By Alejandro Dominguez Herald Writer
EVERETT — Zombies are about hunger.
So it made sense for Volunteers of America Western Washington to encourage zombies to lurch through downtown Everett as a way to raise donations for the food bank.
On Saturday, the nonprofit is hosting the Stumble Grumble 5K Zombie and Costume Walk starting in front of the county courthouse. “We decided to do something different, something to cause excitement in Everett,” outreach coordinator Kathleen Deal said.
Zombies are on the march in lots of places this Halloween. They can be shot with paintballs in Marysville and Snohomish. They stalk through the cornstalks at the Craven Farms corn maze in Snohomish. They seem to be everywhere.
What’s this obsession with zombies?
These are troubling times, and people are afraid. That’s why we obsess over zombies, according to Arnold Blumberg, a pop culture professor for the University of Baltimore. He has taught courses about zombies in the media and has written a book about zombie history in cinema.
“You see things around the world where barbarism takes over very quickly when things break down. The zombie is a metaphor for all that,” Blumberg said. “The demographic of the zombie is gone. It has a wider spectrum now. It shows how afraid we are.”
Monsters and the horror genre become more mainstream when society feels stress because of wars or instability in the economy, he said. Monsters, such as zombies, can embody people’s real fears and provide some escapism.
“Zombies are perfect because they are the closest monsters to us. They are us. They are our families,” Blumberg said.
Zombies have no will, no individual characteristics, they have a mob mentality and they act more like animals, he said. They’ve been regulars in horror films since George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968.
Zombie culture has been on the march for the past several years. Each year sees more zombie walks through downtowns, including one in Snohomish last November. A national convention, Zombiecon, is now in its eighth year. And AMC’s third season of “The Walking Dead” premiered Sunday with record ratings and its website crashing because of the traffic from people trying to watch the show online.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caught the “zombie virus” in May 2011, releasing information on how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, including a blog, comic books and merchandise.
The popularity of zombies helped Tulalip’s Paul Marshall decided to try to cash in on them at his annual haunted house.
“Zombies have become a cultural icon these days,” said Marshall, who owns Haunted Hollow, 3919 88th St. in Marysville. This year he added The Z.O.N.E., which stands for Zombie Outbreak Neutralize and Eradicate. Customers huddle together on a bus in an adjacent field and use paintball guns to shoot “zombies” — actors — who try attack them.
Marshall’s inspiration was the plot of the “Resident Evil” movies.
Participants pay $15 to $20 and watch a video, where a newscast explains the situation: Civilization fell after a zombie virus was released and the government tried to cover it up. They have been enlisted by a paramilitary group that is going into a quarantined zone to shoot any zombies it sees.
Marshall believes people will be attracted to the recipe of conspiracy theory, distrust of government and self-reliance.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in this world,” he said.
Anxiety levels rose with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It continued with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two economic recessions and even with the Mayan doomsday prophecy, Blumberg said.
“We have rolled through genuine terror to financial collapse,” Blumberg said. And there’s even anxiety wrapped up in the outcome of the presidential election.
So is there an end in sight?
Blumberg said he’s not so sure. Even if the economy recovers and the cultural angst eases, society can’t affect one simple reason many people like dressing up as zombies: It’s fun.
“When people dress up as zombies, they feel free to scream, make noises and act very crazy,” said Irene Malatesta, organizer of Zombiecon, an event expected to draw hundreds of people Saturday at its Manhattan convention.
Although she won’t be joining the undead folks at Zombiecon, Amanda Gilpin, 25, of Snohomish, has participated in several zombie walks in Seattle and Snohomish. Putting on zombie makeup and getting into the role is one of her favorite pastimes, she said.
“Whether they are scary zombies or goofy zombies, I love everything about zombies,” Gilpin said. “It’s a very cool theory about the apocalypse.”
Stumble Grumble 5K
Volunteers of America invites the walking dead to its Stumble Grumble 5K Zombie and Costume Walk from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Snohomish County Courthouse Plaza, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.
This benefit for the Everett Food Bank is a family-friendly walk, beginning and ending at the courthouse with a stop at the food bank midway for a sneak peek at the Haunted Food Bank.
Walkers are encouraged to dress in costumes of any type. After the walk, there will be a “Monster Bash” celebration at the courthouse plaza that includes food, music and giveaways.
Register at http://stumblegrumble.tumblr.com or at noon the day of the event. Cost is $10 per adult, $5 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and younger.
For more information, call 425-259-3191.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@ heraldnet.com.