I posted my blog entry Six Perspectives on Why the Zombie Apocalypse Is So Popular on Facebook, and received a response that struck me as worthy of reposting. Here it is, thanks to Lou King of Orlando, Florida - TJ
IMO, and granted, from a rather Americentric vantage, but for what it's worth: Monsters and personifications of our fears serve an important cultural function. They provide us with a safe stage to play out our worst fears and our culturally unsanctioned desires. They allow us to take 'the worst of us,' project it outside ourselves, and make it 'other.' Thereby reassuring ourselves that we're really not the base things we fear ourselves to be, nor are we truly subject to life's many inevitable yet unexpected dangers.
In the 1950s, Alien Invasions & Body Snatchers represented the American public's xenophobic fears made manifest: Communists -read aliens- were everywhere and out to take over our world - read country. American Might & Right usually triumphed, but not always. We were either left safely reassured all would be OK, or given validation that our paranoia was well founded and our actions well justified. They really were here, and 'going to get us' given the chance, so we had every right to proactively uncover them and/or strike against them now.
In the 90s & 00s, Vampires embodied an aging Boomer population's nostalgic longing for lost Youth. They represented eternal beauty/seductiveness, cultural relevancy & power - being able to move "with the times," yet still be "of a bygone era." They also encapsulated the willingness to pursue eternal youth, no matter how high the price. They were masks for Regret's favorite roles: What If and If Only.
For the youth culture, they were "die-young-stay-pretty" made flesh. They were secrecy, power & independence from the haplessly unaware broader culture's - read parents'/adults'/society's - push towards maturity, sobriety, responsibility and conformity. They allowed them to exorcise their righteously retributory anger and frustration. What better revenge than to literally eat your persecutors?
Zombies, in addition to being the already cited conveniently animated-yet-inanimate foil for our more violent urges, also offer us other symbolic opportunities as well. The modern Zombie most frequently 'arises' from either a contagion or a technological mishap. In that respect, they illustrate our culture's growing awareness of and sense of powerlessness in the face of the infectious microbial world, and the fragile veneer of 'safety from hardship & calamity' afforded us by Science and Technology. (We've seen enough now to know just how easily and how quickly, just how very much can go wrong: The Towers; Katrina; Bird Flu; Flesh Eating Bacteria; The Icelandic Eruptions; Fukushima; etc.) Zombies are a foil to play out those desires & fears as well.
Now, for a now more aged Boomer population, they symbolize the fears of the vulnerability and the potential 'loss of self' in the face of decreasing faculties, overpowering illness, and debilitating physical changes. Zombies are the worst feared outcomes from Alzheimer's and debilitating incapacitation made manifest: To be reduced to a shuffling (animated), incoherent, utterly mindless (brainless), atrophying (decaying) shell of your former self (corpse) - incapable of even recognizing, let alone preventing yourself from inadvertently bringing pain and suffering to, those you've loved. Being reduced to 'devouring them', emotionally and financially...(eating them alive.)
And lastly, for Youth, playing Zombie is yet another opportunity to jeeringly don the mask of Age, Infirmity & Death. They're a well placed, mocking jibe, volleyed in the face of The Enemy: The Adults. One where the true punch line comes when the mask is removed and the supple vitality of the wearer is once again revealed, made all the more apparent for the momentary juxtaposition with Horror. Age is confirmed to be the butt of the joke; Youth is reassured of its own beauty and seeming indestructiveness.
Plus, they're just COOL!