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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Gena Bigler: Fictional fear of zombies helps channel our real fear of economic collapse

On the surface, zombies and the economy have little in common. Recently, however, the financial world has been pretty scary.
The economic crash that began in 2006 is still rippling through our daily lives and through our entertainment. If you take a quick survey of current pop culture, you will find zombies and lots of them.
What do zombies and the economy have in common? Fear.
With reality so scary, one might think that horror entertainment would not be so popular. The scarier real life is, the more we need a place to direct that fear. Zombies, while scary, are also slow and somewhat absurd. The fear of being eaten by a zombie is pretty easy to brush off when the silver screen grows dark.
The fear of worldwide economic collapse is not so easy to shake off. Since the devastation of 9/11, Americans have lived their daily lives with the constant presence of fear. The ensuing years of frequently changing ‘threat level warnings’ have taken their toll on us all, as has the very real economic decline and mass unemployment of recent history. Fear has become a habit. Zombies allow us a safe outlet for that pent-up unspeakable fear.
In an age of global economics, what happens in Greece impacts what happens on the other side of the world. The downshift in the U.S. economy, the real estate collapse and the unprecedented government bailouts of ‘too big to fail’ companies all shake the foundation of financial confidence.
Contrast our economic reality with the post apocalyptic world of most zombie fiction. In zombie fiction, it is easy to know who the bad guy is and what you have to do to survive. In our world of capitalism, economic collapse is much, much scarier. There is no one bad guy to overcome and survival is not cut and dried.
Chronic unemployment is much more daunting than a herd of slow moving zombies.
Our intrigue is also piqued by real life ‘preppers’ or people who are actively preparing for doomsday events. There are multiple reality shows that focus on the topic. Some profile preppers and provide survival tips for viewers. The people they are profiling are not wearing tin foil hats and hiding out in the middle of nowhere; they are normal everyday people who just happen to have a stock pile of food in their basement for doomsday.
Horror is hot because it allows us to express our fear in socially acceptable and controlled ways. We don’t have to face the very real monsters of everyday life, but can point to the fiction of zombies and safely release the built-up tension of everyday fear.
Zombies also quite literally represent a loss of self and as America watches the value of our dollar fall across the world, we are suffering a collective loss of our national identity that we have yet to accept. We are not the superpower we used to be and we, as a nation, need to accept the fact that, like the rest of the world, we are changing. Just as our grandparents thrived in spite of the Great Depression, we must find a way to thrive in spite of the Recession.
From The Walking Dead to World War Z, zombies are helping us escape from our daily fears. We joke with our friends about ‘zombie survival teams’ and reassure each other that we are willing to look out for each other.
The topic may be zombies, but the reality is shared fear and shared support. As our economy improves, I expect we will see fewer zombies but for now, pass the popcorn; The Walking Dead starts soon.


Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.



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