Over the last decade or so, zombies have gone from a staple of horror entertainment to a major aspect of popular culture, and more and more modern college courses have been examining the undead phenomenon in a serious academic light. For example, this year saw the debut of a zombie apocalypse course at Central Michigan University, and a high school teacher has been using a Walking Dead video game as a teaching aid.
San Diego State University professor Emily Hicks acknowledges this trend, and has risen to the occasion by creating a zombie-based course this semester with a pretty unambiguous title: “Zombies.” That's it, no gray area there.
"We’re talking about blood and guts and all kinds of things that are sort of leveling, so I’ve found that some students are tired talking about multicultural issues in general in my other classes,” Hicks told KBPS News, “but not in the zombies class.”
The course not only examines society's monster du jour and its impact on popular culture, but examines The Walking Dead series (and source comic), George Romero's iconic Dead film franchise, satiric riffs on the formula like Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, and the literary output of Max Brooks (World War Z) as metaphor, social commentary and fictional models of societal collapse. Brooks' breakout bestseller The Zombie Survival Guide is even required reading for all students taking the class.
"[W]hen you do a zombie movie or a zombie book, you can have those same apocalyptic fantasies... society breaking down, government disintegrating, people turning on each other,” Brooks said, “but if the catalyst is fictional, if it’s a zombie then you can still sleep at night.”
Other required texts include Kyle Bishop's American Gothic Zombie: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture, and the essay collection Race, Oppression and the Zombie; in addition to the classic zombie films, shows and games we all know and love, they're also screening more obscure titles like Pontypool. As you can imagine, the students are eating it up... so to speak.
"I have taught here 30 years and I have never had students so excited about writing a mid-term," says Hicks.