Why have zombies so caught the attention of many? Why not space aliens, vampires or subterranean mole monsters?
Well, to a certain extent, those others have caught the attention of some researchers. You can find web pages and conspiracy devotees for any and all of them. But none have been the subject of sustained interest, and ghoulish research, as zombies have. Why is that?
My take is simple: It's personal. To many, when someone mentions alien abductions, we eye the exit, and slowly distance ourselves from the speaker. That is something that only happens to people who are just a little bit dotty to start with. When they begin to talk about it, we just want to be someplace else. As for vampires, werewolves and the like, it is too chic. I mean, when the posters for vampire movies feature stars who are alarmingly handsome, you have to wonder: Do vampires only bite the beautiful? Are you safe from the neck-munchers if you're an average guy, or a bit on the overweight side? If so, pardon me while I stay away from supermodels under the full moon. And no, I'm not interested in plastic surgery to make me better-looking.
But zombies? Anyone can end up a zombie. Get bit, or splattered from the thrashing feeding of a zombie on someone else, and you too could be infected. Your neighbors, your family, your kid's soccer team -- any of them could be a zombie, and if the coming apocalypse hits soon, they all will be.
That deeply personal "It could have been me" aspect of zombies is, I think, is what keeps them an evergreen subject. Even if some of them are a bit green from decay. We shrug off earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters, especially if we don't live near where they happen. People who live in Kansas each know how many steps it is to their tornado shelter, but if you mention "tsunami" to them, the likely response is to be "gesundheit."
Plus, there is the loss of personal identity. Hey, if I'm a vampire and Buffy is hunting me down, that's OK, because to a certain extent I'm still me. I have to avoid the sun, and when Buffy stakes me, I'm a puff of dust, but until then I can read a paper, drink coffee, chuckle at jokes, etc. If I'm a zombie, I'm nothing but a shuffling corpse.
Also, zombies are a mental code for "disaster." People who are otherwise just a bit queasy at the thought of saying to someone, "I'm prepared for economic meltdown," are more than happy to discuss the differences between radiation-induced zombification and viral outbreaks. The thought of driving their normal, non-zombie neighbors off at gunpoint, because the prepared ones stored food and the neighbors didn't, is a thought not to be entertained. But shooting zombies is all in a day's post-apocalypse fun.
We fear the loss of personal identity if we become a zombie victim, but that same loss of personal identity allows us to mentally prepare for other outcomes, outcomes that are perhaps a bit more statistically likely to happen. The Euro can collapse, taking western civilization with it, but we can prepare for that by being prepared for zombies. Making sure everyone you meet actually has a reflection in a mirror does nothing to prep you for the day when some teenaged hacker crashes the power grid.
So be proud of your preparations for the coming zombie apocalypse. They will serve you in good stead for all the other possibilities. Oh, and as for vampires and werewolves? Dip your bullets in holy water and have them blessed, unless you can afford silver bullets. The mole people? Inside information tells me that anything .30-06 or bigger does the job. As for alien abductions, you're on your own, pal.