11/19/2012 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Are Americans so Fascinated with Zombies?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
By Julio Rodriguez, Observer of the Human Condition

I'm not certain that a fascination with zombies is a uniquely American thing, but you may be on to something. I'll try to look at things that are not only common to most zombie stories, but are distinctly American or strongly associated with American culture.

Because there won't be one right answer here, I'll take a scattershot approach and just make a list, in no particular order, of possible ways that these stories might hit a nerve with the American public. Some of these may be more plausible than others, but something so enduring isn't likely to have a simple, one-dimensional explanation.

  • Zombie stories are often a survivalist drama, something which resonates with the American mythos of the individual against a hostile world. The breakdown of social order is almost always a part of these stories, and it leaves individuals, or small groups of them, to fend for themselves creatively using the scraps of civilization.
  • Zombie stories are visceral. They involve decapitation, guts being pulled out, biting, and usually lots of blood. Perhaps this is some sort of reaction to an over-sanitized society where such things are rarely discussed in public.
  • Zombies are unthinking, mindless husks, which used to be human. They are your neighbors, or even your family. The effect of becoming a zombie is much like a cynic's view of someone who has been swallowed whole by consumerism. People like to imagine themselves above this fray, but in constant danger of being dragged down into it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how zombies have sort of evolved from being fueled by some mystical dark power to products of some escaped lab virus, or a disease found at the site of some human dumping ground. Human anxieties about religion and punishment for not following tribal customs of giving the dead proper rites have morphed into anxieties about playing god with biotechnology and wreaking havoc on nature. In both cases, zombies are a sort of punishment, a plague upon the species.

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