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Zombie Shoppers

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, December 8, 2008

Are shoppers turning into zombies? Yes, they are, ccording to John Morris, a Wachovia retailing analyst. “You walk the mall, and consumers look like zombies. They’re there in person, but not in spirit.” Why zombie shopping? Because of the nation’s rising unemployment rate and the disappointing sales figures reported in October.

I saw this comment by John Morris in the “Verbatim” section of TIME Magazine. It was also picked up by the New York Times. Zombie shoppers . . . now that’s a striking image.

I have to wonder if John Morris saw the 1978 George Romero film, Dawn of the Dead. I must confess that I saw it in my early twenties. It was, by far, the most goriest film I have ever seen. I do not recommend it under any circumstances. Having made this clear, Dawn of the Dead did feature a bunch of zombies in a shopping mal, the Monroeville Mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, to be precise. There was some ironic social commentary here, though it was largely obscured by the extreme violence of the film. At one point, a couple of characters are wondering why the zombies are invading the mall. Here’s the dialogue:

Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?

Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.

Well, I don’t suppose we’ll know whether John Morris was inspired by Dawn of the Dead to compare shoppers to zombies. So I’ll move on to a more edifying conversation.

I’m fascinated by Morris’s description. Consumers in the mall look like zombies. Why? Because “they’re there in person, but not in spirit.” What spirit are they lacking? The spirit of consumerism, the spirit that is energized by having money to spend.

Jesus may have had a name for that spirit, actually. He called it Mammon (see Matthew 6:24). Mammon was the Aramaic word for money or wealth, and it found its way into the Greek New Testament in the statement: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth [mammon].” Jesus was not saying that we should never use money. But he was pointing out the power of Mammon to rule our lives. If you’re a slave to the spirit of Mammon, then you can’t be free to serve the Lord. For Jesus this isn’t a matter of both/and, but either/or.

If the spirit that animates shoppers is, indeed, Mammon, then one might very well say that energetic consumers are just as much zombies as the lifeless, moneyless folk bemoaned by John Morris. Their “zombieness” lies below the surface, however. They look quite alive, but may well be dead on the inside.

If you go shopping because that’s all you know to do with your spare time, if you wander about in the mall when you don’t even have any money to spend, then you may well have become lifeless zombie. But if shopping for things you don’t really need takes up a disproportionate amount of your time and money, then you may also be a zombie, a person who is alive on one level but missing out on real living.

If you don’t have money for shopping but you go to a mall, what does that say about you? After all, you could have gone to a park, or taken a nap, or painted a picture, or read poerty, or played a game with your children, or . . . . But you went to a mall, not to shop, but just to walk about in a sad, moneyless trance.

I wonder what would happen in our culture if people stopped going to malls, other than to buy things they really need, and started doing things that weren’t centered around consumerism. Oh, I expect the economic impact wouldn’t be favorable, because so much of our prosperity as a nation is predicated on people buying lots of things they don’t need. But what might your life be like if, instead of  rambling around in a mall when you had a couple of free hours, you took a quick stroll around your neighborhood. You just might end up healthier and happier. You might even get to chat with your neighbors. Fancy that!

Maybe, just maybe, economic crisis in which we find ourselves has an upside. It could help us to rediscover some of life’s richest joys . . . the ones that don’t cost a dime. When you don’t have money for shopping, why not go to a park rather than a mall? Why not take a nap, or paint a picture, or read a good book, or play a game with your children, or . . . ?

As you think about whether or not you’re a zombie shopper, let me encourage you to reflect on a few passages from Scripture:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  . . . Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:24-25, 31-33)

You were dead through the trespasses and sins  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.   All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.   But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (Ephesians 2:1-7)

In this season of preparation for Christmas, may you be fully alive through the grace of God in Christ!

Topics: Cultural Commentary |

2 Responses to “Zombie Shoppers”

  1. Thomas Buck Says:
    December 8th, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Dear Rev. Roberts:

    Right on!

    BTW, you come up with some of the best photos to accompany your articles. :-)


  2. Ray Says:
    December 8th, 2008 at 10:06 am

    I like the pictures too.

    I haven’t taken time to research the article you referenced, but based on your analysis I’m going to disagree with Mr. Morris’ pessimism. All of this dire commentary on the economy may eventually become a self-fullfilling prophesy if enough people buy into the media hype about how terrible things are. My grandparents have earned the right to talk about difficult times, but most of the stuff I hear from my own generation is baseless whining by spoiled crybabies.

    However, I like your response to his words. The “zombies” you described are the very people we are called to reach with the Truth of the gospel. They are following an illusion, as though the acquisition of material things will bring them lasting fullfillment. It’s our job to be salt and light to them, so that they might be distracted from their daze long enough to get a little glimpse of Christ.


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