On Mankind's Maybe Doomed Love for the UndeadS

Woody Harrelson recently took some time from banging his bongos to make a big Hollywood movie. It's called Zombieland and deals with the undead, a solid cinematic device. Should we be worried? Yes. But what of the soul's role?

What is it with living man's attraction the undead? Countless cultures have myths surrounding the reanimated. Afro-Caribbean societites are given credit for unleashing the mindless masses into the mainstream, but many societies shop in the undead. And, of course, movie lovers are no exception.

Every since Night of the Living Dead, we've been salivating over tales of humans who have to face their lifeless, brain-eating peers. We could tally the dozens of movies with the word "zombie" in their title, but we suspect that you, dear reader, are well aware of the selling points.

Horror flicks peddle in fear of the unknown. That's just how they work. And zombies are reliable precisely because we think they could never be; but could we be wrong? There's no actual proof to, well, prove that zombies could never come into being. On the contrary...

Conspiracy lovers believe that the Russians reanimated a dog back in the 40s, when they were all communist and shit. Scoff all you want, but even capitalist scientists are looking into turning back the death clock.

The University of Pittsburg isn't the most revered institution in the land, but it hosts a place called the "Safar Center for Resuscitation Research," which examines all the ways in which science can trump nature and revive the living. They've been working on dogs, but could humans be far off?

A website called cracked offers some other scary research, like neurogenesis, which looks into ways to reanimate dead brain cells. Meanwhile, scientists are using stem cells to take components from dead embryos and create living tissue. Lots of people are scared of these scientific advancements. And perhaps they should be, but those debates eschew a larger, perhaps uncomfortably metaphysical question.

In the end, aren't our popular or scientific fascinations and pursuits with all things zombie motivated by an equally mythical thing: the soul? Even if you claim to be an atheist or, damnation, agnostic, isn't the real scare in zombie lore that someone — a person with friends and family — could return with no apparent loyalty? And couldn't that "loyalty" be called a soul?

We don't know — what do we look like, God? — but we do know that this long-held obsession points to a collective compulsion to overcoming nature's ultimate obstacle, death. And that's always entertaining.