This is a guest article by Jeremy M. Simon, a reporter and columnist for CreditCards.com. He is a blogger at Taking Charge.
They’re lumbering toward you, their eyes dead and arms outstretched. And they’re hungry.
No, personal finance readers, I’m not talking about debt collectors: I’m talking about zombies, which over the past several years have latched their cold fingers onto the cultural consciousness and refused to let go. Turn on the TV (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”), open a book (“The Zombie Survival Guide”) or visit a movie theater (“Zombieland”) and it’s nearly impossible to escape them.
But when we switch off the show, close the book or walk outside, we’re confronted with an economic reality that’s every bit as scary: Look around and you can’t avoid seeing the ravages of unemployment, foreclosures and debt. Like the remaining survivors of a zombie apocalypse, the recession may be over, but we’re left to face wave after wave of personal finance challenges that threaten to devour our savings. “It may be just coincidence that interest in zombie films seems to blossom during periods of economic downturn, but I think it’s something worth examining,” Jake Yuzna, curator of the “Zombo Italiano” film series, says in an interview on the Rue Morgue blog.
Experts say there is a connection. “Any time a monster rises to cultural prominence, it is because it does a good job of tapping into and exploring some specific anxieties and fears of its audience,” says Glenn Jellenik, a University of South Carolina professor who teaches a course the horror film genre.
“It’s the same with zombies,” Jellenik says. “They tap into something going on in the culture — they are able to capture or make us feel something we’re afraid of.”
Although Jellenik says it’s not clear exactly what the current crop of undead represents, he says in zombie films and books, the living dead typically embody our external fears. While things may seem fine (for now), everything changes after the zombie apocalypse. Very quickly, a new reality takes shape: A zombie horde wants to eat our brains — and, in an acknowledgment that humanity has lost control, all we can do is react.
That’s why zombies are the perfect monster for our economically challenging times.
“We’re brought down, in a grisly manner, through contagion, by our neighbors,” Jellenik says. “There’s this huge causal chain of failures, but in the end, it’s simple — someone’s going to eat your brains (drain your retirement account) and you’ll become one of them.”
In the case of both a zombie attack and financial meltdown, it pays to be prepared. When it comes to zombies, as Wired.com helpfully points out, “You are basically trying to stay alive and get to a place of safety, as there are likely to be far too many for you to defeat them.” The survivors are likely to be those who stockpile supplies, arm themselves, and aim for the zombies’ brains.
Back in the real world, there appears to be a similar focus on preparing for personal financial challenges — spending less, saving more and becoming self-sufficient. So can we learn something from zombie films? “I think you’re on to something — the texts do seem to be rehearsing methods of preparation and survival,” Jellenik says.
But don’t limit your preparedness studies to zombie films. “You could also look to post-apocalypse movies for examples of super-duper preparers/survivors,” Jellenik says in an email, mentioning films like “The Road” and “The Book of Eli.” These movies involve survivors fleeing cannibals rather than zombies. However, “Their ability to prepare for the worst and provide for themselves is even more impressive, since they’re competing with those cannibals for scarce resources (one of the definitions of capitalism), rather than fleeing mindless brain-eaters,” he says.
Published or updated April 20, 2011.