Even though zombies have haunted our screens at least since the 1930s, they have featured particularly prominently in the cultural imagination of the 21st century. The Walking Dead (2010-) is one of the most successful television series of the recent years, others such as Z Nation (2014-2018) have followed; even Hollywood has jumped on the train of success with films such as World War Z (2013) and I Am Legend (2007). But what does the zombie mean? Which cultural functions does it fulfil? Why are we horrified by and, yet, also drawn to stories about flesh-eating undead corpses?
The zombie confronts us with our greatest fears and anxieties. Thus, the zombie has been read as a symbol of various 21st-century crises, fears, and anxieties. Some have argued that the mind- and will-less zombie should be read as a critique of Western consumer cultures. Others have pointed out that its decaying body represents our fear of disease (and pandemics) and constitutes a confrontation with human mortality and vulnerability. And some have argued that the post-apocalyptic setting of the zombie imagination reveals our dread of social and governmental collapse. Throughout the seminar we will discuss different theoretical concepts and ideas dealing with post-apocalyptic texts, the horror genre, and the Western zombie imagination as well as analyse various television series and films featuring zombies. We will explore why and how the zombie constitutes a site through which we negotiate cultural crises and anxieties, but also hopes.