back to article We like zombies… because we are zombies

We make zombies in our own image, says Durham University social scientist Dr Nick Pearce, and he reckons that the braindead machine-gun fodder zombies of today ain't a good sign. Dr Pearce will present his paper Can Zombies help us understand today's society? to "The Festival of Social Science" on 2 November. He thinks we need …


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  1. Shakje

    That's right...

    I empathise with the zombies, not the heroes. The reason that there is no controlling figure is nothing to do with the state of society, it's simply that if there isn't a central point to defeat, the hopelessness in fighting them translates into desperation and fear.

  2. David Evans

    Can I just say...

    ...oh good, another way to shoehorn zombies into anything and everything. Enough with the fucking zombies.

    1. Captain Save-a-ho

      At least it's not more vegan, teenage vampire pussies...i threw up in my mouth just a little typing that.

  3. Chris Miller

    The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the 'social sciences' is: some do, some don't. - Ernest Rutherford (Baron Rutherford of Nelson) 1871-1937

    1. AdamWill


      I don't know much about art, but I know what I like - some other idiot.

      Just because it's funny and well-phrased doesn't make it valuable. There are people doing interesting work in the social sciences, there are people doing fairly trivial stuff that makes newspaper headline writers happy, and there's a small amount of people doing completely useless / utterly wrong research.

      Just like, well, any other field of academia!

      Just because it doesn't give a nice 0/1 result doesn't make it useless. Most modern-day 'hard' science doesn't give a nice 0/1 result either or we wouldn't have all this hassle with probability intervals, would we?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It was Steve Jobs!?!

    I for one would like to thank El Reg for telling me what to think on this subject.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone who has seen Shaun of the Dead

    can tell you that.

    1. John G Imrie

      as well as Dead Set

      Though any program that kills Davina McCall twice must have something going from it

  6. hplasm


    Sadly lacking in society today...

  7. alain williams Silver badge

    Also called: sheeple

    This is quite right, but not new, just a new way of putting it. Most people are apathetic and if they don't like things just moan and expect someone else to do something. This is why I applaud the people at St Paul's - at least they are trying to do something about what they perceive as wrong.

    1. jm83

      re: sheeple

      I take it your a sheeple also then?

      Holden Caulfield suffered from the same thing. Its much easier to thrust the image of brainless automata onto everyone else than actually comprehend that other people exist with their own thoughts and motivations.

    2. L.B.
      Thumb Down

      The St Paul's lot are the epitome of sheeple!

      They have absolutely no comprehension of what they are ranting about, and have no idea what could be done differently.

      They complain about capitalism yet totally rely on it for their Starbucks coffee, pizza delivery and smart phones, without realising they are total hypocrites.

      If they had any real sense of what the world was like, they would stop buy produce that is made in china by factory workers who are treated more like slave labour compared to the conditions of western workers.

      Yet most are sponging off society complaining how unfair it is – they're nothing but parasites.

  8. Jedit

    Amazing research

    I mean, it was only 32 years ago that George A Romero stated explicitly that his zombies were meant to reflect traits in various social groups, ranging from mindless consumers in Dawn of the Dead to the homeless in his unmade script for Twilight of the Dead. One character in Dawn of the Dead even lampshades it by saying that the zombies trying to get into the shopping mall are just doing what made them comfortable in life.

  9. Anonymous Coward 101

    To what extent... this guy for real?

  10. Tomato42
    Thumb Down

    Now zombies are explained by a virus or bacterial infection. Hard to add a commander to that...

    1. Chris 3


      Everyone knows that Sci-Fi monsters echo societal paranoias, todays big ones are pandemics, global warming, economic breakdown. Zombies work very well with the pandemic threat,

  11. Bunker_Monkey
    Thumb Up

    They are already here too

    You ever tried shopping in Primark around Norwich on a Saturday. You'll see what I mean

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Never mind the zombies, I fear Primark.

      Now you've really got me worried. Primark is around Norwich?

      Has it replaced a ring road or the city walls somehow?

      Does this mean that to visit anyone or anything in Norwich forces you to go through Primark?

      That I can't go to the Fat Cat for a pint of Marmalade without buying a sweat shop dress on the way?

      Is the football ground inside or outside Primark?

    2. Barn
      Thumb Up

      Glad I'm not the only person who feels like they're pretending to be a zombie to blend in in there!

  12. Mako

    I smell an IgNobel prize on the way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No, IgNobels are only given for useful, but odd, science.

      Social 'science' is only one out of three,

      1. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT)
        Thumb Up

        @ AC, 12:30

        How can you possibly say that? Social Science is not useful and it's certainly not science and....oh, wait a minute...never mind, carry on.

      2. Jedit

        One out of three...

        ... and it isn't "science".

  13. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Alternatively ...

