So, Are Miles and Anna Zombies Too??? (I Hope So…)
“Zombiegasm!” A freshly-minted word to describe the after effects of watching the pilot episode of “The Walking Dead” last night. Tense, well adapted, underplayed. Everything you want from the Zombie Apocalypse. And it got me thinking about the politics of horror – especially our cadaverous selves, reanimated.
With honourable exceptions, such as True Blood and Matt Haig’s “The Radleys”, those other horror staples, the Vampire and the Werewolf are in most cases deeply conservative. Vampires tend to hark back to ancient aristocracy, and are almost always rich and seductive – glamourous in the original sense. If any social context enters the story, generally it has much more to do with disease, sexuality or social contagion from the “other”. Indeed, most Gothic literature, Mary Shelley aside, is pretty conservative in tone – castles, banshees, eternal truths, decay and corruption – sounds like a typical Tory manifesto…
Werewolves likewise are generally seen as simply a throwback to our primeval past – bloodlust and a lack of control. It is almost as if Rousseau’s “back to nature” philosophy comes horribly to life in the form of the Wolfman, after reading a little bit of Heidegger.
However, the modern Zombie of cinema, graphic novel and now small-screen, is a different kettle of entrails altogether…
Although the folkloric Zombie has existed for centuries, and the film “The White Zombie” was made in 1935, the modern Zombie craze started in 1968, with George A Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. Now a much loved black and white classic, audiences were treated to something new in Horror ( and indeed in other) movies – a powerful black hero. This was the year that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were murdered. The year that the world first heard of The Black Panther Party, the year of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. This was on purpose, and Romero’s tragic ending, with the hero gunned down by rednecks was an indictment of how he saw US society and its racial divisions at that point.
Since this first film the gore quota has been upped to meet demand from an increasingly jaded public, yet liberal, and even anti-capitalist themes litter the genre. From “Dawn of The Dead” with its Zombie Mall to “Day of The Dead” with its critique of corporate America and class society, politics has been present in a way that many other mass-market films shun.
Both the excellent “28 Days Later” and its sequel “28 Weeks Later” actively promote a political vision of todays society, with swipes at genetic engineering and the Iraq Occupation. Even the much loved zom-rom-com “Shaun of The Dead” hits on something when we see the two lead male characters so out of touch with current events that they do not realise the apocalypse is upon them.
Both the low-budget Brit Flic “Zombie Diaries” and Romero’s own “Diary of The Dead” pass powerful comment upon the information age and its incessant blather – to paraphrase Gil Scott Heron, the Apocalypse will be live, it seems…
In “Day”, for once there seems to be not strong black character – until you realise that the leader of the Zombies, who can seemingly think and operate machinery, is black.
In Resident Evil, besides the gratuitous shots of Mila Jojovich, there is the Umbrella Corporation, behind all the evil that is visited upon our world.
The 1980s “Re-Animator” was staunchly opposed to the regime of “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, and made no bones (pun intended) about it.
Further than this, who are the Zombies? Why, they are us aren’t they? The contagion is no respecter of sex,class, privilege or race. To escape or defeat the infestation, we will have to co-operate (even the mighty Mila). Individualism, rugged or otherwise tends to lead to death, authority is often portrayed as corrupt or powerless. The heroes are for the most part ordinary men and women, not super heroes or grandstanding leaders. The rich seldom find comfort or security in their wealth. Selfishness is punished.
The flip-side of this is the latent fear of “the mob”, one which liberals worldwide have, and in a Zombie horde, I suppose they see their worst nightmare of Democracy – unthinking consumers, intent on only one thing, oblivious to their own decay. But this is outwheighed by the other portrayals and themes outlined above.
Possibly the finest exploration of this and other themes comes in Max Brooks’ “World War Z – an oral history”. This is both a homage to and parody of the Studs Terkel oral history style books. It also posits some very interesting ideas as to how humanity might survive such a holocaust, if at all…
So double-lock the doors, sit back and enjoy – Its The End Of The World As We Know It – Do you feel fine?