How could a modern-day apocalyptic society function? Is there a true answer to this? Based on many accounts of what the media portrays as a “zombie apocalypse”, the answer would more than likely be no. One bite from a single mutant being could be the start of the end for most people. Society could never claim to be natural or normal after a breakout of an infectious virus. Panic would be seen within the people and their communities, riots and raids within the stores and markets, police forces fleeing from the scenes of brutal attacks for safety. Every role in society will be reconstructed to fit the new world being born. The human brain will enter a fight-or-flight mode where it has to adapt to its surroundings and cope with the trauma. This is not just in movies and does not just include zombies. Every day there is a new social construct being formed by a community or race of people. For example, after the attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center, the entire United States of America entered a patriotic state of mind where the American flag was a symbol of hope throughout the nation. “The period of intense national identification, uncertainty, and emotionalism that followed 9/11 created an unusual set of conditions to test the implications of different meanings of American identity in a meaningful context,” (Brewer and Li). One event changed the mindset of millions of Americans, and that was just on a large-scale basis.
What do zombie movies and how the society changes have anything to do with the modern world? In fact, these movies have an eye-opening impact on what happens to areas of the world when events with significant importance take place. A theory of how we perceive the world is called constructivism. L. David defines constructivism as, “…a paradigm or worldview posits that learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective.” Why is this important? This shows us that the way we perceive the world is influenced by the things around us. Constructivism allows us to understand how we are in the world, how we relate to others, what we regard as worth knowing, and how we can come to know and assist others to know (Tobin). We construct ideas of our own which transmit to the people around us. Eventually these things become known as “societal norms” and are commonly associated with our community. Learning to adapt and learn from the mistakes and situations around us allows us to gain knowledge on how to handle situations. Although we believe we are adapting to the world around us, it is also changing simultaneously. As J Shotter said, “We will never be able to gain complete mastery over all that is around us—it will always be able to surprise us, no matter how familiar to us it has become”. The more time spend around the flesh-eating zombies, the more they learn about the limits of themselves and the atmosphere around them. With constructivism, our roles in society can also shift. As we see in both Zombieland and I Am Legend, the survivors now had to become doctors, scientists, and every other occupation needed to stay alive. Not only were people put in positions they were uncomfortable with, they also had to learn that the use of the word “normal” was also shifting with the world around them. Of course, seeing a corpse being eaten by a zombie wouldn’t be the first thing one would want to see driving down the interstate, but that is what the new world around them has come with.
The first movie into focus is I Am Legend directed by Francis Lawrence. This is a tale of scientist Robert Neville who was a survivor in the apocalypse. Not only was he a survivor, but he also was working to find a cure for the plague. This virus started out as what news outlets called a “cure for cancer”. This miracle vaccine turned into a living nightmare among New York City and the rest of the world. He now lived in his own world where people didn’t exist, but the living dead were just around the corner. Unsure if there were any survivors alike himself, he sent an SOS call to check for fellow humans, the living of course (Ebert). This movie is not strongly portrayed by the dialog as much as the action behind the silence. Many scenes are filmed in complete silence, with the action filled with everything a viewer need. He now was in a world where what the modern-day people would consider a “societal normal” is now thrown out the window. We have no view of the stability of the social or economic status. We know not only that there are few left in the world, but also that everything had to be different. The governments of the people had backed down from their position and fled like the other citizens. We see no remains of an organized military to keep peace and order to the territory. Society had fallen, along with the many brave soldiers who stood their ground during the outbreak to hold off the zombies. Dr. Neville had to learn to live in a new society, where no trace of any step you would take could be left behind. He had to perfectly time when to shade the windows and be out of the open public. Signs of schizophrenic symptoms started to appear as he had to cope with the loss of everyday life and the people inside it. Dolls inside the markets became people with names and identities. A new way of life had taken over, the old was in the past and long forgotten.
Just like with Dr. Neville, we can also focus on Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland. Although this 2009 comedy doesn’t contain the seriousness of a zombie outbreak, it shares the same qualities of the changes in life as Lawrence’s I Am Legend. We are introduced to four main characters, whose names are coded by cities. Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock form a team to survive in an apocalyptic world. With not the most ideal conditions, these four have trouble working together for the greater good. Everyone seems to have an alternative motive in their mind they are working towards. Each character deemed different in their own way, from Tallahassee being a kick-ass zombie slayer to Columbus who is socially disabled, help contribute to the survival of the group through rules and alliance. In their world, they do not suffer from a huge lack of social normalities due to eventual human contact. Although most of the world is gone, there is more hope for survivors at camps around the much-depleted United States. Abandoned cities leave the perfect opportunity for the looting of the most desired valuables one could ask for. For Tallahassee, a Twinkie is the case for the most desired thing. With the world falling apart as time passes, each character has different sets of tragedies in thought. Columbus is worried about his relationship with Wichita. It seems now that time is slowing down, the little things do matter more than the big picture in life. Without law enforcement, there is nothing to stop this group from performing any certain action of any measure.
Understanding change can sometimes be difficult. Think of the characters whose world completely changes within the matter of weeks or months. They have to learn to adapt to a new society where survival is the number one thing in mind. Defending their selves along with the people around them becomes a high standard priority. One bite of a zombie begins to construct a new world for the people battling and fighting to survive. The world will continue to change, with or without zombies, and so will the people within it. The ideas and mindsets will differ wherever one finds their self. Just remember, everyone is different, with different views and backgrounds.
- Brewer, Marilynn and Qiong Li. 'What Does It Mean to Be an American? Patriotism, Nationalism, and American Identity After 9/11.' Political Psychology 25.5 (2004): 727-739.
- David, L. Constructivism. 20 June 2015. 15 November 2019. .
- Ebert, Roger. I Am Legend movie review & film summary (2007): Roger Ebert. 13 December 2007. Novermber 2019. .
- Shotter, J. 'Perceiving 'things' and 'objects' from within processes: Resolutions situated in practices.' Constructivist Foundations (2011): 24-26.
- Tobin, K. Key Works in Radical Constructivism. Rotterdam, 2007.