As I wrote at the time, this makes a certain sort of symbolic sense: after all, as unthinking consumers, zombies reflect the tone of high-consumption boom times. The more melancholic vampires, on the other hand, suggest buyer's remorse.
This month, Wired's Gavin Edwards decided to take his own shot at the recessionary monster index. In "The Great Zombie Bubble," he noted that some of the peaks and valleys in the Dow Jones Industrial average roughly correspond to peaks and valleys in zombie movies. In the end, however, Edwards concluded that my theory doesn't "hold water -- or blood." Pointing out that 2008's sharp drop in the Dow was accompanied by a steadily increasing number of zombie flicks, Edwards argued that a "Zombie bubble" was in the works.
Called Out by Wired
If one is going to get called out by a major media outlet, Wired is miles above, say, The National Enquirer or People. Even so, Edwards' apparent misunderstanding of the original article was a little . . . mortifying. To begin with, he mis-attributed one of my ideas -- that zombie films represent mindless consumerism -- to Stephen King. Worse yet (at least according to my editor), he committed a fatal breach of etiquette by failing to attribute the original article to DailyFinance.
Edwards' tried to map the Dow Jones Index against zombie cinema, a decision that doesn't make much sense. After all, while zombies are a tenacious, remarkably determined cultural force, even they are powerless against outsourcing, tax breaks, Alan Greenspan's literary obsessions and the dozens of other factors that have sent the Dow soaring and plummeting over the years. Instead, I decided to balance zombie movies against vampire movies, a cultural comparison that gave me a lot of data to sink my teeth into.
How Zombies Take a Bite Out of the Economy
In the interests of clarity and some measure of consistency across decades, I focused on American-made theatrical-release movies and television programs that were made in each given year. My reasoning was that anyone looking to spend a few hundred thousand dollars on a commercial enterprise would probably devote a little bit of time and money to market analysis. In this context, if the zombie/vampire index was to have any value beyond a few cheap laughs, it lay in the audience research that movie and television producers indulged before greenlighting a project. After all, why spend $5 million on a cheapo zombie flick when audiences are more interested in vamps?
While the zombie/vampire recession cycle didn't always hold true, I found that it had a few interesting connections to the economy. For example, for most of the Reagan spend-till-you-drop 1980's, zombie films dominated movie theaters. In fact, vampire movies' only brief moment of ascendence in the decade was in 1987-1988, when a stock market tumble sent the economy into recession. Similarly, in 1991 and 2001, vampire films spiked and zombie films fell behind as recessions struck.
From 2003 to 2008, zombies were far ahead of vampires; at the same time, the housing bubble led to a huge economic boom that spurred a furious rush of consumer spending. But in 2008 -- the year that Lehman Brothers failed -- zombie movies stalled as vampire films moved ahead. Over the next year, the effects of the recession played out and vampires cemented their cultural dominance.
This year, just as the economy seems to be quavering between recovery and further recession, zombies and vampires are in a dead heat. So far this year, there have been 23 zombie movies and TV shows , compared to 21 vampire movies. On one level, this makes sense: according to economists, we are officially out of recession, which means that the dial might be moving back toward mindless consumption. Then again, there are still two months left in the year, and -- as any horror movie fan knows -- you can't count Dracula out until the final reel.