Zombies

Oh my!

I disagree strongly with a New York Times article! Oh who would’ve thought! (sarcasm: I disagree with many NYT articles. See for example TBD’s characteristically brilliant destruction of recent lameness)

BUT ANYWAY

I disagree strongly with this NYT article about zombies, which I only read half of because I don’t subscribe so it won’t let me read it without logging in!!!

From what I read, Klosterman is making a cutesy “we love zombies because our lives are like fighting zombies because of twitter and things” argument thoroughly in keeping with the sort of fraudulent “10-minutes-to-deadline” usually anti-feminist “trend pieces” so delightfully mocked by the above link.

No offense.

But excuse me. Deleting a bunch of emails is approximately nothing like battling your way through a zombie apocalypse. And excuse me? The zombie genre is “without major evolution”? Dude goes on to say that there are fast zombies and slow ones and that’s it. But, if I were able to access my own brilliant archives, I could link you to an extensive essay written by me which deconstructs this very qualitative shift in the zombie genre, using the shift as a sort of historiographical hermeneutic window through which to view shifts in our very perception of the world and of ourselves. The difference between fast and slow zombies is in fact very important!

Furthermore, the werewolf isn’t about man’s anxiety about not being a predator anymore. WTF dude?? Werewolf is so obviously sex-based. Hair sprouts out of you and you become a bestial Other, incapable of using morality to regulate your actions. May I please direct you to the instructive film “Teen Wolf” for a more explicit exploration of this metaphor. Loser is bad at basketball; can’t get chicks! Sprouts hair from unlikely places, gets muscles, becomes legendary sex maniac basketball player! Whose animal instincts take over and make him do grody stuff he regrets! SHAME AND BODY SHAME! With the blonde cheerleader with the boobs and the satiny white bra that seems to have been the hallmark of all 80’s films and which does not exist in reality! HOW DO YOU GET YOUR BRA THAT SHINY?

Furthermore, excuse me? Vampires are anxiety about AIDS? I was not aware there was a big AIDS problem in 16th century Hungary. MY BAD.

I guess F.W. Murnau was REALLY ahead of the game, in terms of “hearing about AIDS, becoming afraid of AIDS, and then converting that fear into subconscious metaphorical anxiety about AIDS like 100 years before AIDS existed.”

I am sorry for beating a dead horse–and yes, I do realize it is funny HOW MANY TIMES I have documented the history of the vampire on this blog–but EXCUSE ME CHUCK KLOSTERMAN. Vampire began as run-of-the-mill religious anxiety: if you were sinful and/or a suicide, and were buried in unconsecrated ground, did that maybe mean your soul somehow stayed in your body, rather than ascending to the empyric plane to be with the baby jesus? What if the sinful improperly-buried were compelled by satan to crawl from their graves and shamble, zombie-like, back to the haunts they knew in life, to their own family members? Doomed in death to prey on those they loved in life, the vampire was really just a stinky ghost, the veracity of which was upheld by all the times they’d dig somebody up and find them dissheveled in the grave due to having been buried alive. Due to the lack of science. HOORAY FOR SCIENCE.

Then later vampire becomes about fear of money, capitalism, foreigners with money (a.k.a. “Jews”), becomes super racist and about class, also of course about sex (everything is about sex, except, interestingly, the zombie. Also I guess Godzilla), with the virgins being “infected” by this tainted rich foreigner and then they take off their nightdresses and run out in the rain and then we must kill them for they can be no human man’s bride forevermore (ok that one’s mostly just dracula). Miscegenation!! Fear of female sexuality!! Oh god these nightmares, please call Dr. Freud before I develop neuralgia!!!!! Or possibly dyspepsia!!!!!!!! I’M A VICTORIAN I CAN’T HELP MYSELF

But really excuse me, the zombie equals twitter? Oh the fast pace of modern life etc. etc. For one thing, the modern zombie was invented by Mr. George Romero many hundreds of years before the internet. Also it was the 1960’s, when hordes of people were getting together for the first-ever time, to do things like march inexorably to Washington D.C. or to take over campus buildings or to protest the Vietnam War. Not to mention the Vietnam War itself, a.k.a. MINDLESS SLAUGHTER OF BABIES/THE FIRST TIME PEOPLE EVER THOUGHT MAYBE WAR WAS WRONG. I’m just saying.

And excuse me, the reason we love zombie movies is not that the zombie represents our primal fear (of twitter?), but rather because zombies are so easy to kill?? That’s why we love them? Because we love watching movies about stuff that’s easy to kill?

I urge you to watch any zombie film ever made. The zombies are in fact not easy to kill. They keep rising, again and again!! What kind of horrible creature doesn’t die when you chop off all its arms and legs??? And, even if individual zombies are sometimes easy to kill, that’s still not the point. The point is that the zombies are not individuals, they are more like an aspen grove. They are one horrible roiling organism, all of them at once, in dreadful togetherness. The more you kill the more there are. You can not kill the zombie. You can only kill a zombie. And in these films, the people never really win. They may get away briefly, but the implication is always one of complete doom. Where are you gonna go to have a nice normal life when the world is overrun by zombies? You can’t even die! FEAR OF NOT BEING ABLE TO DIE! Which the brilliant satire “Fido” makes explicit, with the dude so afraid of becoming a zombie he takes out “Death insurance” and reads “Death” magazine instead of “Life.”

