Society has changed in the last four decades. This is not to say that society isn't always changing, but the change that has occurred recently (recent being a relative term) is one that we've never seen before. Technological progress, throughout the ages, has always been seen as a good thing. I don't mean scientific discovery, which has not always been viewed positively, but the actual trinkets of technology that scientific progress has made possible. Mankind has always had an innate sense that he could do no wrong. That belief has dissipated like morning mist.
Four decades ago, a zombie was still just a zombie. A re-animated corpse. Slow. Stupid. No will of its own. It was something created by man that man controlled. The only exception to this rule was Frankenstein's monster, but the Frankenstein monster became a special case and has never really been viewed as a zombie. Even though zombies could be controlled, they were still dead things. Just animated. They had no more need of sustenance than does a marionette. They did not hunger. They did not want. They only obeyed.
That all began to change in 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead. For the first time, the dead, en masse, rose up against the living to devour them. It was the first use of zombies to symbolize that man might, just possibly, be playing around with forces he didn't understand.
The 80s arrived and, with it, a culture of teenagers that didn't believe they would live to be adults. Post-apocalyptic literature/entertainment hit its stride. Not that it hadn't existed, but, prior to the 80s, (and I am now going to lump all of this together into the dystopian category) dystopians had really been isolated events.
And I mean it when I say we didn't believe that we would make it through high school without nuclear holocaust being thrust upon us. In middle school, for a Christmas door decorating contest, my homeroom did a whole Nuclear Winter theme. We even re-wrote several popular Christmas songs with lyrics like, "I'm dreaming of a nuclear winter."
However, the cold war ended, and we don't really believe an actual nuclear holocaust will happen anymore. No, now, we believe man will destroy the Earth in much more subtle ways. Like a zombie apocalypse. Zombies have become the representation of our fear that mankind will, ultimately, be unable to control the technology that he plays with. Zombies have evolved. They are no longer re-animated corpses. They're fast. They're smart. They're hungry. They want to destroy us. Destroy life. They're smart, but they are unthinking. Their intelligence is applied only to achieving their goal. Devouring us Destroying life. Hmm... somewhat like the single-minded way in which corporations pursue financial success.
In short, zombies have become a cultural metaphor for all the ways in which technology will destroy us.
However, that's only the metaphor in its simplest form. The obvious one. The one that has to do with our nightmares over what secret things governments and corporations are doing in the dark. It lives off of our fears that we'll wake up, shivering and drenched in sweat, and find out that society has collapsed. No rules. Only chaos.
The deeper part of that fear extends down to where we believe that technology is actually turning each of us into zombies. Especially the generation that's growing up around us. The generation of technological zombies. You know it's true. People refuse to be detached from their technology. People that grew up without it and know it's possible to leave home without a phone and still survive refuse to go without, so how do we show the (little) people who have never known life without cells that it's possible to go without? It's with us everywhere. And it's scary. But, still, we embrace it. We can't help it.
Despite the data that the use of cellular devices, in whatever capacity, while driving is more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, we choose to believe that we can handle it, and we don't have the excuse of impaired judgement that intoxication brings. Despite the new warnings by WHO (the World Health Organization, not the Doctor. Or the band.) that cellular devices bring a greater risk of brain cancer, especially in children and adolescents, we will go on using our bits and pieces of technology and deal with any consequences later. Despite the continued statements of desire to connect with people in actual face-to-face contact, we will, more and more often, forsake physicalness in favor of a virtual reality that we can "control."
We are becoming the zombies that we fear. Soulless creatures walking through life but only seeing things through the tiny input devices we hold in our hands. And just wait till they can actually put that stuff right inside our skulls. Is it any wonder that we have become so incredibly fascinated with zombies? After all, vampires could be defeated. How do we defeat ourselves?