The American Dream: A Call on Society’s Regression – a Zombie Metaphor

Posted by Jenah Colledge on March 18, 2016 in Blog tagged with , , ,
David Newton Photography

David Newton Photography

We live in a world that continually strives for a better way of living: successful growth and a peaceful community in which to live and raise a family. The figure of the zombie in literature is a reminder of the, at times, seemingly illusory goal of peace. Even beyond death, the human in its zombie form wanders aimlessly, causing damage and dread. We constantly and most passionately push the idea of loving each other and the person next to us. Yet, in the midst of broken promises, the desperate fight for power, results in gluttonous behaviour, which destroys societies throughout the world and turns them into objects of disdain. It forces us to question our society: is the world going backwards rather than evolving? Even the perceived bastions of propriety.

The monarchy has always suffered in-house deception, intrigue and scandal. Like zombies, betrayed Royals have spoken from the grave. They have demanded justice for their usurpation and, as a result, crime has begotten crime. The Royal families have endured multiple brawls, as even the most immediate relatives sought to destroy and deceive one another in the hope of attaining power. Wars took place against other countries and cities over ‘borders’ and the need to own land. However, in the release of their power over their own land back in 1215, the Royals gave way to constitutional law. Similar instances may have occurred in successive generations, but new structure took form, which only created more turmoil within societies, rather than declaring war to protect them. This behaviour, abhorrent to societal norms, war, terrorist attacks and racial discrimination, were all spoken of as necessary evils, which, if endured, would ultimately lead to social harmony.

The American Dream, an ideology created with the intention to give Americans the hope of attaining the unobtainable, encourages them to focus their gaze on the next rung of the socio-economic ladder. Ignoring the injustice they saw around them and if necessary, inflicting suffering on others all in the name of progress and competition. The American Dream may not be as spoken of in the same clear-cut way as it was in the 1940s, but similar ideologies have sprung up in its absence. Ideologies which encourage its adherents to ignore the suffering in front of their eyes, and instead, focus on their own personal gains which lie just out of sight. These fabricated, fallacious testimonies, which are shared through network television and news reports, have not benefitted society but created further segregation. The hate that arises from the desire for dominance in the capitalist market has replaced the antiquated monarchical model of feuding families, yet the similarities exist. Power is the goal. Human suffering is merely collateral damage.

Zombies represent this human selfishness in its most simple form. They are humans, but theirs is an existence dedicated to their own selfish needs. The desire to consume human flesh is their sole aim. They know not why they must consume, only that they must. They are beyond the hope of redemption because they have lost the ability to think or even communicate. The parallels are obvious between the zombie and those in society who now resort to the nine-inch screen whenever disputes arise. The zombie is the epitome of the conspicuous consumer, but he is also paradoxically, the victim. The zombie differs from the monarchical megalomaniacs mentioned earlier because he never achieves power. The numerous zombies are equal in servitude to their own primitive desires. Without understanding why, zombies and the victims of the American dream consume and prolong their own suffering.
In relation to the zombie culture theme Jenah Colledge, Director of Social Media with the University of Sunderland’s Spectral Visions, created an idea for a photoshoot based on Consumerism and Consumption, depicting a visual contrast of the American dream, a capitalist ethos and the decaying reality. The purpose of the photo shoot was to show a visual representation of the capitalist society we find ourselves in today and to show its horrifying reality.

The zombie metaphor poses the question, what is it to be human? Do we strive to build a community that unites rather than divides or do we look to a social Darwinian notion that rewards those most adroit at adapting to the perpetually changing world around them? While the zombie is the personification of capitalism and consumption, the human survivors portray the struggle that humanity inevitably has to endure in times of oppression, and they must redefine their social identity in a lawless society which places no value on social cohesion: without evolution, we will never prosper. In Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead the survivors live in small communities and they must continually adapt their societal ideologies as they learn to live in a post-apocalyptic world. The novels glide seamlessly from democracy and dictatorship to a Marxist notion of socialism and to a Darwinian notion of survival of those who are most capable of defending themselves from the threats they face. We follow Rick Grimes and his small group of survivors’ moral journey as they question their predisposed morality in a time of danger, where fear of death is all but a bite away. Kirkman, however, offers no solution to the question of how to rebuild a society fit for humanity. He instead offers a realistic portrayal, much like throughout our own cultural history of humans going through social change and working towards what they deem the most conducive environment for human development. One community, Alexandria, strives to live hidden from the horror of the reality that surrounds them. Their leader, Deanna, offers up a relatable community of law and order, taking in survivors in need of help and creating a pre-existing culture in a small isolated bubble which is only a fence fall away from the realities of the consummation surrounding them. Contrasting Alexandria is the community of Woodbury, where the Governor strives for a community of survivors through rule and conquer. His primary concern is the community’s survival at all cost, which is highlighted in his mindless murder of anyone who has something which benefits his society. This again highlights the ease with which society regresses to social Darwinism in times of great turmoil. Survival becomes the catalyst for every action and emotion. With fear as the driving force of survival can we argue that any of these communities are immoral? The governor, after all, was not a ruthless murdering tyrant before the apocalypse.

We could argue when we are faced with danger and adversity, much like in our own society fear is a driving force in our capitalist society. Fear of alienation, loss and not having what others do. If we don’t have what we ought, who is to blame? Many dividing lines in society have been drawn because of this question and the answers have been multifarious. Each contention by a scaremongering media exerting its influence on the masses every second of every day, resulting in mankind’s loss of unity, and we need to be united to survive.



MARX, K., ENGELS, F., MOORE, S., & MCLELLAN, D. (1992). The Communist manifesto. Ox-ford, Oxford University Press.

Marx, K Mandel, E (1976). Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 1 . London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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