Why The Zombie Craze Still Has Our Undying Affection Disney Channel's new high school zombie musical; The Walking Dead's ratings reign; the buzz for the new book Dread Nation: In pop culture, the undead persist after our brains.
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Why The Zombie Craze Still Has Our Undying Affection

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Why The Zombie Craze Still Has Our Undying Affection

Why The Zombie Craze Still Has Our Undying Affection

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

OK. Serious question - now, why are we still so obsessed with zombies?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAMM")

MILO MANHEIM: (Rapping) Welcome to Zombieland. It's a party. Go ahead. Everybody dance. Do the draggy leg...

SIMON: Zombies have been shambling along for at least a decade - books, movies, TV shows, including the biggest basic cable hit in history. "The Walking Dead's" midseason premiere comes up next weekend. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us that zombies show every sign of continuing to eat and occupy our brains.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: You know the zombie apocalypse has hit a new cultural benchmark when a teenage heartthrob zombie on the Disney Channel starts dating a perky cheerleader.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOMBIES")

MEG DONNELLY: (As Addison) My parents have always taught me that zombies are disgusting, dead-eyed freaks, but you're not hideous at all.

ULABY: The Disney movie "Zombies" premiered last night. It's the second "Romeo and Juliet" zombie romance to come out in recent years. Bringing zombies into Disney, such a tightly controlled brand, was a challenge for Joseph Raso, one of the movie's co-writers.

JOSEPH RASO: The biggest thing we thought was going to be a problem is, like, brains - that zombies want to eat brains. And we were going to, like, put our flagpole on that. Like, zombies need to eat brains. That's just, like, part of the lore. It's so important. And Disney was like, of course, they have to eat brains.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZOMBIES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Son, try this - brains in a can.

ULABY: Disney wouldn't let its zombies really eat brains. The canned brains are vegan substitutes. Disney's a bit late to the zombie party. And around 10 more zombie films for grown-ups are supposed to come out this year, including next week's "The Cured" starring Ellen Page.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE CURED")

ELLEN PAGE: (As Abbie) There's so much chaos after the outbreak.

ULABY: Why won't the zombie trend just die? I asked pre-eminent zombie scholar Sarah Juliet Lauro. She published her first academic paper on zombies more than a decade ago.

SARAH JULIET LAURO: I never, never thought that 10 years later, the zombie would still be going so strong.

ULABY: Back in 2007, Lauro made sense of the zombie craze by thinking of it through the economic meltdown, how zombies reflected our insecurities, our helplessness, our fragile safety net. Then when President Obama got elected, she saw a kind of cultural backlash in the form of "The Walking Dead."

LAURO: Which has this sort of end-of-government fantasy where everybody's just on their own - and it really makes sense that you always had a gun in your basement because now you really need it. And you have redneck characters who are heroes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

ANDREW LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) I'm keeping this group together - alive.

ULABY: The audience for "The Walking Dead" has fallen from its record-setting peak of a few years ago, but it still counts as a monster hit. Its spinoff "Fear Of The Walking Dead" starts its fourth season this spring. And "The Walking Dead" still resonates.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

LINCOLN: (As Rick Grimes) This isn't a democracy anymore.

ULABY: Nor is the world of publishing, feeling zombie fatigue with such high-profile bestsellers as "Pride And Prejudice And Zombies." Author Justina Ireland has her own historical zombie novel coming out in April and a theory about why they stay so popular.

JUSTINE IRELAND: Every day is a new and terrible terror, like, coming at you from the news. And it's just nonstop. I think people are feeling overwhelmed. And I think that's a great metaphor for a zombie invasion, right? Like, that is the iconic scene of a zombie - is the hoard coming to overwhelm a town or a mall or, like, the handful of survivors.

ULABY: Ireland would like to see more stories about zombies rooted in their actual mythology in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Haitian tales of the undead working in the canefields are part of its history of oppression and revolution. Ireland's book is set during the U.S. Civil War. It's called "Dread Nation."

IRELAND: The zombies really represent this idea of slavery and how we never really addressed it.

ULABY: Yet it keeps rising up at our American unconscious, much like zombies rising from the dead, Ireland says. As for zombies' usefulness as metaphors...

IRELAND: Zombies are just really freaking cool. And so it's really easy to talk about very difficult subjects when you just have this really cool, neat thing as the apparatus.

ULABY: So it may be quite a while longer, Ireland says, until zombies as pop culture phenomena have been done to death.

IRELAND: Or undeath (laughter).

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RE: YOUR BRAINS")

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: (Singing) All we want to do is eat your brains. We're not unreasonable. I mean, no one's going to eat your eyes.

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