Zombies. They’re everywhere these days. Their vacuous eyes peer back at us from books, TV, movies, and the packaging of any number of commercial products. The undead have become a veritable staple within the shooting industry. Zombies represent a $32 million per year business in the U.S. alone.
Why does the concept of a zombie apocalypse resonate so deeply with Americans today? To find the answer, we need to go back a few years.
REASONS FOR FEAR
There have been threats to order and civilization for as long as there have been order and civilization. There is uncertainty and fear today.
In the 1960s, there were race riots, violent anti-government protests and rampant political assassinations even within our own country.
We were at war in a faraway land, leftists in government were pushing through social programs on a previously unimagined scale, and the President of the United States was murdered without our having a good understanding of who was involved. There was good reason to fear.
At this time, the seminal zombie movie was released, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. This film established the themes that characterize the zombie apocalypse to this day. Romero also used the idea of zombies to comment on the social ills of the day, including government ineptitude.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, it was the very real threat of unannounced nuclear holocaust. The Russians had thousands of nuclear-equipped delivery systems pointed at us 24 hours a day. Missiles launched over the North Pole would impact U.S. population centers mere minutes after detection. There were maps depicting blast areas and fallout zones for a hypothetical nuclear attack that encompassed most of the continental United States.
For all the good reasons to prepare for societal collapse and unnatural disaster, however, those who prepared seriously were far outside the mainstream.
Survivalists were thought of as lunatic anti-government wackos who lived on compounds in Idaho and contemplated nuclear annihilation. They were marginalized by society and distrusted by the Establishment.
Even within the gun culture, they frequently made us uncomfortable. We all liked to shoot and talk about guns, but when the conversation rolled around to stockpiling ammo, perimeter defense solutions, and black helicopters, most of us shuffled our feet slightly, averted our gaze, and wandered off.
The dedicated survivalist movement was just a bit too far outside the mainstream for most of us to stomach. But here we are in 2012: the “unpalatable” word survivalists has been retired, new word preppers has been introduced, and those who are into preparedness are growing in number every day. Where does the zombie apocalypse fit in?
Zombie culture—movies, TV, books and games—is admittedly fun. It runs the gamut from campy and hilarious to unsettling and crude. The common thread, however, is a small group of forlorn survivors led by a hero battling hordes of mindless cannibals in an environment wherein there are no longer any rules.
Zombies are not considered human any longer, so there is no guilt in killing them. Surely it can’t be murder if the guy wants to eat your brain, and nobody is going to care if you chop the barrel down on your shotgun to defend your family from hordes of undead ghouls.
It is the translation to the Real World that makes this phenomenon so fascinating. How mainstream has this concept become? Advanced Technology International produces a new shotgun stock set that is screened with zombie images. When I first saw this product at the most recent SHOT Show, the ATI staff asked my opinion of it. I had to admit I felt it was kind of silly.
Before I could finish my statement, a pair of sharp-looking clean-cut military studs ran up and started drooling all over it. They thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. This zombie stuff really seems to resonate with a generation brought up on living dead movies and first-person-shooter video games.
Countless companies offer a wide variety of zombie-themed targets. Some are of the simple printed-paper variety, while top-end versions incorporate built-in biodegradable blood packs to simulate oozing goo and exploding brains. There are even zombie versions of common game animals if you have the itch to go head-to-head with an undead whitetail.
Hornady now produces an entire line of high-performance ammunition, Zombie Max, specifically designed to deal with the zombie threat. The packaging even sports images of zombies presumably just waiting to be blown away. They offer this counter- zombie ammunition in a variety of calibers ranging from .380 ACP to 12 gauge. It is selling briskly. And to think I had been taught that anything smaller than a 12 bore would not reliably neutralize a motivated zombie….
I am blessed to have a thriving ammunition plant in the little Southern town where I live. As other local industries struggle and downsize, they run three shifts and punch out bullets literally by the millions every day. Friends who work there tell me they still cannot keep up with demand.
Even the Federal Government has gotten in on the action. Take a gander at http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/ to see what Uncle Sam suggests you do to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. While I found the content interesting and the format amusing, one aspect of urban survival that is glaringly absent from the government’s advice is information on caliber and magazine capacity. The 400-pound gorilla that apparently no one at FEMA wants to speak of publicly is that in a true survival situation, one of the very first pieces of survival gear to pack, prep and carry is a reliable and well-fed firearm.
WAL-MART: IN ON THE ACTION
Have you glanced at the sporting goods department at your local Wal- Mart lately? I recall when they stopped selling handguns across the country at Wal-Mart because of external political pressure. I never gave the gun case a passing look because all they ever stocked was Snuffy gear suitable only for hunting ducks and squirrels.
Wal-Mart stores down here in the Deep South now stock a very reasonably priced semiauto M4 with all the cool-guy stuff—collapsible stock, flash suppressor, rails-aplenty, high-capacity magazine, and bayonet lug. They can’t keep them in the cases, they sell so fast.
What’s more, they sell Federal Green Tip M-855 5.56mm ammo on milspec ten-round stripper clips and packed 400 rounds to a standard GIissue steel .30-caliber ammo can. The price is very reasonable. I found out about this when a shooting buddy came up to me and said, “Hey, did you know they’re selling zombie ammo down at Wal-Mart now?” He had just purchased two cases himself.
Keep in mind the sociological forces at play here. It is not by random chance that four of the top 25 richest people in the world are named Walton. This has nothing to do with preparedness and the End Times. This has everything to do with money. Wal-Mart carries these products because they are what Americans want to buy.
STATE OF THE UNION
If we take stock of the world in which we live, we can make some fascinating observations. Our presidential administration has raised “Living Solely for the Moment” to an art form. Our economy is sputtering along like a cancer patient in hospice. One in ten of us cannot find jobs, and the other nine are out there buying guns and bullets.
The images that belched out of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, showing the dead lying untended in the streets and bands of thugs rampaging and looting, are still fresh in our minds.
The limitless, festering hatred in the Middle East guarantees that there will never be any true stability in the price of oil. Just one war too many on that side of the pond and the price of gas in small-town America triples. At that point, trucks cannot afford to keep the local supermarkets stocked and Sleepytown, USA begins to look strikingly akin to something out of Night of the Living Dead.
What is the point to all this? We live in perilously uncertain times, but that’s nothing new. In times of fear and uncertainty, the rugged individualism that birthed this country percolates to the surface, and responsible Americans begin to prepare for whatever may come.
Regardless of the motivations and window dressing, it’s healthy for Americans to think about “what if” scenarios. It gets us out of the malaise that is our commercialized two-dimensional lifestyle and gets us thinking like Americans again. The Great Depression galvanized our nation and built a generation sufficiently strong and resolute to fight and win World War II.
Maybe a rampaging zombie horde is just what we need today….