The Blog

Zombie Lite - A New Type Of Hero For Our (Near) Apocalyptic Times

Ian McDonnell via Getty Images

What's with all these half-zombies on our TV screens? For example, The Returned, a television drama featuring a remote French town where, one day, the dead start to return. This slow moving drama has also been remade for American television, this time titled Resurrection. The zombies in these programmes are apparently normal people who seem as puzzled as the living to find themselves back in the world. They are not rampaging through the town, ripping out people's throats. Nor is the star of new the new US comedy iZombie, featuring a detective with a zombie sidekick. And neither are monsters in the BBC series from 2013 called In The Fleshabout a world of rehabilitated zombies. They just kind of hang around, making everyone feel unsettled.

I have been trying to make sense of the fad for this new breed of the undead, cohabiting with normal society. Why are they appearing now, in such great numbers? I have come to the conclusion that these creatures are an embodiment of our climate crisis - they are a response to a past that has come to haunt humanity, uninvited, and won't leave. The past in question is embodied in the ever rising levels of carbon dioxide collecting in the atmosphere. It is as though the whole of biological life, all that ever lived has - having been combusted and turned into gas - turned up at our collective door, and refuses to go away. Instead, this uninvited guest just hangs about like one huge buzzkill. The full force of the reckoning represented by this echo of the dead is yet to be revealed. Like the angry and sullen parent, storing up some unknown punishment to be expressed at some unbidden time, we await in quiet terror for the inevitable storm.

And we can sense the storm is brewing. As the elderly priest remarks to his travelling companion in Graham Greene's last book - nothing feels safe anymore. Rising global temperatures, acidifying oceans, storms and what have you. It's all there, waiting on the doorstep and outside the window. Except, when we look outside, it all seems kind of normal - crazily warm autumns, springs and winters not withstanding. Yet this normality is impregnated with a particular tension; whatever the weather today, it is difficult to escape the sense that all is not as it once was. The scene outside is imprinted with the past. We know about explosions of methane from the thawing tundra blowing open huge craters in Siberia. Hundreds dying in India from unprecedented heat waves. Seemingly endless drought in California, Arctic ice disappearing before our very eyes. And so we wait, wondering when our time will come, how long until the next weather extreme. This new weather is history taking a form that can poses a far greater threat to our well being than a banking crisis or austerity could ever muster.

This is one problem money can't solve, much like you can't buy off the zombies. The system which has brought pleasure, convenience and privilege for many in the West has embedded within it the seeds of its own destruction. Our neo-liberal way of life is built on administering problems through the medium of money. We now have to find a way to administer a threatening and inescapable past through a means other than that of money. And of course, that simply isn't possible under neo-liberalism. But nothing is quite bad enough yet to cause people to organise and pressure for an alternative. So in the meantime we shuffle around in our normal daily lives, like half-zombies, while our leaders desperately try to buy our way out of the problem, and all the while the clouds, the wind, the rain, are returning to us the whispered portent of a reckoning with our past.