Zombie is the New Black

You know things are getting strange when the Centers for Disease Control feels the need to issue a statement proclaiming that zombies are, in fact, NOT real. Which is what happened this past June in an e-mail sent to the editors of the Huffington Post by agency spokesman David Daigle:

“CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms).”

Good to know. The e-mail was meant to allay concerns stirred up by what seemed like a sort of Zombie Spring this year, beginning on May 29th when police in Miami were forced to kill Rudy Eugene after they were unable to stop him from eating the face off of a homeless man. This was followed in very short order by similar such events around the country, providing grisly grist for the internet’s zombie rumor mill.

While the zombie apocalypse may not be imminent — according to the CDC — planning for it, talking about it, creating memes for it, and commercializing it could not be more popular. Even the CDC, who could be considered victims of their own success, created a web page and a graphic novel dedicated to preparing for the zombie apocalypse before they were put in the awkward position of having to deny zombies exist. Nor are they the only civil authority that has used zombies to increase disaster preparedness. America has zombies on the brain — recent years may have even seen them unseat vampires as our favorite monsters.

This is typified by the success of shows like The Walking Dead, cable’s highest rated show in the 18-49 demographic. The show broke cable ratings records last week with its third season premiere, making it more apparent than ever that zombies are everywhere, and they are big business. The Walking Dead was originally and still is a top-selling comic, and Marvel has produced an alternate universe of zombie superheroes with the highly successful Marvel Zombies series. Released in 2009, the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has sold 1.5 million copies and is credited with sparking a whole new genre: the literary mashup. Video games are fully zombified: Plants vs. Zombies set records as the fastest selling iPhone game when it was released. The enormously successful war game Call of Duty now has three versions with a “zombie mode”, and the various iterations of Resident Evil have sold upwards of 46 million copies. Resident Evil also has its own movie franchise, which has pulled in about $600 million, as did Will Smith’s version of the zombie classic I Am Legend. A quick sampling of the more notable theatrical releases in the last ten years — Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, etc. – adds at least $1.7 billion to the zombie coffers.

Then there are the sales that are impossible to track: tee shirts and various tie-in merchandise, supplies sold by zombie apocalypse stores (yes, they do exist), the ad revenue from the numerous blogs, forums, and web sites, as well as novelty items like Zombie Max ammunition (“only for use on zombies!” says the manufacturer’s website) or the combination chainsaw/shotgun put out by X-Ring Security.

Why the fascination? Some attribute it to the uncertainty of the times we live in: 10 years of war, plus economic collapse, global warming, reality shows about child beauty pageant contestants. Throw in the doom crying that has risen up around what the Mayan calendar may (or may not) say regarding  December 21st, 2012, and the zombie becomes the perfect mascot for a society on edge about the future, one that has embraced the zombie apocalypse with a nihilistic glee and no small amount of humor. Or money. Assuming we aren’t all killed by some sort of world-ending disaster just shy of Christmas (Mayan zombies?) 2013 will see the continued popularity of shows like The Walking Dead, as well as the release of Brad Pitt’s World War Z and the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The future may be uncertain, but one thing is clear: they are coming.

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