There are many different takes on how zombies are created, depending on the source. Traditionally, it was believed that zombies were created thanks to someone practicing Voodoo and using it to raise corpses from the dead. In reality, corpses raising from the dead was because they weren't really dead - simply in a coma-like state. In modern times, some still say that this is the case, and so in the media there are cases involving zombie lords of some kind controlling hordes of zombies.

In probably the most popular series of zombie horror movies - both versions of Night of the Living Dead, the original Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead by George A. Romero - zombies are primarily created thanks to attacks on humans, in which the humans are bitten. Once bitten (it was also hinted that even a simple scratch from a zombie would have the same effect), it seems that the infection which creates zombies is passed on, and the infection slowly begins to weaken the human to the point of death, or possibly the damage done by the zombie was enough to cause death normally. Once dead, presumably the same virus re-animates the corpse and a new zombie is created. It also seems from these films that zombies can be created from a person dying normally (unless they die from head damage). This suggests that the initial zombie outbreaks were due to corpses being re-animated.

The new Dawn of the Dead makes the cause of zombification exclusively the passing on of an infection from a zombie to a human, removing the more supernatural aspect of zombification. Zombification also seems to slow or completely stop the decay of flesh, which would suggest that zombies could continue to operate for years after death. Other sources have zombification being as a result of toxic waste, virii, etc., which can be spread in various ways. The popular Resident Evil series of games has an artificial virus creating zombies, for example.

Zombification is the word used to describe the process of creating a zombie. This word, constructed from a Haitian root and a Latin suffix, has been literally applied to situations in which the re-animation of a dead process or animal is observed and metaphorically applied to a variety of persons accused of mindlessness or those exhibiting more malevolent herd behavior than that of lemmings. More important perhaps than the process of making a zombie, which is either the subject of ethnography or fictional writing, is the application of this word to contemporary social issues.

According to Wade Davis’ book Passage of Darkness: the Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, the process of creating a zombie involves cultural indoctrination and drugs. His work Passage of Darkness, which is more academically rigorous than his earlier The Serpent and the Rainbow, spends most of its time defining the ethnographic place of zombies. In an intentionally broad statement in his introduction, he suggests that zombification can be generalized to describe any "form of social sanction imposed by recognized corporate bodies". In this sense, zombification could describe the process by which prison labor is used to mint license plates or perform telemarketing.

Andrei Codrescu's book Zombification is a collection of his editorials from NPR's All Things Considered from 1989-93. In two separate essays he uses the word to illustrate different ideas. In the foreword to the collection, he suggests that television media leads to desensitization from overexposure to images of suffering and persecution, and a feeling of powerlessness. However in the title essay, he applies the word as a synonym for "programming" in a brief discussion of the masses that unquestioningly receive their thoughts from call-in radio and political entertainment shows.

In the pulp fictions of the 1920s, which established zombies as the mindless undead thirsting for brains, zombification was a mysterious process based on ill-understood superstition or science. As popular entertainment progressed into moving pictures, the cause of zombification was variously ascribed to any leading scientific or pseudo-scientific issue: Tesla coils, comet tails, population crisis in the afterlife, toxic waste, native American spirits, the senior prom, unexplained infectious disease, viruses, rogue amateur neurologists, and alien infestation. It is of course questionable whether or not any particular explanation contributes to the entertainment of a movie or story or game. A poorly expostulated process can often provide a plot loophole and thereby a solution to the whole problem. Not unlike a missile shield.

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