Zombie popularity reflects American fears

In Features


Movies such as King Kong and shows such as The Walking Dead are widely viewed and enjoyed by many. This semester, a new American studies course allows Cal State Fullerton students to study the monsters from such movies and television shows on a scholarly level.

American Studies 428 is an upper division elective course that explores how monsters reflect the fears in America at the time in history of their popularity.

“What culture is afraid of can be very revealing,” said Associate Professor of American Studies Adam Golub, Ph.D.

Golub designed and proposed the course. He came up with the idea while teaching the Globalization of American Popular Culture class. In that class, he taught a small section on monsters.

“That got me thinking ‘well maybe monsters can become a whole course in itself,’” Golub said.

After further reading and researching, he proposed his idea.

As of right now, the class will only be offered during the fall semester to coincide with Halloween.

The course attempts to use monsters of all varieties as a source for exploring American history and culture, Golub said.

He focuses on different eras throughout history and the monsters that are most popular during that time period. This allows students to then explore how those monsters connect to and reflect the American personality.

“In particular, trying to see how monsters reflect their historical contexts,” Golub said. “The monsters that we fear change over time and it’s often connected to broader issues and anxieties in this society.”

Another aspect the class studies is how monsters give Americans a sense of what is normal and what is not. The class theorizes that monsters act outside the social and cultural norm.

“Monsters represent some kind of transgression … they behave in a way that we find scary and immoral,” Golub said.

To study the monsters, he assigns a variety of readings and viewings of TV shows and movies to the class, which they dissect and analyze during class discussions.

When analyzing the different TV shows and movies, students are able to interpret them differently and share their findings with the class.

“The way that I would watch a film and the subtext I see in it, someone else may completely disagree with me or see the same thing,” said history graduate student Raymond Ortiz.

American studies major Darcy Anderson also believes that each student comes to their own conclusions when analyzing TV shows and movies.

“We as the students are leading the discussions,” Anderson said. “Because of everybody’s individual experiences, it brings something to the table, and I know I’ve learned from others.”

Students are required to write a paper on an interactive experience dealing with monsters. Some students attend the increasingly popular zombie runs, while others go to horror movie premieres.

Whatever the event, Gollub said the purpose of the assignment is to have them interact with the fans to gain an understanding of what they find interesting about these monsters. This, in turn, would illuminate broader societal perspectives.

He is also able to teach students about his personal favorite monster, the zombie. The class focuses on how zombies from the 1930s differ from the zombies presented in modern movies such as World War Z, which Golub attributes to society’s ever-changing fears.

The worry of viral infection or global epidemic are a couple anxieties that are projected onto zombies, Golub said.

Dawn of the Dead, a zombie horror movie which came out in 1978, features the monsters in a shopping mall, which speaks to America’s fear of excessive material consumption.

“We tend to project a lot of our fears into zombies,” he said.

Golub said that like most American studies courses, this class is also interdisciplinary and draws from fields such as psychology to literary studies. Because of this, he encourages students of all majors to look into the class.

As a history graduate student, Ortiz focuses on U.S. gender and sexuality. He said he is able to use his knowledge to make connections in the class.

“This class has allowed me to demonstrate my ‘expertise’ because there have been a lot of readings and film that have to do with gender and sexuality,” he said.

Golub hopes that this class will encourage students to look at monsters as a serious subject when examining society.

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