The Zombie Apocalypse Metaphor Refuses to Die

On Thursday, FEMA became the latest U.S. government agency to act like a zombie apocalypse is a real thing, ensuring that this trope keeps coming back to life long after it's dead, just like a real zombie.

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On Thursday, FEMA became the latest U.S. government agency to act like a zombie apocalypse is a real thing, ensuring that this trope keeps coming back to life long after it's dead, just like a real zombie. The zombie apocalypse has emerged as the metaphor of the decade for all sorts of things, from emergency preparedness to estate planning, and for good reason: It's a catch-all for the end of humanity and an uninhabitable world, with none of the political ramifications of real scenarios like terrorism or global warming. As businesses, government agencies, and institutions race to apply the zombie apocalypse metaphor to whatever their specialty is, the metaphor is becoming a zombie in its own right, devoid of the spark of uniqueness, metaphorically eating brains. Still, it's useful enough it will probably be a long time before this thing dies for good. Let's take a look at how people are capitalizing on taking the zombie apocalypse seriously.

Government agencies: The Centers for Disease Control made headlines in 2011 by launching a preparedness campaign for the zombie apocalypse, urging people to stock up on water, clean clothes, blankets, documents, first aid gear, and so on. You know, the kind of stuff you'd need in any emergency. It was the perfect illustrative example for emergency preparedness with Walking Dead and Zombieland in the background, the big hits that had everybody chanting "braiiins." The agency got so enthusiastic about the campaign that by July, when people really were eating one another, it had to get serious and formally deny the existence of zombies to the Huffington Post. But the federal government isn't finished with the zombie apocalypse metaphor. This Thursday, in a seminar with FEMA's Citizen Corps organizers, "Emergency planners were encouraged to use the threat of zombies – the flesh-hungry, walking dead – to encourage citizens to prepare for disasters," the Associated Press reported.

Architects: Buildings play a big role in the zombie apocalypse. Don't forget that basically all of Dawn of the Dead takes place in a shopping mall. And the end-times metaphor holds true for the three-year-old Zombie Safe House competition, in which architects compete to design the best zombie-proof architecture. "A zombie-proof house needs to be secure—not only structurally strong but also with limited openings on its perimeter that are all closable, lockable and impenetrable," architect Warick Mihaly, who won this year's contest, explained to the Economist. "Plus it needs to be sustainable, create its own power and water, and be sacrificial—able to destroy itself and as many of the attacking zombies as possible while its inhabitants escape." They're not going to be building tracts of these, but we can imagine many of the principles making their way into the burgeoning Doomsday Preppers market.

Estate Planners: In the Iowa Law Review, an article by Adam Chodorow called Death and Taxes and Zombies explores how tax and estate law would affect the undead. Zombies exist in an undead state, a concept which is not actually possible, but bears some resemblance to someone alive in a vegetative state. "If someone in a vegetative state is alive, so are zombies. The case for zombies being deemed alive gets stronger as volition, ability, and personality increase," Chodorow wrote. He's making fun, but it's a new take on the conversation about when life ends and when death begins, and how those definitions affect finances.

Retailers: This is the group most inclined to make a buck off the zombie apocalypse. You can buy joke zombie survival kits online for less than $15, or very serious zombie survival kits, which are really just big collections of guns and survival gear, for thousands of dollars. One goes for $24,000 and includes gun-smithing equipment and medical research tools to search for a zombie cure. Obviously this is a clever way to get you to buy what CNET describes as "tactical wristwatch that stores ballistics data," which would otherwise be fairly useless to a civilian in pre-apocalyptic times. And it goes to show that the zombie apocalypse meme will continue lurching forward as long as it can be of use to those of us in the land of the living.

[Inset images, from top to bottom, via Associated Press, Zombie Safe House, and Optics Planet]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.