Sometimes it is helpful to step back and understand how others perceive you through your actions and beliefs. Sometimes these perceptions can be frightening, and indicate a misunderstanding. A review of the early history of the Christian church indicates that the Romans and Greeks understood their memorial meal connected to Jesus's death as a form of cannibalism. This misunderstanding is not hard to understand when we consider Jesus's own talk (recorded in the Bible in John chapter 6) of the need for his followers to eat his body and drink his blood, a symbolic reference that raised controversy even among his own followers of the time.
But varying and controversial interpretations and images associated with Jesus are not limited to the earliest centuries of the Christian era. In the discussion that follows conservative Christian readers of this website (if there are any) will likely be offended, but my hope is that these feelings can be set aside as I look at one expression of a growing international phenomenon, the zombie walk or crawl, a phenomenon I have posted on previously. In this instance I will explore an interesting expression of this phenomenon where my research in popular culture studies intersected with my research in religious studies in the form of the Philly Zombie Crawl, and a particular facet of their event, the celebration of this event on Easter Sunday with the involvement of Zombie Jesus. Robert Drake is involved with this event, and he shared his thoughts on several questions I had about it.
TheoFantastique: Robert, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Philly Zombie Crawl. Let's start with some introductory questions. How did this event come into being, how long has it been in existence, and how many people have been involved over the years?
Robert Drake: The Philly Zombie Crawl began with a germ of an idea about creating a zombie theme party at a local bar (Tattooed Mom – http://myspace.com/tattooed_mom) - as we became more creative with the idea it went from a simple party to a crawl along Philadelphia’s South Street corridor. There are three people involved with the production of the Philly Zombie Crawl events; Dave Ghoul, Melissa Torre and myself. The first year we drew about 120 zombies – that’s when we knew we were onto something! Last year well over 300 zombies crawled in honor of the world’s most famous zombie – Jesus – on his big day!
TheoFantastique: I want to come back to the Zombie Jesus idea, but how did you personally become involved in the Philly Zombie Crawl? What is your personal interest in this?
Robert Drake: My interest is based on the fact that for the past 25 years I’ve produced events around Philadelphia – I love rocking the boat and being creative and allowing people to explore their own creative side; whether it’s zombies or exploring bizarre new wave 80s fashions or what have you – life is too short to sit at home!
TheoFantastique: The zombie seems to be the most popular monster figure in contemporary Western culture, more so than the vampire. And the zombie walks/crawls have become an international phenomenon. Being involved with so many people in the zombie crawl, do you have any thoughts as to why so many people identify with the zombie?
Robert Drake: Zombies are just a step away from human beings – they are the ‘monster’ that we all can identify with. Additionally, in this day of multi-tasking and working 15+ hours a day to make ends meet – we all know what its like to be a zombie … especially before that first cup of jo.
TheoFantastique: One of the interesting facets of the Philly Zombie Crawl is the figure of the Zombie Jesus and a Crawl on Easter Sunday that you touched on a moment ago. I did some Internet research under "Zombie Jesus" and found quite a bit of art and even a film devoted to this concept. Conservative Christians might find this offensive, but it's not difficult to see how the connection can be made. Pagans in the first century heard the claims of the early Christians about Christ rising from the dead, and heard their talk in communion of eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood and then connected these dots to accusations of Christian cannibalism. In our culture the zombie is very popular and the dots are connected to the idea of Jesus as zombie. How did Zombie Jesus come to be involved in the Philly Zombie Crawl, how did the Easter event come about, and what has the response been to all of this?
Robert Drake: Amazingly we havehad no negative responses to our annual Easter Sunday night zombie crawl – we even use a Zombie Jesus as our artwork on flyersand posters! I think it’s just too off the radar for those who MIGHT be offended to even know. Fact is those who might find it offensive are busy worshipping and such – it being Easter after all. So, all that is left are the heathens – and our money is as green as anyone, in the eyes of the bars we partner with – so everyone wins!
TheoFantastique: What do you have planned for late 2008 and in 2009 for your zombie events?
Robert Drake: Philly Zombie Crawl has two annual events: The Easter Zombie Crawl (next up April 12) and the Philly Zombie Prom event the final Sunday of September; designed to ring in the Halloween season throughout Philadelphia. This past prom we clocked over 700 zombies … next year, we’re shooting for the world record!!
In 2009 we are planning one more event – which, if response is good, will also become annual - designed to help launch the promotional campaign for the Philly Zombie Prom, we are exploring the concept of producing the Philly Zombie Beach Party around the beginning of summer (June 21) - also held at the historic Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia, the event would be all things summer – just with an undead twist!
We’ll have details at http://phillyzombiecrawl.com.
TheoFantastique: Robert, thanks again for talking about this. It is an interesting facet of pop culture!