Neuronarrative

Musings on the complicated business of thinking

Vampires vs Zombies: Who's Winning the War for the Recession Psyche?

Brain eaters or blood suckers - which is capturing our embattled imaginations?

Rounding the corner to Halloween, I have monsters on the brain. So many things in this world are uncertain, but the enduring charisma of monsters isn't one of them. You can depend on monster magic like you can depend on good coffee - it never let's you down when you need it. These days vampires and zombies are taking turns mauling our limbic systems. Just when one seems to be gaining cultural traction, the other claws right up to the bloody line. It's a neck sucking, brain munching race to be monster rex.

I'm of the opinion that the horror we appreciate most tends to mirror what's going on in our lives. Since we've been suffering the worst recesssion in nearly a century, makes sense that the monsters we gravitate toward will be projections of what we're feeling - and we haven't been feeling so great.

Which is what makes zombies the initially obvious pick as the monsters of our time. A lot of us feel like zombies - working ourselves into mindless nubs of barely recognizable humanity; brain numbed by catastrophic news; depressed by the absurdity of it all. Very zombie.

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Plus, consider the flexibility of the zombie: put them in a horror movie and they're the perfect fit. Put them in a satire and they're the perfect fit. You want to send a social message about humanity's inevitable collision with bad karma? Zombies are what you need. You want to populate the post-war/plague/asteroid/climate-change world? Zombies got your mojo. They're the clay of horrordom.

On the other hand, it's hard to shake our perennial lusty affair with the vampire. While the zombie may symbolize our pain and exhaustion, vampires offer the great escape. They're ethereal, powerful, charismatic. Though we know they're evil, we can't help ourselves - their otherworldliness is like a really good drug lifting us above the zombified world of stress and strife, consequences be damned.

And could there possibly be a monster with more staying power than the vampire? From young to old, people gorge themselves on vampire books, movies and TV shows like the idea of a blood drinking demon was just invented. I'm told that teenage girls aren't just still reading all of the Twilight books, they're re-reading them, sometimes three or four times over! HBO's series True Blood, which I admittedly like a lot, is on its way to Soprano-level popularity. And if you want to get people to your movie, put a vampire in it, or better yet a bunch of them. We never tire of their cunning wiles.

So which is it, the earthy representation of our angst, or devilish escape from what ails us? It could very well be a stalemate, but I'm going to call it anyway....

 

Vampire wins.

 

Why? Because when it comes right down to it, zombie love will only last so long. Eventually we'll pull out of our slump and reach something approaching stability again. At that point our passion for the decaying corpse will wane and we'll go back to just liking zombies. We'll always like our zombies.

But the vampire is the monster for all seasons. When we're hurting they offer a way out, and when we're feeling good they offer excitement. They're the ultimate manifestation of power and terror, a combination that's as enduring as emotion itself. Like it's namesake, vampire love just won't die.

David DiSalvo is a science and technology writer working at the intersection of cognition and culture.

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