Today, the public discuss zombies as part of the popular culture, although during the decades, these creatures were associated only with frightening religious practices typical for the African and Caribbean cultures and traditions. That is why, now zombies are the topic for the active discussion in different cultural, social, and religious fields. If the persons interested in horror films and video games discuss zombies as made-up creatures, the followers of the Voodoo religion state that zombies are the part of their reality as witches and different evil spirits. Thus, although the concept of ‘zombie’ is discussed by the adherents of the Voodoo religion as reflecting the real creatures, zombies are made up mythical creatures which represent the people’s religious visions, fears of the death and abuse, and the aspects of the people’s opinion on such a type of social relations as slavery.
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Zombies are usually defined as the revived corpses which move and act because of the use of magical means. Following the traditional presentation of zombies in films and video games, it is possible to note that “zombies do not think or speak – they simply act, relying on purely physical manifestations of terror” (Bishop 197). As a result, modern filmmakers rely on the concept of ‘zombie’ to create an effective horror film to evoke the audience’s fears. Today, zombies, as made-up creatures, play a significant role in the popular culture, and the history of the word ‘zombie’ can demonstrate the development of the people’s attitude to the concept. The word ‘zombie’ comes from the Kimbundu term meaning ‘the ghost,’ and it appears in the Creole language with the spread of the slave trade. In this case, the word ‘zombie’ means the mindless labor force (Bishop 197). The modern connotations of the word ‘zombie’ are numerous because this concept is used to discuss the part of the Voodoo religion, the monsters depicted in the media, and the tired persons who act automatically. Thus, the word ‘zombie’ does not reflect the real creatures which eat humans, but this made-up concept describes the set of features typical for mindless and ill persons as well as for slaves.
From this point, the concept of ‘zombie’ has changed significantly because modern meanings of the word have few similarities with the traditional visions. The word ‘zombie’ became actively used in the 18th century to represent the slaves and the nature of the power relations in the Haitian culture (Murphy 53). Furthermore, the word described the spirits of dead persons who could act as slaves after the revival of their corpses as a result of the Voodoo priests’ actions. The myth of zombies based on the idea of the mindless slavery formed quickly, and more details were added to this vision. For instance, in the Haitian myth, a zombie was “a person bodily raised from the grave and turned into a slave worker” (McAlister 459).
As a slave worker, a zombie had few chances to become free. Thus, “the zombie breaks the master’s spell when it ingests salt and can die, once again, but this time free” (Murphy 53). In other situations, zombies as the revived corpses remain to be traumatized and mindless creatures punished for leaving their owners. If the myth of zombies contributed to the development of slavery and power relations in the Haitian culture two centuries ago, today this myth is revised and presented in the horror films in the form of the cannibalistic walking dead.
Modern zombies are only the symbolic representations of the people’s fears of dead persons, corpses, and spirits. Literature cannot be discussed as the source of information about zombies because of their nature, and the public develops its knowledge of zombies mainly referring to films and video games because the visual media develop the zombie idea more effectively. The zombie depicted in films is the mystical walking dead, the monster which eats people and can be controlled only with the help of magical means (Bishop 197). Thus, modern zombies as the symbolic structures developed from the Voodoo religious vision are not real, but they are the reflections of powerful myths manipulating the people’s fears. From this perspective, a zombie today is “a ghoul who lumbers around trying to eat people” (McAlister 460).
George Romero focused on depicting zombies in his films in the 1960s, and the era of ‘zombification’ started. More zombie films are produced each decade, and the popularity of this theme in films even influenced literature, and the parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became the bestseller (McAlister 460). Today, ‘zombie’ is the popular concept actively used in different types of zombie-themed images and captions spread in the media, including social networks and newspapers. Thus, focusing on zombies, filmmakers, and journalists follow the trend, but these zombies are only symbolic images to represent the cannibalistic corpses.
However, many researchers support the idea that zombies are real because, in the Haitian culture and Voodoo religion, priests can use different substances to make people become zombies. Thus, according to these views, zombification can be discussed as the result of pharmacology and the Voodoo priests’ use of powerful neurotoxins (Bishop 197). Nevertheless, the experiments and surveys cannot prove the presented hypotheses, and the secret of the Haitian zombies remains to be unsolved. People are inclined to focus more on the promotion of the traditional vision of zombies used in the horror films, and these zombies are only symbolic monsters and mystical images which differ significantly from the original vision of zombies as slaves. From this point, the concept of ‘zombie’ traditionally reflects the unequal nature of the slavery institution with references to the mystical explanations. As a result, zombies are only part of the cultural and religious myth.
Although the idea of zombies is actively manipulated in the Haitian culture, zombies are real only in people’s fantasies and myths. That is why, the made-up zombies depicted in films and video games are not associated with the Haitian culture, and only the followers of the Voodoo religion are fearful of being punished for becoming a zombie. Nevertheless, researchers cannot provide reliable evidence to prove the fact that people can be turned in zombies. That is why zombies can be discussed only as of the products of the human minds and imagination, which became popular because of their intriguing nature. From this point, the notion of ‘zombie’ is usually not discussed as reflecting the real creature because of the idea’s complex mystical and symbolic nature. Thus, modern zombies are only monsters depicted in visual media.
Bishop, Kyle. “Raising the Dead”. Journal of Popular Film and Television 33.4 (2006): 196-205. Print.
McAlister, Elizabeth. “Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies”. Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 (2012): 457–486. Print.
Murphy, Kieran. “White Zombie”. Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 15.1 (2011): 47-55. Print.