There are certain things you expect the first day of class: introducing yourself, getting your syllabus, and, hopefully, leaving early. But, what you don’t expect is your professor showing up with a graphic, gruesome zombie mask.
That’s what happened on the first day of University of Baltimore’s new English course, Media Genres: Zombies, taught by professor Arnold T. Blumberg. The class is a part of UB’s new minor in pop culture and is yet another example of the surging popularity of zombies.
“Zombies are one of the most potent reflections of our changing society,” Blumberg says. “Every story reveals something about our culture.”
Though there are novels and textbooks involved, the course’s syllabus is primarily focused on zombie films and how they each represent a particular era in American culture. In each film, zombies are defined differently, whether they are being controlled by a voodoo master, resurrected after death, or infected by a virus.
The class studied White Zombie, a 1932 film starting Béla Lugosi, which reflects the racial tension of the time. They also analyzed Night of the Living Dead and its relation to the Vietnam War, as well as 28 Days Later as a symbol for global terrorism.
“These films are all time capsules,” Blumberg says. “Different types of zombies tell us different things about a period of time.”
The two-and-a-half hour course is taught once a week, and will possibly be in a rotation with other media-related classes every semester at UB. While the course is meant to be a flashy offshoot for those interested in media studies, students this semester have realized that zombies aren’t all fun and games.
“Students thought they would take this Mickey Mouse course,” says Jonathan Shorr, director of UB’s School of Communications Design. “But they’re realizing how much deeper the subject goes.”
Blumberg explains that the class is also relevant because zombies seem to be a pervasive subject in popular culture these days—from the recent movie Zombieland to the current AMC series The Walking Dead (both part of the syllabus).
“Zombies are monsters that are the closest representations of us,” he says.
“It’s not only a reflection of what everyone’s going through, but it’s also an escape.”