Zombies have been enjoying a heyday of late, but why are Americans so obsessed with the walking dead? One theory is that Westerners love zombies for the same reason Japan loves giant monsters: they represent technology gone awry.
James Turner, an editor for O'Reilly Media, claims that zombies share a kinship with Godzilla. His theory is that, just as Godzilla was inspired by the dropping of the atomic bomb, Western filmmakers (Romero aside) latched onto zombies in the wake of Three Mile Island, the recognition of AIDS, the Ebola outbreak, and similar medical and technological disasters. He goes on to posit that the increasing popularity of zombie movies involving a biological outbreak suggests a Western ambivalence toward biotechnology.
It's an interesting thought, though perhaps a bit reductive. Certainly zombies have been used to comment on biotechnology, but they've also been used to comment on a number of social issues, including consumerism, corporate greed, and the objectification of women. And what causes the zombie outbreak is often less important than what comes afterward. Still, Turner makes an interesting case that biotechnology-based zombies could evolve to more acutely reflect our biological and technological fears:
Blackberry-spawned abominations, anyone? Dawn of the Single-Payer Healthcare Undead? What about, They Came From H1N1?
He's far more convincing when he talks about the important differences between giant monsters and zombies, namely that it's the military and scientists who fight Godzilla, where zombies fall to resourceful and self-reliant survivors.
Americans must like the idea that, as out of control as our hubristic science might become, a good machete and a 12 gauge in the hands of a competent man or woman can always save the day. The 2003 bestselling title, The Zombie Survival Guide, offers the same message of self-reliance. (I'm not sure what lesson we can take from the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.)
A Brief History Of Zombies [Forbes]