question of the day: Why are undead corpses dominating at the box office?

Today’s QOTD comes via David Sirota at AlterNet, who poses the idea not as a question — because he believes the knows the answer — but as a declarative: he knows why undead corpses dominating at the box office. Not surprisingly — since politics is Sirota’s purview — he thinks it has to do with the dread and hopelessness the current political climate inspires in us regular powerless folk:

On Wall Street, we have zombie executives — those who destroyed the economy but nonetheless kept their same jobs and now continue paying themselves huge bonuses. At the White House, President Obama hired zombie advisers whose zombie economic ideologies and records manufacturing recession conditions should have killed their careers, but who now sit in high government office letting out moans in support of the zombie banks.

If zombies specifically represent the apocalyptic downsides of immortalized mindlessness, then today’s zombie zeitgeist is not merely a result of scary quandaries created by stupidity. It is a reaction to both those problems and the sense that they can never be thwarted.

Here we are, a year after a financial implosion that should have driven a stake in the heart of free market fundamentalism. Here we are, a year after an election that was supposed to pour holy water on Wall Street vampires, exorcise the economy’s demons and challenge the ancient mummies of neoconservative foreign policy. Yet here we are, with virtually nothing changed, watching the same zombie crises indomitably stumble forward.

And so what do we do? We flee to entertainment venues that let us enjoy the campy thrill of confronting the undead — even though we’ve lost the ability to do that in real life.

Hmm… maybe. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that estimates of this weekend’s box office takings suggest that Zombieland dropped less than 40 percent in its second weekend. That less than two years ago, I Am Legend — which isn’t included, for some reason, on Box Office Mojo’s genre chart for zombie movies — grossed more than a quarter of a billion in North America. That the books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] and World War Z [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] (from Max Brooks, who also wrote The Zombie Survival Guide [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.]) are huge bestsellers.

Seriously: maybe it is a coincidence.

What do you think? Why are undead corpses dominating at the box office?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Mon, Oct 12, 2009 9:36am

I worry that it’s a feeling of superiority and identification with the zombie-bashers: at some subconscious level, movie-goers get the metaphor where the zombies are us, with our mindless jobs watching our mindless television and terrible Couples Retreat films, but they identify with the main characters who are smarter and better. They think they’re the ones who are going to get through World War Z because they’re somehow morally or intellectually better than the guy or gal in the next cubicle.

They want to be reminded of how stupid and worthless everyone else is, in short.

Or else they don’t even get the metaphor subconsciously, and they only watch for the reasons you worry about zombie movies in your Zombieland review, MAJ: morally unobjectionable, graphic human-bashing.

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 12:47pm

Why do some people always have to make everything political? Death has always both fascinated and terrified people. Why are murder mysteries in films, books, and TV so popular? Maybe Zombieland has done so well because it allows people to laugh at death, which is usually a powerful and frightening concept. Or maybe it’s just a funny movie.

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 5:18pm

While I sympathize with the disappointment in Obama’s administration, more mildly, I think Theseus is closer to the mark, certainly when describing the classic zombie movies. When I think of how closely America’s policies follow the policies of the British Empire during the decline, I marvel at the political imitation of lemmings.

However, some zombie movies are probably just there to provide the hero a target to shoot without guilt, sort of like robots in a SF movie (or even the GI Joe cartoons). But you can take my words with a grain of salt, since I’m not a big fan and only saw 2 or 3, and the one I liked was “Shawn of the Dead,” which very purposely fit into the first kind of movie.

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 5:54pm

It started as a gag of black humor and its been plodded and molted in to flat out house hold comedy, something of the vicinity that could event pick up good nielsen ratings on TV.

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 7:39pm

Sounds like Mr. Sirota is trying a little too hard to be “relevant.”