Have you been on a zombie walk, or watched one? Last October I was lucky to have witnessed what is now an annual event, the Manchester Zombie Walk, where a thousand people assembled to shamble and moan and rattle chains through the city centre, and all to help raise money for a number of charities including The Big issue and Cash for Kids.
I thought I was lucky, because I wasn’t aware of how prevalent zombie walks have become, all over the world. Though many are spontaneous flash mob events or limited performance arts, most are organised well in advance, involving hundreds or more folk. For the uninitiated, the sight of participants in bloody, often gruesome (but often also impressive-looking) makeup shuffling and groaning, or calling for “brains”.
The earliest zombie walk on record was put together almost impulsively at the Gencon Gaming Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in August of 2000. The event was organised to poke good-natured fun at the Vampire LARPers that were taking over large portions of the convention, and disrupt their games. While it was rumoured that the organisers were arrested and thrown out of the convention for their activities, they were simply questioned by security before being told to disband.
The first event actually listed as a Zombie Walk was in October 2003 in Toronto, Ontario, organised by a local horror movie fan and consisted of only six participants. But like a zombie plague in the movies, the popularity grew, no doubt given momentum by the success of zombie movies in the public consciousness in the 2010s: SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the RESIDENT EVIL movies, the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, ZOMBIELAND and others. The handful of participants became scores, and then hundreds. And not just in North America, either: here in the UK, Argentina, Singapore, Russia… sometimes these are just harmless bits of fun, some highlight spoof political goals such as Zombie Rights, but others are for charity, such as the aforementioned Manchester Zombie Walk, as well as ways of shining lights on issues such as world hunger (and if you have to have a monster representing hunger, zombies are the way to go!). The largest gathering drew more than 4,000 participants at the New Jersey Zombie Walk in Asbury Park, in October 2010, according to Guinness World Records.
But is there something more to zombie walks than just a bit of fun and maybe charity? To English Professor Sarah Lauro of Clemson University, South Carolina, the phenomenon goes beyond being just a fad, and could reflect a rising societal dissatisfaction with the state of the world.
Though Professor Lauro is a self-described “chicken” and not a horror fan, she still participated, in an attempt to work out the various motivations driving people who took part.
She believes that the popularity of zombie walks is a reaction not only to the concurrent popularity of the undead in the media, but in a rise in dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.
“It was a way that the population was getting to exercise the fact that they felt like they hadn’t been listened to by the Bush administration,” Lauro has said. “Nobody really wanted that war, and yet we were going to war anyway.”
“We are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered. And the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. … Either playing dead themselves, or watching a show like THE WALKING DEAD provides a great variety of outlets for people.”
But, as Lauro has pointed out, the display of dissatisfaction isn’t always a conscious expression of that feeling of frustration. “If you were to ask the participants, I don’t think that all of them are very cognisant of what they’re saying when they put on the zombie makeup and participate,” she said. “To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”
So, what do you think, True Believers?
Article written by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien