Alumni contribute to book that examines fascination, impact of zombie

From the cult classic movie “Night of the Living Dead” to the highly rated cable TV series “The Walking Dead,” zombies seem to be everywhere -- especially with Halloween approaching -- and group of Penn State alumni have taken a closer look at the high-profile status of the undead in a book that combines their research on the topic.

A trio of graduates from the doctoral program in the College of Communications have each written a chapter in “Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means,” a 239-page anthology that was edited by a another popular culture researcher who also earned his doctorate at Penn State.

The book seeks to explain the sweeping fascination with zombies.

“We are consuming zombies as much as they are said to be consuming us in mediated apocalyptic scenarios on popular television shows, video game franchises and movies,” said editor Murali Balaji, who earned his doctoral degree in 2009 and holds a position as an assistant professor at Temple University.

Ryan Lizardi, an assistant professor at the SUNY Institute of Technology, attributes the popularity of the zombie genre to the fact that “zombies are able to stand in for so many different things. They’re an allegory for whatever we’re fearful of at any given time.”

Lizardi, who also earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees at Penn State, used his chapter of the book to explore the progression of the zombie motif from its Caribbean voodoo origins to its current Hollywood form. He wrote his chapter while still at Penn State, and worked with another chapter author, Cate Buckley.

Buckley, who earned her doctorate in 2013, wrote her chapter about the prevalence of plotlines centered on supernatural romance themes, exemplified in recent works such as “Warm Bodies,” “Twilight” and “The Walking Dead.” Much of the recent trend is perpetuated by teens, an aspect that Buckley finds interesting. Still, the book asserts that society as a whole can relate to the fractured and universally applicable nature that a zombie represents.

Jennifer Proffitt, an associate professor at Florida State who earned her doctorate from Penn State in 2005, combined two of her interests -- zombies and politics -- for her chapter, producing a commentary about a zombie world that lacks a formal governing body. She said she enjoyed the research related to the project and collaborating with Balaji.

Lizardi and Buckley crafted their chapters in part by adapting work from their master’s theses on related topics.

“I enjoyed the idea of taking something I had done a couple of years prior and updating it,” Lizardi said. “I re-fell in love with the project.”

“I don’t think I would have had this opportunity had I been anywhere besides Penn State,” Buckley said.

Last Updated October 24, 2013