you say. "Not baloney," I counter. There’s a lot to this!
Now back to Max Brooks, who wrote "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z." These are not trivial zombie works. In a New York Times interview, Brooks related that many of the cataclysmic events of recent times would indicate a breakdown of the system, and that zombies were the perfect metaphor for society’s interrupted lock step, and its inability to deal. Those are my words, but that’s what I took away from Brooks’ explanation. The man reportedly commands a $10,000 fee for speaking engagements about his books, and he received a million bucks for the rights to "World War Z" from Brad Pitt’s production company. If you believe anything, you must believe that zombies are good for the welfare of the Brooks household. Saying that, it’s interesting to note that Max Brooks wants more. Not money. He wants his books to be properly categorized, and one category he eschews is "Horror." He isn’t happy about the fact that Random House has categorized his zombie works under comedy.
So called zombie experts are actually coming up with almost plausible situations that could theoretically cause a zombie apocalypse. Zombies are now in the realm of the Comic Con Convention, with zombie discussion panels. Without spending too much valuable time looking into the world of zombies, I have no doubt that there are zombie collectibles out there, and I’m certain that zombies are generating profits for more folks than Max Brooks. Zombies are serious business. Think about the money that the Sprint cell phone network had to plunk down for their current advertising campaign. A major network commercial that cost mega bucks touting the lifetime guarantee for a cell phone network with a zombie as the main character is a dead serious investment. I love the punch line to this commercial "Hey, let’s not go using labels now." Then the guys rotting ear falls off and he gets this "caught" look on his face and quickly says "I’m a zombie."
With Halloween fast approaching I’m willing to bet that zombies will once again be a major factor in costume choice. The possibilities are endless, from high school cheerleader zombies to the quintessential reanimated dead person in their tattered funeral clothes. Make up and special effects artists rejoice, because there’s still a lot of meat on this old bone, and the money is flowing now. So as far as I’m concerned, that’s the truth about zombies.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.