Exactly when did we start wanting sexy zombies? It seems to go against most of our undead inclinations when most of us crave carnage and those quintessential zombie tropes we all know and love (yes, let’s change that radio station right as the news report starts). But there has been an undeniable trend in recent zombie media to distance the zombie from its abject horror roots into something more . . . desirable.
When I was asked to give a TEDx Talk, I knew I would have to talk about my monster studies specialty in some way. Originally, I wanted to look at vampires, the “old faithful” of the monster world. But these new, sexy zombies grabbed my attention. Since most people won’t talk about them with me, I chose to talk at them instead. Tracing the origins of monster tales from their morbid beginnings, I bring the conversation towards our contemporary, collective need to make our monsters sexy. Though Anne Rice started us down this path with her sultry vamps, narratives like Warm Bodies and iZombie keep propelling us towards the sexy zombies we see today.
Why is this happening? What does it say about us as a modern (American) cultural body? Monsters always function to represent something—what that something is can often be up for debate depending on how good you are at arguing. We know the zombies of traditional texts—be they visual or otherwise—represent fears of colonization, infiltration, capitalism, nuclear devastation, etc.; the list goes on. But if these zombies look different, think different (in that they think about stuff beyond their next meal), and live differently, what in the world could they possibly represent?
Whether or not the “sexy zombie” trend is here to stay is up for debate. But there is no denying that they are, indeed, here. I hope my TEDx Talk can start some kind of conversation about why we made our zombies sexy, if this is a sustainable part of zombie canon, and how it impacts the zombies that came before it. Feel free to engage in a conversation with me on Twitter @zombieacademic.
Ashley Szanter has an MA in English and is an adjunct instructor teaching college composition at Weber State University. Her research deals in cultural monsters, monstrosity, and nineteenth-century monster fiction.