Having taught Popular Culture for more than 20 years, one of the more frequently asked questions is “Why are Americans obsessed with zombies, vampires and other post-apocalyptic creatures?”

While there’s no one answer, I believe the best explanation is that these evil beings are a metaphor for corporate America. Remember the words uttered in George C. Romero’s legendary Dawn of the Dead (1978): “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead shall walk the Earth.”

We live in a society that has given similar rights to “natural born citizens” and unnatural entities through so-called “corporate personhood.”

The concept of corporate personhood evolved from corporations having the ability to engage in certain legal actions, such as entering into contracts, suing or being sued – into much more dangerous territory. Our tale of horror begins in the bizarre 1886 case of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the key early cases in establishing the concept of corporate personhood that gave rights to soulless, legal fictions.

Santa Clara, and in other cases that followed, created a precedent that corporations actually enjoyed constitutional rights just like flesh and blood human beings.

In 1933 in Liggett vs. Lee, citizens attempted to protect locally-owned businesses from giant corporations by enacting progressive taxes on larger corporate chain stores. The courts struck this down. So much for “local matters.”

The people’s power to control their state and local governments was further restricted in the First National Bank of Boston vs. Bellotti case in 1978. In this case, the court overturned state laws restraining corporate spending on ballot initiatives and referenda.

Perhaps more shocking, the 1996 International Dairy vs. Amnestoy case, the court created “negative free speech rights” for corporations, preventing state laws from forcing the disclosure of what is in our food.

This is similar to the unleashing of vampires. A non-human entity, created by a legal fiction known as a corporate charter, now has the right to suck the blood out of any community to maximize its profit.

Yet the most important day for empowering flesh-eating zombies, blood-sucking vampires and rage-infected ghouls is January 21, 2010. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, ruled that corporations are indeed, unnatural persons endowed with constitutional rights to spend unlimited sums of money in the election process. In essence the courts held that money equals free speech and that a corporation that has no life expectancy may accumulate and spend whatever it wants in altering U.S. politics.

There was one ray of light in Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion in Citizens United: “. . . Corporations have no conscience, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘we the people’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

Remember that Dawn of the Dead was appropriately set in a mall where the few remaining human survivors had to fend off an onslaught of slow moving zombies who instinctually were coming to worship at the new temple of mindless consumerism. Fast forward to 2002 where the fast moving ghouls infected with the rage virus – a relevant metaphor for America following 9/11 – are destroying the landscape so quickly it is almost impossible for Will Smith to escape.

We are fascinated with zombies and vampires and ghouls in popular culture because our society has legally empowered non-human entities to devastate our community and extract the lifeblood from our democracy.