Why Our Fascination With Zombies?

Our son-in-law recently asked his Facebook friends for their views on why there’s such a fascination with zombies in our culture?

This is a very tantalizing question, and it apparently hooked me because I’m returning to it after some days of letting it cook or fester or irritate or whatever. I notice that several of his friends refer to zombies as “mindless” or say that they possess the quality of “mindlessness.”

I’d like to suggest a different quality as the reason for our fascination with zombies, one that I’m not particularly qualified to talk about at all, but here goes anyway: “soullessness” … the absence of soul.

In this secular age, the “soul” — whatever that means — is not a particularly fashionable or obvious or even especially credible subject for serious consideration. But I have in mind the life work of the late Jungian psychologist James Hillman, who — If I understand him right — believed that the soul is an optional “organ,” one that we may choose to make the core work of our life, or not.

In his view, the soul is a project we may undertake. Or not. But … it’s a project of deep and “archetypal” importance.

This raises the horrifying possibility that many of us may live out our entire lives failing to do our most important work: building soul.

Hillman once said “A living sense of world requires a corresponding living organ of soul by means of which a living world can be perceived.”

Here’s the reaction of a couple of Hillman fans to that statement:

“Just think of how much reality is shut off from people because they are part of the walking dead – possessing dead rather than living souls. Not only are they not alive, the world is not alive to them.”


“Zombie is the normal state of a civilized adult human being, I’m afraid. No one alive in society today can survive without the dissociation characteristic of zombies. As Whitehead put it somewhere, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

Maybe we are all in danger of remaining zombies unless we consciously and deliberately take on the important work of building soul. That’s the horror that always lurks just below the surface.

So, what does it mean for each of us to “build soul?”

No problem: Curly explains it very simply here in “City Slickers:”

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6 Responses to “Why Our Fascination With Zombies?”
  1. RL Crabb says:

    Zombie movies are never about the zombies themselves, but rather the survivors who struggle to keep their humanity. The theme is always pretty much the same; small groups of humans banding together to protect their families, but the constant stress of mere survival causes them to fight among themselves over resources or which direction to take to find their way back to some semblance of civilization. Having to kill those who become infected from the bite of the walking dead. In such extreme circumstances, how does one hold onto hope?
    There’s also a sense of controlling your own fate. So many people feel like they are helpless in a world that changes every nanosecond. I’m sure there are many conservatives who feel they have no voice in their government after the recent election, hence the rise in gun sales. Back in 2004, it was liberals who were ready to leave the country after Bush’s reelection.

  2. depelton says:

    Thanks RL. I appreciate having interesting comments from someone who has actually seen a zombie movie. It never occurred to me to want to!

    The sense of helplessness you speak of sounds plausible, although it sounds to me like the product of the overwhelming power of institutions in modern life (corporations, governments, etc) in relation to the relatively minuscule power of individuals.

    About the political dimension, you say:

    “I’m sure there are many conservatives who feel they have no voice in their government after the recent election, hence the rise in gun sales. Back in 2004, it was liberals who were ready to leave the country after Bush’s reelection.”

    For what it’s worth, despite being a lifelong proud liberal, I never had any desire to leave during the administrations of Reagan and GW. Nor did I ever speak to any liberal who felt that way or expressed that desire. Nor did I ever even hear of such a person among my small network of liberal friends and acquaintances.

    Most people I know — or care to know, both liberals and conservatives — love this country enormously and understand that to love it like an adult is to stay here and be willing to point out its errors when it strays from its founding principles.

    And — among all the good reasons to buy a gun — it has never occurred to me to do it in response to the outcome of any election. I just don’t understand that kind of paranoia.

  3. RL Crabb says:

    After the ’04 election, I was listening to a discussion on KVMR where several callers brought up the possibility of skipping the country to get away from the misguided policies of the Bush II regime, so no, I wasn’t making it up. Of course it was mostly idle radio chatter, and I doubt any of the participants ever carried out their plan.
    As for the jump in gun sales, there are some who believe that Obama and the Dems plan to tighten up gun regs in the next term. In this age of internet rumors, it doesn’t take much to start a wave of panic buying.

  4. depelton says:

    Yup, the Internet amplifies everything …including ignorance.

  5. Tom Odachi says:

    Maybe it’s as simple as identifying a common enemy that we can all hate (without guilt) and cheer about when a good guy (any non-zombie) puts one down. The discrimination and prejudice that we like to apply to others not like us, can now be justified, because there is absolutely no redeeming value to society when it comes to a zombie.

    We are free to hate them to our heart’s content. There is no danger of insulting anybody from that demographic. There is no need for politically correct conversation or cultural sensitivity when considering any adverse action against a zombie. In short, zombies make the perfect enemy… universally detestable.

  6. RickD says:

    I actually know some who fled to various foreign shores but I could never do that. Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, France ( broke my heart when Nina Simone moved there to get away from the blatant racism of the USA) all have their share of expatriates, as do many other nations I presume.

    Further, in the late sixties and early seventies, many fled to rural communes to “escape” the chaos of those days. Some few of those communes are actually still viable today. I enjoy an invitation to both foreign and domestic refuges on my vacations.

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