Marxism and the Zombie Apocalypse: Questioning the Desire for Destruction in Western Culture

Last summer I witnessed numerous construction vehicles tear apart the parking lot outside the restaurant I worked at. I remember standing transfixed, staring out the glass front doors, the scent of tar thick in the air. Giant mechanical monsters rolled over the mess that used to be flawless cement, scooping and digging and plowing. I was fascinated by the destruction. I wanted to see the entire commercial complex completely demolished.

I don’t believe I am unique in this fascination. There is a reason apocalyptic books, movies, and t.v. shows are so intensely popular. The question is whether Marxism has anything to do with it.

Marxism and Capitalism

I was first introduced to Marxism in a course last year at University. At the time, the only thing I knew about Marxism, or communism, was that it was bad. What I didn’t realize was that my view of communism was skewed: communism to me was equivalent to totalitarianism because of all the countries in history that claimed to be communist but were in reality corrupt.

Karl Marx

I soon learned that Marxism is a beautiful theory, but it is only that — a theory. Humans are greedy and imperfect, and until we lose these qualities, communism can never be effective. But the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels do provide an incredible and true critique of capitalism. I won’t go into explicit detail here because it would take hours to express the depth of their ideas, but I will point out the ways in which capitalism moves always toward destruction, and how Western culture appears to applaud this notion; but whether they are rooting for capitalism or Marxism is still unclear.

First of all, though capitalism continually claims to be bigger, better, faster, stronger, more beautiful, healthier, smarter, whatever, it is inherently self-destructive. Marx and Engels explain how in order for capitalism to appear eternally new (and to keep its customers buying), it must be destroying the old. Think of any kind of style and you will understand this concept, whether you realize it or not. The style of clothing, makeup, hair, home decor, books, movies, television, music,  and attitude, all fluctuate from year to year and sometimes even month to month. What was once seen as beautiful within a short time becomes ugly and is discarded to make way for the purchase of the new.

Capitalism is also self-destructive on a larger scale. In order to be true capitalism, it must be exploiting the lower class of workers, giving them just enough money to live and buy more of the capitalist’s product. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Eventually, argues Marx, the split between rich and poor will be so extreme that two things will happen: one, the poor will no longer be able to afford the products which the capitalists produce (and so they can no longer be exploited), and, two, the poor will become so fed up with the whole system that they will start a revolution. The idea is that Marxists don’t have to do anything to ‘defeat’ capitalism — they must simply sit back and watch society self-implode.

But, you’re probably wondering, how do zombies fit into all this? (Being a brain-washed, stimulant-obsessed Westerner, like I am myself, you are of course focused on the zombies.)

Zombies for Capitalism

The zombie apocalypse fad has cropped up in many venues of entertainment in the last few years, including movies, video games, books, and television. An especially popular t.v. show that I will use as an example here is “The Walking Dead.” The fact that the zombie apocalypse is a fad at all is an obvious sign of its capitalistic qualities. “The Walking Dead” in particular, as with other t.v. shows, appears to be a product of capitalism. The old is constantly discarded to make way for the new. Not only is a new episode released every week, replacing in importance the episode of the week before, but the actual plot of the series seems to be in continuous repetition, only with different settings and characters.

The main characters remain alive, but almost every side character is literally killed off to allow for new side characters who will stimulate the interest of the audience. Again and again the characters find themselves in a possible safe zone, where they can “make a home” and not be on the run from zombies every second of the day, until something wrecks their plans and a moaning hoard of zombies stumbles through their barriers, chasing them out to find another apparent safe zone or home (and, of course, killing off some side characters on the way).

It is a frustrating cycle, constantly keeping the audience on edge, with no possible conclusion in sight. The show is essentially a product to be sold. It functions in the same way an advertisement will draw a person in by shouting, “New and Improved!” when, really, something can’t be new and improved, and in fact the thing that is being advertised is never anything new. It is still just a table or a book or a mattress or a car, just as each death in “The Walking Dead” is still just another character getting their throat ripped out by a drooling zombie.

