Best Defense

Why all the zombies and vampires in our movies and TV shows? I blame it on 9/11

Over the summer a friend asked why there have been so many damn movies and TV shows about zombies and vampires these days. Mulling the question, I came to suspect it has to do with how people get their arms around disturbing events and trends. Sometimes it is easier to discuss something if you don’t ...

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Over the summer a friend asked why there have been so many damn movies and TV shows about zombies and vampires these days.

Mulling the question, I came to suspect it has to do with how people get their arms around disturbing events and trends. Sometimes it is easier to discuss something if you don’t name it. That thought is not new to me. One friend noted it is a theme of the study From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film.

Another instance of this displaced narrative is the Godzilla movies, which I think are about the Japanese public coming to grips with being subjected to nuclear attack. Think of it: A monster arises from the sea east of Japan, created by an American nuclear accident, and basically replicates the firebombing of Tokyo, but this time with his nuclear breath.

I also suspect that the 1986 remake of The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum was really about the AIDS epidemic then scaring the hell out of people.

So what do the zombies signify? I think they are the terrorists — that is, they look like people, but act in profoundly different ways that we don’t understand. They terrify us. They stand outside our range of experience and do things that we cannot comprehend emotionally or rationally. We don’t know how to stop them.

Significantly, in the movies, a magic solution is usually found. In The War of the Worlds, the aliens were felled by the common cold. But we still know in our hearts that ridding ourselves of terrorists isn’t so easy. Making terrorists into zombies also makes them easier to think about and then dismiss. As Max Brooks (son of The Mel, and himself author of World War Z) once said, "You can read The Zombie Survival Guide or watch Dawn of the Dead and then go to bed saying, ‘Oh, it’s just zombies.’"

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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