Thus the modern zombie is more like the ancient vampire than anything else.

zombie is thus partially our sort of atheist fear of death, like, what even happens when you die, when you don’t believe in magical heaven world anymore? But it’s also OBVIOUSLY about our fear of ourselves, the great mass of humanity pressing down on us. This fear stems from the birth of modernity itself. Steam engines and such. Everything going faster and becoming horribly regulated. Everybody moving to the city. The great seething hordes of people. Also there’s some class stuff in there too, with “the masses” including poor people and women and stuff.

Basically all that our monster movies show us is that we are afraid only of three things:
– people
– science
– Jews

That last one is outdated. So really it’s just people and science. Because look–the vampire is no longer scary! The vampire, which was once the great monsterific bastion of anti-semitism and anxieties about money and influence and the aristocracy! Now it’s just about boners.

And the first two are getting mixed. In 28 Days Later zombies are created by science. We no longer have our Godzilla/Dracula split, one man-made and one mystical. Now there’s just people, science, and giant freezing-cold boners. And women, of course–always with the fears of women and their horrible gaping vaginas that want to swallow everything in sight.

And that is all I have to say to you, Chuck Klosterman.

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8 Responses to Zombies

  1. Jamie says:

    This post is awesome! Although I think one of the crucial steps between vampires being the bastion of fears about the aristocracy and Jews and vampires being just about boners was the AIDS crisis and gay panic of the 80s and 90s. It’s just that now, instead of the fear of the Eastern/Jewish interloper whose threat manifests in his thirst for real estate and his ability to corrupt virgins, we just have the fear of vampires either making people gay (The Lost Boys) or breaking girls’ purity pledges (the Twilight franchise). So in a way, we’re more Victorian now than ever.

    I do think Klosterman gets one important distinction between vampires and zombies right, though: vampires can be eroticized and individualized and zombies cannot. So while the vampire is so great (and so enduring) because, as you say, it makes us think about the relationship between sin and the afterlife AND the consequences of “inappropriate/unnatural” sexual contact, the zombie is enduring because of what it has to say at different historical moments about the sameness between life and death, the power/threat of masses, and non-sexual (AKA capitalist) reproduction–a kind of instantaneous, undying, unconscious, repetitive, non-consensual genesis.

  2. Yours Truly says:

    Great points! I think you’re totally right. I have definitely thought about the individuality of the vampire vs. the zombie before, because of the zombie as “mass culture fear,” but I never put it as specifically/eloquently as you just did. Non-sexual reproduction! So great.

  3. mokin says:

    Your list of things people are afraid of would be better if it was like this:
    – people
    – science
    – Jaws

    Also, why can’t you read NYT articles? You don’t need to be a subscriber to have a NYT account, it’s free!

  4. Lizzie says:

    Do you know about the nascent Journal of Dracula Studies?
    http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/39434

    You should contribute! Or at least come up with a punny paper title, e.g., “Bela Lugosi’s Shed: the Epistemology of Backyard Vampire Storage.”

  5. Kaye says:

    Most excellent! For me, zombie fiction was taken to another level with The Living Dead and The Living Dead 2 short story anthologies. These ain’t your momma’s zombie stories. Also, some of the best short stories I have ever read, period.

  6. Trina says:

    I liked this:

    “And, even if individual zombies are sometimes easy to kill, that’s still not the point. The point is that the zombies are not individuals, they are more like an aspen grove. They are one horrible roiling organism, all of them at once, in dreadful togetherness.”

    because it reminded me of the thought I had at the very end of the premiere of The Walking Dead, wherein Our Hero is trapped in the tank while the zombies swarm around eating his horse — that the zombies resembled nothing so much as an ant colony. You kill a few, but the sheer numbers of them are overwhelming in their massive mindlessness.

    But mainly I’m commenting to point out that Chuck Klosterman started his writing career with this kind of hipster presumptuousness (he ran a supplement in our local paper and nobody knew how he got the job) and obviously he’s never learned better. And yet he’s in the New York Times. If there’s little appreciation of true talent in the media, there’s even less punishment for lack of talent.

  7. Nick says:

    Excellent analysis! However, I hold that the popularity of zombies is due to the sheer laziness of the American entertainment consumer. We no longer wish to be challenged- see every ridiculous Hollywood remake, reboot, retread of the last 10 years. We seem to want repetitive entertainment with predictable conclusions. We’re stuck in a cultural cul-de-sac, with no way out. Look at the upcoming Tron rehash: the original sucked, is boring as hell, but at least had cutting-edge graphics. The new one will basically use the SAME graphics, only wth better product placement. Perhaps it is our films whcih are the zombies- once creative but not simply corpses reanimated by and for profit.

    Back to zombies. Americans like to see people- or zombiefied people- getting shot. The fact that the zombies are deemed in/sub-human removes any icky moral feelings. If anything, our entertainment culture has conditioned us to wish that we could all shoot someone- it looks like so much fun on-screen- but most of us still realize we cannot act on this impulse, so zombies will have to do.

    • Nick says:

      Oops, should read:

      Perhaps it is our films WHICH are the zombies- once creative but NOW simply corpses reanimated by and for profit.

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