Zombies for Marxism

The way in which the zombie apocalypse supports Marxism is a little more in depth. To begin, the whole idea behind a zombie apocalypse is that the known world is utterly destroyed, and not only that, it is destroyed by its own people. This in many ways reflects Marx’s idea that capitalism will ruin itself.

An Image of Rick entering Atlanta, Georgia, in “The Walking Dead” Comic Book

The fact that people, and especially young people, are infatuated with this image of a demolished world is extremely contradictory. While they sit (and I myself am guilty of this) cozy and comfortable in their basements or living rooms before a glaring t.v. screen, entirely involved in the world of capitalism, they enjoy, more than anything else, to watch their world massacred and thrown into irreparable ruin. The most horrific and wonderful scenes are those that show from an eagle-eye point-of-view the wreckage of society. Empty highways stretch for miles, their ditches cluttered with crashed cars; shopping malls, grocery stores, and apartment buildings teem with the living dead like ants scattered around a sugar pile. Everything we love as traditional Westerners — movie theaters and bowling alleys and bars — are ransacked and destroyed, and somehow it is the most addictive and thrilling sight.

Does this suggest something about our unconscious desires for the world we inhabit? Do we have a dissatisfaction with our materialistic lives that the image of a zombie apocalypse somehow unearths from deep within us? There is definitely something terrifying, but also exciting and attractive, about the perfectly structured world we live in being thrown into complete disarray.

Another aspect to question is why zombies are the agents that destroy the world, and not something else. Why not aliens, werewolves, mummies, or vampires? Why not Satan himself, riding in on a flaming chariot?

It is because (and perhaps I am becoming too speculative now, but I will follow through anyway) zombies are a reflection of ourselves. In many ways, we live deadening and repetitive lives, wandering mindlessly from place to place, day to day, accomplishing nothing, just as Sisyphus rolls his boulder continually up the mountain in the underworld. In Western society, we have product after product thrown in our faces, but its always the same. Nothing ever changes. Could this battle between the survivors and the wandering dead, represented in a t.v. show of the zombie apocalypse, be in fact the inner struggle between a part of us that wants to break free, live, and survive, and another part that moves zombie-like through the days, unknowingly deadened by the constant stimulation and stress of a capitalistic society?

But, even if this is the case, even if t.v. shows like “The Walking Dead” represent a desire to destroy capitalism and overcome our dead selves, how does Marxism fit into the newly revolutionized and apocalyptic world? My answer is that communist societies seem to naturally appear within the zombie apocalypse, and especially in “The Walking Dead.”

Rick, from “The Walking Dead”

Small bands of people group together and work as a unit, sharing all food, shelter, duties, and possessions. A leader arises, as with Rick, in “The Walking Dead,” in just the way I believe a communist society would choose a leader — through his or her strength and wisdom. Though the leader makes many of the final decisions, every opinion is taken into consideration. But although the leader is in many ways in charge, he or she receives no special treatment. Each member of the group, whether he or she is liked or disliked, whether he or she has particularly useful skills or no skills at all, is given what he or she truly needs.

Also, in support of this theory, every leader that surfaces and attempts to overthrow the communist community is seen as bad, or the antagonist in the plot. Greedy and exploiting characters, such as Shane and the Governor in “The Walking Dead,” are an opposing threat, and are eventually defeated.

The communist society is the most ideal, and it is also the most natural. It works in a zombie apocalypse because the people actually need each other to survive, and because it only occurs on a small scale. For this reason the people within the society actually know and care for one another as human beings, rather than materials to be used in a business.

What do you think? Is there significance in the fact that people are attracted to the destruction of society and the integration of the communist community? Do you think the zombie apocalypse fad is more a reflection of capitalism or Marxism? Do you have any other theories as to why Western culture has such a desire for destruction?

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