Via The Guardian: From Albert Camus to The Walking Dead: a look at pandemics in culture. Excerpt:
Pandemics tap right to the id of human response – revulsion, fear and recoil – so it should be no wonder that culture keeps bringing them up. But only a few movies, books or games are interested in what an illness is about in a literal sense – most fixate on how society breaks down, the creeping nature of evil and mortality, and, well, zombies.
In the past 12 years or so, zombies have starred front and center in the most popular representations of plague: shambling, virulent death that no chainsaw or suspiciously well-loaded gun can stop – but basically the same monster that Florentines feared during the plague of 1348. Recent cultural totems play up the plague: in The Walking Dead, World War Z, I Am Legend and 28 Days Later, zombies are “infected” with illnesses that turn them into physical vessels of death, some with less make-up than others.
Though they all make a nod toward medicine (cameos from the CDC and WHO, a doctor for a hero, etc), each really considers what it takes to survive when your world comes crashing down. The Walking Dead is an endless loop of viciousness; World War Z plots the ways that institutions fail; and I Am Legend makes a half-hearted lunge at the idea that pandemic might just mean the world leaves humanity behind. The best of the lot, 28 Days Later, starts off about the fragility of civilization – with eerie, empty London standing in for Ozymandias’ wreck – and ends as a parable about family versus man’s baser instincts.
Albert Camus’ The Plague, although no character chomps into anyone else’s brain, is in one of the more sophisticated zombie stories of the past century. The usual reading of the book takes the plague as an allegory for life under Nazism (some even think The Walking Dead is about Nazism).
On a bigger level, Camus uses the bubonic plague to show the ways people choose to confront unrelenting, indiscriminate evil in the world, whether it be Nazism or not. Some hide (everyone feels hunted), some take advantage of others (collaborators), and some band together to persevere (the resistance).