Zombies are interesting monsters. Unlike vampires, werewolves, and a slew of other classic monsters who have a fairly limited symbolic range, zombies have come to stand for everything from conformity and consumerism to dangerous science and the military industrial complex. This versatility gives the storyteller a lot of allegorical latitude to tell both a compelling zombie survival story and interweave in their own opinions, theories, and pet causes in. Some do this quite subtly, others abuse the license to comic degrees.
Regardless, there’s fertile ground here for those of us who like to deconstruct pop-culture and seek out all the hidden undercurrents. Generation Zombie does just this in a collection of eighteen extremely literary essays that investigate a series of thought provoking topics across the full history and zombies in popular culture, in a variety of media.
An important note about Generation Zombie is that it is an academic level book. If you’re not used to this, prepare to ready close and possible occasionally reference a dictionary. It’s all worth it, of course, because this is the sort of detailed analysis you rarely see when it comes to something like zombies in popular culture. Being an academic book, each essay is also aggressively footnoted, which gives you a lot of reference points if you want to dive a little further into some of these subjects.
Generation Zombie primarily focuses on zombies in film, but it also examines radio, books, games, and even alternative reality experiences. It’s arranged roughly chronologically, with earlier essays dealing with The Magic Island and White Zombie, a book and film that were instrumental in introducing Americans to Haitian culture, voodoo, and the zombie. These seminal zombie works aren’t exactly culturally accurate or sensitive, but they do pave the way for the zombie to become an important fixture in popular culture.
With its Haitian roots firmly established, further essays plum the depths of more recent zombie works, with a great deal of attention paid to the films of George A Romero. As one would expect, Generation Zombie spills a good deal of ink on Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. These three films are, after all, as close to a zombie canon as we could want. What I was pleasantly surprised by, however, were the thoughtful breakdowns of Romero’s lesser works, like Diary of the Dead. While these films are not as well made, culturally relevant, or even entertaining to watch, they still prove to be very interesting in the hands of some skilled in deconstructing film.
While most of the essays in Generation Zombie hew close to familiar ground, several examine books and films that are only tangentially related. Some of these are very interesting, such as the examination of Day of the Triffids, while others seem a little out of place, like the essay on the cyberpunk classic Neuromancer.
Although many of the essays in Generation Zombie reference the same source material, each covers a distinct topic so that nothing feels like a retread. I will confess that I found some of these examinations to be a bit of a stretch, they were always fascinating approaches, even if they didn’t quite make their points as well as I would have liked.
If you don’t mind a little high level reading, and want to explore some rarely seen topics in the world of zombie popular culture, check out Generation Zombie. It’s extremely engaging and though provoking, even when some of the essays don’t quite hit their marks.