    And here was me thinking that all of todays fashionable monsters (vampires, zombies, ghosts, ghouls and all the other various forms of the undead) were simply the result of needing a form of non-specific baddie that didn't offend any particular race, religion, gender, physical or mental disability group. But most of all were cheap and quick to slap together, didn't qualify for the extra pay of spoken parts, needed next to no theatrical skills nor any special film set adaptations as THEY'RE JUST ACTORS IN RAGS AND MAKEUP.

  14. Captain Underpants
    Thumb Down

    Good grief, what a load of old bollocks.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The key question is why, like today's portrayal of zombies, are we unwilling to take a stand against the powers-that-be and overwhelmed by a lack of political interest?"

    It's really very simple, if discouraging. There is a lack of political interest because it doesn't much matter whom you vote for (as the outcome will be very similar). For instance, whom would you vote for to make sure the UK would not repeat the crime of unprovoked aggressive war in future? Certainly none of the parties that have any chance of gaining power.

    And why are citizens unwilling to take a stand? Ah, that's the (fairly) clever bit. Precisely because we are always being assured that we live in a free democratic society - virtually a political Utopia, on which no improvement is conceivable - any attempt to "take a stand" or exert pressure on government except through the mechanism of elections can be treated as criminal subversion, and put down harshly. After all, who but a maniac or a pervert would want to change the ideal constitution we have right now?

    There is a third point, which is the cleverest aspect of the whole arrangement. Usually, there is no question of violent demonstrations or uprisings, because any expression of discontent is simply ignored or (if necessary) laughed off! That is a trick the Hitlers and Stalins never mastered - the ability to ignore discontent and protest. Better still, our masters can then point to their tolerance and tell us that "a dictator would never stand for being made fun of the way Rory Bremner, say, or Private Eye does".

    1. TimNevins
      Thumb Up

      Extremely well put

      Generally the point is there are 2 main types of dictatorship.

      1) Overt and visible - Stalin, Adolf,Gaddafi etc

      2) Covert and invisible - UK/US/Western Democracies

      This is sophisticated in that this true dictator never presents themselves directly but elects 2 candidates to dual one another to provide the illusion of democracy, whilst retaining loyalty and control using finance and power and privilege to keep the candidates in line.

      Whenever a candidate wears out his/her welcome and the public becomes disenfranchised a new 'leader' is elected giving the impression of change. The true dictator of course never loses his power and never becomes tainted.

      Option 1 almost always get overthrown at some point or another.

      Option 2 never results in any true revolution and sufficiently divides the public to prevent any concerted assault on those in true power.

      A simple question is this. If you lived in the USA for the past 10 years and you wanted to vote for a party opposed to war who should you have voted for?

      Since both parties have fully supported the war the answer is neither choice would have given what you wanted.

      Of course if a true 3rd candidate appears (Ross Perot) they are quickly threatened with death (or in the case of Ross Perot) his daughter as well. A quick on-line search will yield further information on this.

      1. Kevin 6
        Thumb Up


        So true

        would like to add if the 3rd candidate appears also they are shunned by the media, to the point the average person either never hears of them, or if they do its all negative things.

        Plus the way the democratic system is now set up its almost impossible to get on a ballot unless you sell your soul to one of the 2 parties to be a puppet, or are insanely wealthy. But at that point you probably don't care cause what you do is above the law.

      2. CD001


        I like it - it's got just the right level of paranoia and conspiracy theory for the internet ... have you been contacted to write for any upcoming Deus Ex game yet?

        1. Aaron Em

          'upcoming Deus Ex game'

          What are you talking about? There was only Deus Ex; there were a few rumors of a sequel, but everyone laughed them off because it was blazingly obvious that any attempt at a sequel would be laughable crap fit only for frat boys of the sort who think Zeitgeist is "like, deep, man" because they don't know jack shit about anything.

    2. Sam Liddicott


      those who care work 2 jobs and overtime and are too tired to bother.

      those that don't care get their food and sky TV provided by the state.

    3. M A Walters
      Big Brother

      So true...

      Tom, you analysed the situation very correctly and succintly.

  16. Marvin the Martian

    What's a bit rubbish in this is that words and concepts change meaning over time, and that's what's happened here. For example, "to stink" meant originally "to smell" [good/bad/sweet/strongly/faintly/...], but came to mean "to smell bad". The same is happening with "to smell" -- it can mean both, but without specification it's negative.

    So here the zombie was taken from its voodoo context and changed. There was no zombie in western mythology, neither unguided nor voodoo-controlled, and modern mythologists (writers, directors, game designers) have filled that gap. There are many new creatures and concepts the last hundred years (especially in maths), does that mean that "humanity"'s mindset is changing in the same way (especially the maths)?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suspect Zombies being 'in our own image' would be because they are our own image...ignoring the social aspects of course :P

  18. mark 63 Silver badge

    zombie genre

    Although i do like the odd zombie film , I think it should have remained a one off idea , ie when romero did his first 3 , not a "genre" to repeated over and over again.

