This post is inspired by the PBS YouTube show, The Idea Channel. In this show, pop culture is analyzed from a philosophical view. Here are a few questions asked by The Idea Channel: What Do Santa and Wrestling Have in Common; Is Nostalgia the Reason for Adventure Time’s Amazing Awesomeness; and, relevant to this blog, Is Doctor Who a religion. If you like philosophical debate about pop culture phenomena, you should check out the show.
For a few years I worked at a book store that sold primarily used Christian books and music. Sure, we carried a few non-Christian genres such as classic fiction and history books (both of which are popular in the homeschool market), but if you were to ask any of our customers what kind of book store we were, the answer would be “a Christian book store.” We had a large Christian fiction section, and without a doubt, the best-selling sub-genre of Christian fiction had to be Amish romance.
It seems weird to say it, but the Amish are quite popular–in fiction. Beverly Lewis seems to have paved the way, but other authors such as Wanda Brunstetter and Mindy Starns Clark have taken up the Amish romance banner. I have often wondered why these books are so popular. Pretty much all Christian romances take up similar themes of saving sex until marriage, thus these aren’t the traditional bodice rippers that most of us think of when we think of romance novels. Prior to Amish romance, the Christian market was dominated by romances set in the American West. I’m starting to think the main draw of the Western romances before and the Amish romances now is that these stories reflect idealized versions of a simple life, of an easy life. In both cases, we are presented with a life that is free from the perceived corrupting influences of technology (the internet, smartphones, television) and modern life. In both genres, the culture war that we insist on waging in the U.S. are unimportant (if present at all) because life is focused on farming, building, and survival. Financial crashes are not so important because people are busy living off the land; people don’t debate gender issues or evolution because it is not important to an agrarian way of life. These genres allow the Christian reader to check out of the perceived chaos of modern life. And finally, both genres focus on the importance of family and community, something that I believe the church often struggles with. We are busy people with frantic lives, and we sometimes forget the importance of spending time with family and friends. What better way than to live vicariously, to read about people with strong families and friendships as they rely on one another for everyday life and survival.
So here’s my idea: Zombie stories scratch the same itch for a different audience. Let’s think about this for a minute. Zombie stories have been around for a long time, but the interest always subsides. In the 1960s, the stories worked well as Cold War allegories, but what exactly are these stories fulfilling today? We seem to be getting new zombie stories every year. There is no end in sight, especially with The Walking Dead continuing to be a hit on AMC (and yes, I have become a fan). Why have zombies become main stream?
First of all, zombie stories, unlike the Amish romances, do not have the white-washed, squeaky clean characters. There is sex, there is gore, and there is violence. Zombie stories, where once they commented about paranoia about Communist spies, now attempt to analyze human nature. The stories serve to show how some people act nobly, rising above their personal prejudices, while others entrench themselves further into their own destructive ideas or behaviors. Sometimes, you have characters like The Governor (from The Walking Dead) who go from nobody in the pre-outbreak world to power mongers in the post-outbreak world. So in a way, zombie stories provide some excellent philosophical material about human nature.
But second, zombie stories also give us a world where technology has fallen away. All the trappings of modern life have ceased. There is no internet, no smartphones, and no television. People are busy trying to survive, whether living off the land or just trying to find shelter. Gender issues and evolution are no longer important because survival is. Who has time to stand on gender issues in the post-outbreak world? Why does origin of species matter when a group of walkers is chasing you down? Who has time for this culture war that just seems to go on and on and on? Suddenly family and friends are your most-important resource because you live or die by the community. In the post-outbreak world, tribalism flourishes because you need the community in order to survive. We find a common goal in survival. We put up with on another because we need one another. As odd as it sounds, the zombie outbreak creates a an easier life, not because surviving zombies is simple per se, but because it is so unlike our modern, stressful world, that it seems simple by comparison. Our concerns are much more focused, because there are less of them. And since the existence of zombies creates a huge question as to the existence of God, zombie stories can be seen as a secular manifestation of the same desires that make the Amish romances so popular.
So, where evangelicals read about the Amish; perhaps Non-Christians watch zombie movies.