Now It’s Zombies

Copyright © by Len Holman, 2/22/13


  In the annals of American Fear Archetypes, there have been quite a few Jungian Shadows to indicate what the American public is afraid of, what dark and secret fears it has, and what it will do to assuage those fears, to eradicate them, and to produce policies to deal with them. Our pop culture is a good mirror of this world, a reflection of our most horrifying and ineradicable nightmares.  In this PopLand we’ve had, first, the Red Man, who was in the way of our Manifest Destiny, and whose ideas were so un-European as to be more Martian than Native American.  Newspapers and dime novels chronicled the savagery and complete foreign-ness of the Indian, while extolling the virtues of those gunslingers and soldiers who cleared the plains of them so Civilization could proceed unobstructed.

  Then we had the Germans, of whom Ben Franklin was so fond, and then the drunken Irish, who became our cops and priests, the greasy and volatile Italians, who became our crooks and Mafia dons, and the inscrutable Chinese who, though they built the railroads, were about as foreign as the Indians and made mock of by every periodical in America.  We’ve had the Japanese-Americans, the Mexican immigrant, the homosexuals, and anyone who criticizes America for any reason.  In our pop culture, we have demonized each of these groups in one way or another, especially our government, which is often portrayed as evil—spying on American citizens, lying, torturing, committing illegal everything in the pursuit of The Good.  This kind of film makes real patriots boil, as they well know that only liberals would dare to make such false and hurtful propaganda. 

  One might surmise that the films which show these illegal and cruel American government machinations are part of a hidden psychic fear of our government, amid the howls of outrage and venomous attacks on those who claim our government is as pure as a glacier are merely exhibiting a bad case of Stockholm syndrome.  In the 50s, we had so many sightings of UFOs, that it seemed aliens were vying for control of air traffic to all the major cities in the U.S.  Jung suggested such sightings were an emblem of our deep and unsettling fears—remember, those were the Cold War years, when school kids were given “atom bomb” drills, and many Americans built backyard bomb shelters.  Then, after a slow rumbling of discontent against the immigrant, the gays, the Blacks, and women (always a feature of Americans ‘shuddering at even the very thought of them), we’ve had an explosion of vampire movies and TV shows.  This semiotic florescence of these people (are they people or post-people?) clearly indicate that the American psyche is not finished with vomiting up the Other for us all to loathe. 

  Vampires are hard to kill, since they’re already dead, and they have really good sex.  These two features of our pop vamps are telling.  Since our society is thoroughly drenched in sex, and since it must seem to everyone with a heartbeat that the person across the street is having more sex than they are, and that sex is the be-all and end-all of a happy life, vampires seem a good sign that we fear non-sex, that we fear looking—even for a few moments—at ourselves and asking “Is this what the Good Life really means?”  Americans are not renowned for bring introspective, after all.  The undead thing is also instructive.  The culture is flooded with the creams, unguents, pills, exercise equipment, and dietary supplements which tell us we can not only live longer but look good, too.  The fear of death can lead to many phobias, but it can also lead to a striking-out at others:  “I will not die until you go first!  And you!  And you!” 

  In San Jose, California, there is a tourist attraction called the Winchester Mystery House, which Sarah Winchester (she of the Winchester Rifle family and heiress to a vast fortune) built on continuously—being told by a spirit medium that as long as she constructed her house, her life was safe.  So she built: after the normal construction, she had to keep going, so she built stairs which go up to doors which open on walls, for example.  This horror of the natural part of life called death can lead to such aberrations-, and if a country fears death, if a culture lives with the mostly unconscious trepidation of its demise, it can have pretty drastic consequences:  America will build its empire.  It will build and build because as long as it does this, it will not die.  And its pop culture is an indicator of this longing for immortality.  But wait!  Something has happened.  We now have zombies.  In movies, on TV, everywhere.  Zombies are not sexy, but they ARE dead.  So here we have Eros’ flip side, Thanatos, coming to prominence.  If I were some other country on this globe, I would be sore afraid. 

  If the U.S., in its subterranean vault of the unconscious is spewing forth these death images, one can imagine a poisonous playing out of the American Winchester Mystery phenomenon, much to the detriment of any culture in its way, and eventually, inevitably, much to the detriment of the planet.  Observers of American culture should be watching for the excesses of Weimar and late Rome, and the advent of even more death images vying with excessive hedonism.  Those violent video games and the unhinged folk who take weapons into malls and school are just the tip of the iceberg.  The true zombies may just now be emerging.


Return to Bylines

Bookmark and Share