What does every “zombie apocalypse” movie and TV show have in common (aside from zombies, of course)? The pretend reality in which every work of zombie fiction exists, there is one important aspect that would make a world of difference between their world and our real world. This aspect is the fact that, in those fictional worlds, there is no such thing as zombies in pop culture.
I’ll elaborate. Before the outbreak in “The Walking Dead”, Rick wasn’t sitting around every Sunday with his family watching a TV show about zombies. The night before that little girl ate Sarah Polley’s husband’s face in “Dawn of the Dead”, they weren’t cuddled up on the couch, taking in a good zombie flick. I could go on with the examples, but I think you get the picture.
In these fictional settings, nobody has heard of zombies. They haven’t been exposed to zombie-related entertainment for the last 45 years. They don’t know what they’re looking at when they first get exposed to a zombie. They don’t know how to react. They don’t know that you have to destroy a zombie’s brain. And they don’t know the extent to which society can crumble in a short amount of time after a zombie outbreak.
In the real world, we’ve been looking at people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse for decades. If we saw a zombie, we’d no doubt be in disbelief at what we were seeing, and suspect it to be some sort of joke or “zombie walk” or something. But after we saw a few people get their throats chewed out by something that looks suspiciously like what we’ve come to know as a zombie, we’d pretty much know what we were dealing with. In every movie and TV show, those people are 100% unfamiliar with what is happening. That means on every movie and show, they have to start from scratch trying to understand what’s going on and learn how to deal with the problem. Because we’ve been seeing it in popular culture over and over again, we have a HUGE leg up on any of our favorite fictional zombie movie survivors.
This all assumes, of course, that a real-life zombie outbreak would be pretty much along the same lines as any of the outbreaks in popular movies and TV shows. There are some variations between zombie behaviors across the different productions, but they’re mostly similar in the particularly important ways. If zombies acted completely different in real life, or couldn’t be killed in the same way, or were otherwise vastly different than they are on screen, this theory is pretty irrelevant. Then again, if real-life zombies were that much different, they wouldn’t exactly be zombies at all then, would they? This theory applies to zombies. If you were looking for a theory which covers things other than zombies, then you’re in the wrong place.
Let’s expand a little on why an outbreak wouldn’t be as bad in the real world. As I said, it all comes down to us being quite familiar, via pop culture, of what can happen and what we can do to survive. Right now, zombie entertainment is bigger in our culture than ever. People talk to great lengths about zombie survival scenarios. We spend countless hours by the water cooler (or whatever) talking about last week’s episode of “The Walking Dead”. survivalists run drills on zombie evasion and neutralization. Gun stores and survivalist supply companies sell special edition guns, ammo, and other supplies specifically geared towards fighting zombies (sure it’s meant as a novelty, but my point here is that zombie culture runs pretty deep in our society). Hell, some weirdos even start entire websites dedicated to the idea that a zombie apocalypse is entirely possible, and take precious time out of their busy lives to explain in ridiculous detail how you could try to survive such a thing.
Let’s say, in the real world, a small herd of zombies crops up and starts roaming the streets in some major U.S. city. Chances are that those zombies will be contained before anything close to an apocalypse can break out. Forty cops show up when one crackhead pulls out a gun someplace. Now imagine if it was something as serious as zombies. We’d have police, SWAT, and every armed American on full alert. If the situation did spiral into a pretty serious disaster, society in general would have some amount of foresight to quarantine the sick, barricade themselves indoors, arm themselves to the teeth, and/or take it upon themselves to start blasting anything that seemed to be a hungry zombie roaming the town. With our 24/7 news coverage, Facebook, Twitter, and everything else, it would be world-wide news in a matter of minutes if ONE single zombie actually turned up somewhere. In the movies, they have to make the characters completely unaware of zombies in order to make it a good movie about people surviving zombies.
I believe it would end pretty quickly in a standard zombie scenario. Think “Shaun of the Dead,” or even the “Night of the Living Dead”. It mostly affected one town or city. A bunch of people died, but within a couple days’ time the military and citizenry had the situation pretty well under control. The only real exception to my theory is if the zombies acted more like “28 Days Later” zombies, where they are infected within seconds of exposure and can move very fast. A much bigger population could be turned into an undead orgy in a short amount of time. Nevertheless, I think we would still contain it very quickly. Martial law would be declared, entire cities would be blockaded, and everything would suck for awhile until normalcy returned. But it would be a far stretch that things would so quickly devolve into a “The Walking Dead”, post-apocalyptic hell-scape.
Fanfare and fantasy aside, with the exception of actual undead corpses attacking people, just about everything involved with surviving a zombie outbreak would apply pretty laterally to any major WROL or SHTF/collapse of society-type scenario. You’re still going to need to find a safe place. You’re going to need to secure food, water, and weapons. You’re going to have to defend against marauders and cut-throats. So, it could (and will) be speculated that because of the zombie-survival fascination in entertainment these days, people are in general more aware of at least the very basics needed to survive if
society and key infrastructure crumble.