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In seeking to explain the pervasive popularity of the zombie genre, talkers-about pop culture have long espoused the theory that tales of the unhappy undead catch on during times of national stress, usually of a military variety.
I bought that, as 2002’s 28 Days Later re-mainstreamed zombies between the U.S.-lead invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but zombies are still around, and more popular than ever. The argument could be made that they’re still here because we’re still stressed out and America is still engaged in the same wars we were fighting a decade ago , but then, hasn’t every single year of American history been stressful for the folks living in it? Haven’t we almost always been at war with someone somwhere?
So I’m developing my own theory. I think zombies are popular not necessarily as a psychological reflection of the common consumers anxiety about terrorism or immigration or mortality or economic decline or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United, but simply because the proliferation of cheap filmmaking and publishing technology and the hydra-like increase in media outlets makes it easier to make and transmit zombie products, and the astronomically more specialized consumer of the past decade means its easier to sustain popularity of particular genres. It’s now possible for almost any genre to become popular enough to be self-sustaining in today’s media environment.
For example, producers pitching Walking Dead to AMC in 2010 didn’t have to worry about mass appeal in the same way that a previous generations producers might have had if they pitched a Night of Living Dead series to NBC in 1985; if they get the people who participate in zombie walks and the comic book people and the horror people, that’s more than enough to tune-in and buy DVD collections.