The road to riches is paved with zombies

My friend John Schwartz, an author and a reporter with the New York Times, has a fun essay out that explores how best to make lots of money: through inspiring fear, anger, or love/happiness/kittens?

The essay begins with John recounting a morning run driven by terror, in the form of an iPhone app called "Zombies, Run!" The best-selling app inserts a kind of zombie radio play into your music playlist. "This War-of-the-Worlds-meets-Richard-Simmons broadcast is enhanced with the sounds of ever-closer shambling, grunting zombies," says John, "It certainly added a spring to my step."


Naomi Alderman, who created the zombies app, said she was aiming at the “lizard brain,” the supposed part of our brain held over from our early evolution that motivates us with fear and a sense of impending danger. “Your brain wants you constantly to be afraid,” she said, “which is why we seek out horrible news stories about terrible things happening.”

That might be especially true today, she said, in our more comfortable lives. “If you live in the West,” she said, “you’re likely to live in peace and comfort and die of opulence-related diseases rather than anything your lizard brain is afraid of, like being hit over the head.” Lizard brain is hungry!

That’s why her program works, she suggested. “It’s fun to be scared of zombies,” she explained. “The back of the brain is yelling ‘Run, run, run!’ and the front of the brain is laughing.”

Read: Here Come The Zombies, But Not the Cash.

(illustration: Glynis Sweeny for the New York Times)


  1. Xeni, have you ever noticed that despite their popularity zombies are the least scary monsters ever?  They’re slow (usually), brainless (always), and have basically no supernatural powers, and all they do is kill and eat you.  They aren’t even immortal, you can just climb up a ladder with a few backpacks full of supplies and wait for them to rot away on a hot afternoon.

    Compare, now, the wolfman (who is a fast, clever, nearly unkillable shapeshifter who can curse you with a fate worse than death) or Dracula (all of the above plus he is more genteel and aristocratic than you are) or Frankenstein’s monster (who has superhuman strength, intellect, resistance to disease and cold, plus existential angst) or nearly any other classic monster.  Even Stephen King monsters (like clowns, old cars, and St. Bernards) are marginally scarier than zombies.

    Maybe that’s why zombies are so popular now, because they really aren’t very scary.  Or maybe just because it’s an easy Hallowe’en costume?  I dunno.

    1. Zombies are scary because they turn your own friends and family into mindless, infection-spreading monsters. What’s a scarier horror movie concept than knowing your own child will rise from the dead to kill you unless you blow her brains out? I’d rather take on the Wolfman any day.

      1. I’d rather take on the Wolfman any day.

        As would I, but with a somewhat different meaning for ‘take on’.

        1. Have you read “A Night in the Lonesome October” yet?

          Hmm, that was not entirely apropos of your innuendo.  But anyway, I recommend it.

      2. But all children are mindless, infection-spreading monsters already!  The littler ones smell bad, too!

        OK, I’m kidding.  But my kids could take down a couple dozen zombies each, and outrun or outclimb any number of them.  It’s just not scary to me.

    2. Zombies, the mutant type rather than the voudon type, are popular because they symbolize the mutation of rational humans into brainless consumers.

      1. “…the mutation of rational humans into brainless consumers.”

        And not only that, but the survivors get to ransack all of the deserted stores and shopping malls and take whatever they want FOR FREE!

      1. OK, I guess I see your point.  But zombies are so easy to beat I can’t see them ever reaching dangerous numbers.   And even if you do, zero zombies can climb trees…

        1. Most horror movie monsters kill individuals. Zombie plagues take down entire civilizations. The question isn’t just whether you (assuming the role of a protagonist) survive, it’s whether you even want to anymore.

  2. Well for one, being eaten is horrifying. Not just terrifying, horrifying. As in, “fine, put the chainsaw wherever you want, just keep that sausage-making freak away from me.” On a primal level, being eaten registers as much, much worse than just being killed.

    Second, zombies don’t kill, they recruit. As disgusting as they are, so you will become. Whatever your intentions are in life, that will is subverted in undeath. As quick and smart as you are, the fresh zombies are probably similarly so. And this ignores how horrifying it is wrestling with the “which is worse” scenario of either being eaten by your grandmother, or bludgeoning her repeatedly until she stops twitching. They’re called “the blue collar monsters,” because they are us.

    And finally, they’re not alone. For them, every kill is a two body swing. Other monsters are a singular threat, and there’s some small comfort in being part of a herd. When you and a friend are chased by a werewolf, you can trip your friend. Zombies turn a number advantage into a huge disadvantage. You’re utterly powerless. The end is inevitable.

  3. When the lights go out and the fuel supply stops. There will be zombies everywhere. 

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