Read any review of the zombie movie genre, and you'll hear the same wanking crap about how zombies hold up a mirror to conformity and society. Shuffling, brain-dead automatons wander around, singular in purpose: consume. Oh no, the monsters were us all along!

Blah blah blah. Movie critics and film students have been spouting that garbage ever since George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which was specifically designed to hold up said mirror by setting the script in a shopping mall. The only trouble with that theory is that the movie-going public has obviously not been looking into the mirror because they still shuffle, brain-dead, into movie theaters to watch dreck starring Will Farrell or Adam Sandler. So, apparently, this has nothing to do with the actual public's attraction.

This little idea fits so well into the pretentious worldview of the over-educated that they continue to apply it regardless of the fact that Dawn of the Dead was the only zombie movie that it really applies to in any significant way. Most other zombie movies are about either:

  1. The breakdown of trust as people hide their infected wounds, compete for limited resources, and use the opportunity to grab power, or
  2. The irrational importance people place on bodies as characters find themselves reluctant to destroy the lifeless but dangerous shells of former friends and loved ones.

The real reason people like zombie movies is the same reason they like Rambo, or more recently, Frank Miller's 300. It's an adolescent power fantasy. Zombies aren't dangerous except in overwhelming numbers. Everyone who watches a zombie movie envisions himself grabbing a chainsaw or a cricket bat and going to town on a crowd of slow-moving targets with heads that split open suspiciously easily. As a nice bonus, there are no moral issues for our modern excessively Politically Correct society to wrestle with like there would be with dangerous animals or humans (even "evil" humans — oh dear, how do we know it's not just a big misunderstanding?).

The meme is unsurprisingly widespread. Witness The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, or e2's own How to Survive Against Zombies article. It's fun to plan for emergencies when the solution is so simple and straightforward, and involves an impregnable fortress and blunt weapons. Search any of the Internet's many free Flash game sites like Armor Games and you're sure to find a plethora of zombie survival games. It's a natural fit for video games, they all tend to be about incredibly powerful protagonists rampaging through an unending horde of mindless, easily killed enemies anyway.

The recent move toward fast zombies — which may have started with Return of the Living Dead (an unbelievably influential zombie movie considering how few people have actually seen it) but went mainstream with 28 Days Later — just upped the ante a little bit. Zombies are still only dangerous in overwhelming numbers, but the required numbers are a little smaller than they were before. They still drop like flies in the face of sustained automatic weapons fire since their only tactic is human wave.

For me, the final nail in the coffin of the conformity mirror theory was the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. I challenge anyone to find overtones of mindless living-human style conformity in the zombies in that movie... there are none. Unlike the original, where the zombies invaded the shopping mall not to find the survivors, but because it was a familiar and important place from their human lives, they're an uncomplicated horde of flesh-eating threats set against a plucky band of survivors and a convenient excuse for a blood-splattered gore-fest. And yet critics were still playing the conformity mirror card, robbing it of its last few threads of credibility.