The current political debate may seem like it's about jobs, taxes, and the national debt. But what Americans are really experiencing is a philosophical crisis involving the middle class, said Stephen Shapiro, a professor of English at the University of Warwick in Britain. The crisis is revealed, he said, in the zombie film craze.
Much like the giant-monster films of the 1950's — Godzilla, for example — reflected fears and concerns about the atomic bomb, zombie films tap into Americans' fears about the socioeconomic changes they're experiencing, Shapiro said.
During a recent lecture at Nazareth College, Shapiro said that genre films often fill an informative role that other media formats either can't or won't. The films don't mirror reality, he said, and they're not an interpretation of what lurks just below the surface. They instead allow people to experience what their emotional responses might be to something extremely disturbing, a kind of horror.
"They tell us there is a crisis in the background," Shapiro said.
In this instance, the American middle class is the living dead.
The middle class is struggling because it's being drained of assets, Shapiro said. Rapidly rising costs of health care, higher education, and housing have converged to levels that are increasingly out of reach for many middle-class families, he said.
This is not what most Americans were expecting, Shapiro said, and it's forcing many to make decisions that entomb them in lifelong, unsustainable debt. College students, for example, often graduate with mountainous debt, limited job prospects, and no reprieve.
"Creating a middle-class life and passing it on was the promise, but Americans are increasingly getting that this is not in the cards," Shapiro said.
The emergence of America's zombie class can be seen in the difference between the zombie films of the 1950's and those in the 1990's and 2000's. In the early films, zombies were feared. In the more recent films, they're often recognized and even welcomed, Shapiro said.