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The Zombies Are Here and They’re Hungry… For Your Personal Finances

This article was written by in Personal Finance. 9 comments.

This is a guest article by Jeremy M. Simon, a reporter and columnist for 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 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.

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About the author

Jeremy M. Simon writes about credit scoring, economic data, credit card crime and other issues for He is a blogger at Taking Charge. Jeremy is a graduate of Vassar College and has previously worked for Thomson Financial in New York City, where he wrote about the stock markets. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Ceecee

I always heard it was the hemlines on dresses that reflected the economic conditions, but I think the monster idea is even more interesting. We had a zombie parade in NJ last Fall and thousands of people dressed the part and participated…..hmmmmm.

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avatar 2 Sarah

“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,”

I’m not really sure I believe that. I think it’s more likely someone does something well with that monster, and a lot of other copycats jump on board. For instance, I’d claim that there’s an interest in vampires going on right now that you can blame entirely on Twilight.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Hi, nimrodel, I think there is something to the theory. About three weeks ago NPR did a very nice piece with a similar theme called “Movie Mutants Give A Face To Our Nuclear Fears.” It detailed how postwar fears of nuclear fallout sired Godzilla and other movie monsters. The link on NPR’s website is
So I don’t think it’s just an interesting monster spawning an entourage of copycats (copymonsters?) — there’s something cultural or societal that makes the monster resonate with the public in the first place, and that something now is the econonomy.
(Disclosure: I’m one of Jeremy’s co-workers, and I think he has a lot of braaaaaaains!)

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avatar 4 skylog

nice entertaining post jeremy! i am not certain where i stand as the why this type of entertainment is hot right now, but there is no question it is everywhere. i think it could be both what is going on in society as well the copycat syndrome “nimrodel” speaks of above. either way, some good points, thank you!

as for me, it is not really my genre, but 28 days later is where it is at…

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avatar 5 tbork84

I think the zombie craze was gaining momentum before the economic downturn, but you do bring up a very interesting point about people and horror movies as an escape from some of the scary things in real life. Nice post.

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avatar 6 tigernicole86

I agree. Most of the zombie movies that came out were in the late 90’s early 2000’s. And it’s carried over to now but I can see where he’s going with this.

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avatar 7 shellye

Very interesting take on this country’s economic situation…

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Thanks for all the feedback!

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avatar 9 tigernicole86

They say with the zombie/vampire genres, these are about the fears/glamor of living undead. For the zombies, these are people who are literally falling apart and chasing brains before their bodies fall part. With the vampires, ie. the Cullens from Twilight, these are well to do individuals who always look good and are well educated and now they don’t *have* to drink human blood so they’re far more cuddly now. =P
But these could reflect the 2 ways in which we see finances in America.

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