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The Walking Dead: the echo of history

The Walking Dead: the echo of history

Would we be afraid of a zombie apocalypse? What do we actually know about zombies and what is their role in modern culture?

It is still a phenomenon how the story on survival amidst the zombie apocalypse has reached such an incredible popularity in such peaceful and friendly society like ours. It is just a joke, so fans of the Haribo bears and fluffy puppies can wait for a while. The Walking Dead proved to be so popular that now it is considered the US TV’s highest-rated scripted serial ever shown. Its spin-off series, Fear Walking Dead, are the most expected premiere in the whole US cable television history.

A professor of Birkbeck University of London Roger Luckhurst says that zombies have roots in Voodoo folklore from the Caribbean.

We can find these horrible creatures in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932) and, surely, in a huge number of adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein. In some of them there are many references to the history of Haiti and the French Antilles in the Caribbean. These were French colonies where slavery flourished. As a result of an elaborate synthesis of various religions and cultures, we have got Voodoo in Haiti, Santeria in Cuba and Obeah in Jamaica. Supposedly, the word ‘zombie’ derives from West African languages and means “corps”, “spirit of a dead man”.

In effect, the zombie is the consequence of being a slave.

After the people of Haiti overthrew their masters in 1791, the first independent black republic quickly became demonized by the European powers that viewed the republic as an affront and a threat to European interests. Consequently, the image of Haiti in Europe was one of black magic, human sacrifice and cannibalism.

The image of zombie, or Voodoo, was actively used by many American filmmakers. In the 1920s and 30s, the time of American occupation of Haiti, there were a lot of tales of not immaterial specters, but rotting corpses who climb out of their graves.

The Walking Dead also partially consists of those tales. Let’s just remember the survivors who are passing through the abandoned Georgian landscape, The exact place where slaves used to work on plantations.

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