Our Town: Beacon Church to tackle walking dead

Dr Tom Ferraro

It’s spring time in Williston Park. That means Easter, the season of hope. 

Indeed, it’s a perfect time to think about Zombies and the Walking Dead?!?! Really? The Walking Dead? 

Hey, don’t point a finger at me. The theme of zombies in zombie land is the Beacon Church’s brain storm not mine. I’m just here to comment. 

What psychoanalyst could resist a chance to analyze the staggering increase in zombie references in film, television and pop culture? And let’s not forget the rise of skull fashion. 

When I first noticed the billboard on Roslyn Road and Hillside announcing Beacon Church’s Easter Sunday theme of The Walking Dead I was amused. 

But when my friend Virginia Hynes told me that Rev. Robert Kelly was dead serious about it I decided to e-mail him and ask for more details.  

He got back to me and explained that the theme was going to be about spiritual reawakening from our trance like state of consumerism and television watching. That was it for me. I was hooked and started to do research into the origins and meaning of zombies.

The history of the walking dead derives from the Haitian religions.  

In Haitian folklore a zombie is put under a spell through witchcraft. The word zombie was first seen in print in 1838 in a short story called “The Unknown Painter.” 

But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that we began to see a sudden explosion of zombie references. The innovative and wildly popular music video “Thriller” by Michael Jackson is considered to be the most popular music video of all time. In this 13-minute film/music video you see Michael first become a werewolf and then finally a zombie dancing with a group of the undead. 

Since then we have seen films like “Resident Evil,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombie land” and two major blockbusters “I am Legend” with Will Smith and “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt.  There is the popular television series “The Walking Dead.”

The growth of the zombie genre has not escaped the attention of sociologists, cultural anthropologists, post-modern philosophers and even psychoanalysts. 

The general consensus is that this genre is expressing deep anxiety about our current state. There is widespread agreement that there has been a social and cultural collapse based upon overwhelming and rapid changes. 

An overabundance of undigested news has led to what post modernists call “the end of history.” Rampant consumerism has produced a death of the soul. 

In fact The Times Magazine has done two cover stories on the Death of God. Our culture’s narcissism continues to produce greed, lack of empathy and aggressive over competitiveness reinforced in the media with phrases such as “Greed is good”, “Shop Until You Drop” and “Show Me the Money.” 

The finishing touch is the growing power of the corporation and the extreme wealth of the so called One Percenters. The corporate machine has stagnated middle class income for 40 years and has put an end to the American Dream.

The fact that Beacon Church decided to tackle this topic was a sign that they are thoroughly in touch with our current plight and unafraid to face it.  They went ahead with this theme despite threats of lawsuits by those corporations who feel they own the rights to these concepts. 

Modern technological growth has produced much good and much bad. Kelly would say that as we have lost our spirituality and our humanity. It was Friedrich Nietzsche way back in 1882 who first warned us that God is dead.  

The flood of images of the walking dead is not accidental. They are deep expressions of our worries and our losses.  

Rev. Kelly and his church believe that the way back into the light is to believe in a spiritual life, a moral life and a community life. He told me “the world will be made right and hope always triumphs in the end.”  

I also think that we will find our way back into the light in many other ways. We will do so with literature. Remember Cormac McCarthy’s’ constant use of the idea of ‘the fire within’ in the book “The Road.”  

We will find our way back with dance. 

Whether we take dance classes at the Arthur Murray Studio on Willis Avenue or trek into Lincoln Center and see a Balanchine piece.  We will find our way back through the arts by taking a class in illustration at A Gathering of Artists on Hillside.  We will even find our way back with the help of apocalyptic zombie films which invariably end with human triumph. 

Rev. Kelly understands that we are in a spiritual crisis and that we are all in danger of becoming part of the walking dead. 

At the end of nearly all end of the world apocalyptic films a small group of survivors arrive at a safe haven. In “Children of Men” the ship called Tomorrow was this place. 

In “I am Legend” the woman and her son arrived at a walled in village in New England. 

I suspect that the Beacon Church and its group of volunteers are fast becoming just such a safe haven for many who are lucky enough to have found them.    

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