When humankind faces what it perceives as a threat to its very existence, a macabre thing happens in art, literature, and culture: corpses begin to stand up and walk around. The dead walked in the fourteenth century, when the Black Death and other catastrophes roiled Europe. They walked in images from World War I, when a generation died horribly in the trenches. They walked in art inspired by the Holocaust and by the atomic attacks on Japan. Now, in the early twenty-first century, the dead walk in stories of the zombie apocalypse, some of the most ubiquitous narratives of post-9/11 Western culture. Zombies appear in popular movies and television shows, comics and graphic novels, fiction, games, art, and in material culture including pinball machines, zombie runs, and lottery tickets.
The zombie apocalypse, Greg Garrett shows us, has become an archetypal narrative for the contemporary world, in part because zombies can stand in for any of a variety of global threats, from terrorism to Ebola, from economic uncertainty to ecological destruction. But this zombie narrative also brings us emotional and spiritual comfort. These apocalyptic stories, in which the world has been turned upside down and protagonists face the prospect of an imminent and grisly death, can also offer us wisdom about living in a community, present us with real-world ethical solutions, and invite us into conversation about the value and costs of survival. We may indeed be living with the living dead these days, but through the stories we consume and the games we play, we are paradoxically learning what it means to be fully alive.
Referring to the ubiquitous zombie apocalypse of fiction and film as a "dominant twenty-first century narrative," Garrett (Entertaining Judgment) argues persuasively that contemporary popular fascination with stories of the living dead reflects our interest in pondering what it means to be human. The four chapters in his book proceed from a consideration of the correspondence between the living dead and the living zombification serves as a metaphor for everything from the routinization of repetitive tasks that we perform in daily life to the disruption of daily life in terrorist attacks that threaten life and limb. He discusses the responses through which the living distinguish themselves from the living dead: the formation of communities with a common purpose and the moral and ethical choices people make to affirm their humanity in the face of an inhuman menace. Garrett's primary sources are the films of George Romero, The Walking Dead TV series, and the other zombie-themed narratives that have glutted our popular culture for the past half century, and he quotes as informatively from them as he does from the work of Alain de Botton, Reinhold Niebuhr, and St. Augustine when framing his philosophical observations. Garrett's accessible and insightful inquiry into our zombie zeitgeist finds surprising depth in a theme usually dismissed as simple entertainment.