The cultural phenomenon is undeniable: vampire and zombie phantasmagoria is in its heyday, especially among Gen-Xers and younger. The dis-ensouled human form, both the high (the vampire) and the low (the zombie), has swept the nation in movies, TV shows, books, graphic novels, and even spoofs. The vampire has become the golden boy for the New Humanism, the zombie its greatest scapegoat. From a religious point of view, these modern tales of alienation happen to tell far more about the soul of the culture which situates them than the lack of soul within the individual zombie or vampire.
First, a brief caveat: I disclaim no inherent immorality appurtenant to the consumption of this sub-genre. I’ve viewed some of these films myself, of course. Zomb and vamp flicks are not themselves immoral or perfidious. Rather, they reflect the abiding lack of morals and good faith–the nutritive supplements of the psyche–of the generation which authors and cherishes them. These creatures reflect the soullessness, in a word, of the culture that has embraced them.
In a secular age, a dis-ensouled human form like a zombie or a vampire becomes a natural item of fascination for the class of young, urban metrosexuals which has been immersed from the cradle in the day’s agnosticism (more pervasively than the older generations, who experience cultural apostasy as something of a sea change, even as they affirm it). Both the vampire and the zombie lack souls and, as such, seek constantly to fabricate existential meaning for their lives, ex nihilo. But the zombie does so in a flatly insufficient manner, seeking the taste of brains alone.
The irreligious youth recognizes the facially unfulfilling nature of the zombie’s quest and presupposes instead the veracity of the vampiric creed, out of hand: the “person” is seen no longer as composite body and soul, but rather as body alone; soulless, the individual is no longer directed toward anything; existence becomes painful loneliness, as love has become eros and no longer caritas. Genuine human communion is thus impossible; one creates one’s own private meaning. And meaning is most lucratively created when done at the expense of others, save for an arbitrarily chosen beloved, who is set aside as sacrosanct. The vampire’s otherwise Hobbesian modus operandi is suspended–without an articulable reason–for his beloved.
Unfortunately, I have just described the weekend mood of the average nightclub attendee, across this land.
Recall what Whitehead wrote about scrutinizing an epoch for its truest self: “look not to its suppositions, but to its presuppositions.” In short, stories of the vampire and of the zombie really represent the new, secular, anti-Aristotelian De Anima, both poles of the ontology of desultory soullessness. They constitute the secularist’s credo on the soul: the quandary arises on account of mankind’s lack thereof.
To a post-theistic generation and its cosmos, the vampire represents all that remains a secular desideratum, being “beyond good and evil,” physically virile yet delicate, outwardly attractive, atheistically immortal, intelligent without acknowledgement of the intelligible barriers to total behavioral license (except for an occasional moral whim). Androgynous and yet still anthropomorphically alluring, the “modern vampire” is the re-vamped (pun definitely intended) Nietzschean übermensch, a “brute, blonde, if pale, beast.” He can basically do as he pleases, act decently or not.
And yet, for all his attributes, still he skulks and ever wrings his hands. This is the secularist’s version of humility. The vampire has postmodern angst. He’s “emo.” In short, he is everything the secular humanists hold dear and have striven after for two centuries.
Okay, but then why the zombie? What has that rube got going for him? He has no existential inner conflict like the vampire. He’s not smart. He’s not handsome. He doesn’t attempt to nurture even the selfish, erotic love of the vampire.
The zombie is the instantiation of the secular modernist’s cautionary example of…well, brainlessness: no personality, no conversational skills, no looks, no charm. Just pure will. The zombie is the vampire stripped of his humanist brain. The zombie is the vital, Schopenhauerian impulse a few centuries after the postmodernists put aside their dalliance with that Wagnerian strain of German idealism. However conflicted the postmodern movement might be as to the existence of objective scientific truth in the wake of the scientific skepticism of Rorty and Habermas, it nevertheless knows enough at least to extol the utilitarian (if not the metaphysical) aspects of the brain over those of the will. Even if postmodernism does so with a relativistic anti-scientism–a manner which ultimately lacks the realist basis requisite for rendering meaningful hierarchie–it knows enough to make the vampire appear more noble than the zombie in its tales.
And so, our entertainment culture serves up a meager two-item menu: be the vampire, or be the zombie. Feast either upon the lifeblood of man, leaving the outer shell intact and comely, or upon the brain which extricates him from mere animality, making him exceptional. There is no option outside this dichotomy. And the insinuated answer is clear enough: embrace the vampire’s rote aestheticism, eroticism, selfishness. Paganize the magisterial values like love, reason, beauty. Or else you’re just a brain-eating zombie.
What is most interesting, and most telling, in all this is that the postmodernist–whose agenda has always been advocating for pure materialism–eventually shuns the zombie as…too rotely materialistic!!
“Of course there is no truth, zombie,” the postmodernist says, “and so no basis for reality, love, morality. We all agree. But you at least ought to bother to make a show out of it. Like the vampire. Do as he’s done, and at least pick out some Christian values and secularize them. Weave them into your life. ‘Brand’ yourself: what flavor are you, zombie? We like your indiscriminate consumption–it makes our jobs here on network television rather easy–but you need some talk about love in your life, man. Pine over love. Deify it, and leave God out of the equation. Once in a while, try extolling brains for a few of their qualities aside from those of the palette, bro (but not too much–that quickly becomes ‘absolutism’). Show a little guilt for what you’ve done–not real, Christian remorse, where the will and the subsequent actions are converted–but enough to make it look like postmodern angst, like you’re brooding. Girls like it. Listen to a little emo. Grow a half-beard. When we rejected the Christian metaphysics, zombie, we thought you understood that we still wanted to lift from it its beatific aspects. Vampires understood us. You took us too literally and showed the world too starkly what it looks like absent the Christian ethic: they cannot be allowed to learn, zombie, that it is a world without an aesthetic.”
It is, in short, a world of heavily made-up, half-bearded eunuchs who populate our grotesque metropolises and suburbs, going about at night stumbling and mumbling about brains and sex, not understanding the basis by which both of these things should indeed be noble. Too many of our youth are zombies who are trying to be vampires, nothing besides: as bloodless as they are brainless. While it’s not the fault of the vamp-zomb genre itself, it is a sad fact that the genre has become a closer likeness to an anthropology than to a myth.
And that’s unsavory food for thought.