All the energy of the dead object and its last rites passes into the simulated resurrection of the living. ~Jean Baudrillard
What have we lost, that we are trying to regain with the now omnipresent images of the undead? What fears are we attempting to express or exorcize?
I speculated earlier here; but now the matter has come up in the House of Commons, perhaps a second look is in order.
Despite the pesky meme, zombies are not searching for brains. Perhaps just as well. Brains these days are not highly prized: superficial charm and its complement, brutality, rule the roost. One is all appearance, a play of signs; the other requires for its expression the speechless body, incarcerated, tortured or under surveillance.
But zombies are neither one nor the other; neither appearance nor the subjugated body. Zombies are free. They are shorn of discourse and its performance, liberated from the burden of consciousness. There is no particular drive to consume; in the absence of human flesh, they do not starve.
Weary of our unfreedom cloaked in the mask of liberty—the fetters of appearance on the one hand and the strictly governed body on the other—we resurrect in the figure of the zombie our own lost innocence. While the humans in The Walking Dead look for safe havens, kill the masses of undead with ease, all the while attempting to re-enact capitalist and patriarchal property relations in the face of impending doom (a belated shout-out here to misanthropic commenter Craig), the zombies walk, untroubled, unable to reflect and thus to care.
If we were to re-create the Garden of Eden, it would be populated by zombies. They seem horrific to us only because they threaten our sense of self and purpose, our demand for a “life to be lived” with all of the inherent suffering that we impose or have imposed upon us in our social relations. They literally challenge our raison d’être: The Walking Dead and various zombie flicks slyly pose a radical critique.
Zombies are innocent. And therein lies the stark horror of their representation.