    Are we that obsessed with the idea of our own dead bodies coming back to eat people?

    I think a return to the sorcerer controlling the zombies would be a nice variation, but modern audiences would no doubt say "Oh, its gone all like magical and sourcery and stuff - thats just silly"

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Brains.... BRAINS....! can use your brains to help us.

    - Homer Simpson, 2000

  20. Smallbrainfield

    The best thing about zombies is the noise they make when you hit them with a shovel.

    Been playing Dead Island, you see, though not as fun as using the guitar in Left 4 Dead (not technically zombies, of course).

    A lot of people like zombie movies because they like the survival aspect of the aftermath and wonder how they would get on in the event of a zombocalypse, rather than being a zombie (which is probably the more likely outcome).

    Personally, I think B&Q would be my first port of call. Lots of good weaponisable stuff in B&Q.

  21. Mr Larrington

    That George Romero, what a wag, eh?

    Anyone bothered enough to write a paper about the image of the modern zombie should almost certainly be locked up for his own protection.

  22. Red Bren

    What do we want?


    When do we want them?


  23. Alpha Tony


    I disagree.

    The reason we like zombies so much these days is that all the other cool monsters have been ruined by fuckwit American teen romance writers.

    Vampires are now gay. Werewolves.. also gay. Mummies... well they were always a bit gay.

    That just leaves us with zombies. Somebody needs to euthanise that bitch Stephenie Meyer before she writes a novel about an angsty teenage girl in a relationship with a zombie and ruins them for us too ('I love him so much but is he just interested in my brains?').

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consumer zombies? ...old news...

    From 2500 (?) years back...

    "As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?"

  26. TeeCee Gold badge

    ".. zombies have no controller, they have no hope of ever being free."

    So any slight pangs of guilt you might feel as you blow their heads off or engage in a spatterfest with miscellaneous farm implements are misplaced then?


  27. heyrick Silver badge


    That is all.

  28. Teiwaz

    I think a zombie munched his brain before he embarked on this paper.

    Having no empathy with any zombie in any film or game, I can't say Zombie Rights were anything I thought about (especially not those darned 'reds' in Resident Evil - nasty pieces of work).

    If any social conclusions can be deduced from the zombie stories of recent years, its the feelings of vulnerability the individual has in the face of our overpopulation. The Old Zombie-Master stories came out of Africa, and fears of Witchcraft and associated powers held by an individual. Modern zombies are products of pandemic (usually from the labs of power hungry bio toxin companies - anybody need an Umbrella)

  29. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Better critique...

    >After nine-years of playing a humiliating game of whack-a-mole with a “rag tag” enemy that was supposedly vanquished after 9/11 but in key areas has seemingly more support from the people we are supposed to be liberating than we ever did, Americans are now indulging in elaborate fantasies, like World War Z, in which they regain all of the pride and strength and virtue that was lost — by fighting an even more ruthless adversary, the ultimate evil – the flesh-eating undead.

    Maybe, just maybe, we can win that war, and liberate ourselves!

    Sounds “fantastical,” and sure, “The Walking Dead” is nothing but a slick soap opera with lots of blood and guts, but as Vlahos points out:

    “…are not zombies our former selves — hence, the most terrifying and relentless enemy of all? Are not their ranks also flush with those who had lost American virtue: The passive, the narcissistic, the cynical, the uncaring? Sacred wars are about purification, revival and redemption. By indirection, Brooks [in his "World War Z"] is making the troubling point as well, that only zombies — or a national challenge equally existential — can renew America now.”

  30. Thomas 18


    In the early years of vampires (10,000 BC to 1950AD) they were horrendous savage predators from the wilds. Today they are sexy aristocratic rich paragons who live life with no consequences.

    I feel this represents the change of humanity from a bunch of oppressed Luddite apes into carefree, enjoyment seeking individuals filled with entrepreneurial spirit and an aspiring desire to live forever.

    Can I be a sociologist too?

  31. Nick Galloway


    If you have had prolonged exposure to teenagers, video game addicts, mobile phone addicts, iPod addicts you will have almsot certainly witnessed zombie like behaviour. Some of them come to a zombie like nasty end by being run over by some for of vehicle while others remain enslaved by the glow of a computer monitor.

    The reality is we like zombies because it probably reminds us of our own adolescence.

  32. TheProf Silver badge

    So 'our' fictional creations are a reflection of ourselves?

    How does the current popularity of vampires fit into this? They appear to be the exact opposite of zombies.

  33. Matthew Hale

    Zombies, vampires....

    ...things that go bump in the night... grow up, FFS. Get on the if you want to see some real horror.

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