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Zombie (14): The Horde

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An individual zombie is almost no threat to any healthy adult. It can be easily outrun or dispatched by a decent blow to the head. What makes zombies a threat is that there are so many of them and their bite results in the absorption of their victims into the horde.

This is a super monstrous way to go for the Modern self.  This is because we are so incredibly individualistic.  We are so individualistic, we have no idea how individualistic we are.

Isn’t Individualism normal?

Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him He can live it as he sees fit.  The individual is sovereign, an end in himself.  We assume our individuality, but we didn’t always think this way.

The groups to which we belonged used to have something to say about how we lived our lives.  Collectivism is the idea that the individual is a member of a community and he must sacrifice his values and goals for the group’s “greater good.” In collectivism, the group is the end.

Before the Enlightenment, people were concerned with the idea of honour–and not individual honour, for honour was usually conferred collectively.  A shift occurred in the Enlightenment when ideas of honour were replaced with notions of the dignity of all human beings. Dignity replaced honour.

In the late-eighteenth century, the idea of universal dignity was complemented with the idea that each of us has a particular way of being human.   Do you see the germ of individualism there?  Thus, it became “important to find and live out one’s own [humanity], as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or previous generations, or religious or political authority” (475).

The 1960s as the “hinge moment” (476) where this individuation became mainstream. Significantly, it was in this decade that the first modern zombie movie was released. Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead(1968) are monstrous in that they attack this new understanding of the individual.

The basic thing here is that Individualism and Collectivism are two points on a continuum.  Cultures fall in between them somewhere.  Our culture is a long way down the Individualism end of the continuum and is moving closer all the time.

Our collective Modern identity is that we are a group composed of autonomous individuals.  As we became more individualistic, our monsters have become more collective.

Historically, our monsters have usually been solitary: Grendel, Satan, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula, Injun Joe. This changed in the 20th century, especially after Second World War. Click To Tweet

“I’m out of ammo . . .”

The zombie horde absorbs the individual into a mindless collective.

This characteristic of the zombie makes it ideally suited to terrorize our contemporary society. They attack in large numbers and overwhelm their victims by sheer weight of numbers. The horde absorbs individuality.

Significantly, it was in this decade that the first modern zombie movie was released. Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968) are monstrous in that they attack this new understanding of the individual.

The bite of the zombie means an imposed conformity that bases identity, not on uniqueness, but on context.Click To Tweet

In an age when the dignity of all human beings translates into the importance to being true to oneself, a zombie’s bite obliterates that unique self. The zombie horde is a mass in which all individuality has been eradicated; it is an ironic caricature of the “mass phenomenon” of modern individualism.

There are small differences between zombies, like clothing or “degree of putrefaction,” but these “only exacerbate their similarity, since they are markers which refer to the state of their corpse when they died, not anything that has been chosen to create individuality since reanimation” (Cooke 167).

We are committed to radical individualism, but zombies question that commitment.

The bite of the zombie means an imposed conformity that bases identity, not on uniqueness, but on context. This is yet another source of horror that the zombie horde embodies for the modern self, who considers itself, above all things, autonomous.

Next Zombie Post: Not Evil, Just Hungry

Zombies (13): Are Funny

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Unlike other monsters, “zombies do not need any separate comic relief . . . they are their own” (Paffenroth 14).

The human body isn’t just a hunk of flesh—it’s a ludicrous hunk of flesh.

Zombies personify death; they force us to face the fragility of our bodies and our own material future.  This may be too much to bear, except that while the zombie is inherently horrifying, it is also “irresistibly comic” (Cooke 166).

Of this comic dimension, Russel says,

[T]he comedy exaggerates the horror by making us even more aware of just how ridiculously vulnerable the flesh is.  If Romero’s aim really is to make us lose all faith in bodily integrity, then it’s the comic impact of the gory special effects that hammers the point home.  The human body isn’t just a hunk of flesh—it’s a ludicrous hunk of flesh.  (95)

Funny Ha Ha

Zombies are funny because they “lack coordination and intelligence,” so they are frequently victims of “simple slapstick, physical gags” (Paffenroth 14).

How often have we seen “funny” zombie scenes in AMC’s The Waling Dead?

  • The Hanging Zombie:  A guy commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree.  He even leaves a suicide not: “Got bit. Fever hit. World gone to Shit. Might as well quit.” His reanimated corpse dangles from the tree futilely attempting to get at Andrea.
  • Screwdriver Zombie (I have the bobblehead of this guy)–walks around with a screwdriver protruding from his eye socket.
  • Well Zombie–you know what I’m talking about.  GROSS!
  • It’s raining zombies! — zombies drop through the ceiling of a supermarket’s rotted roof.

  • Play Doh Fun Factory Zombie — a zombie is pressed against the chain link fence by a massive horde–I don’t need to describe the effect.

Ironically Funny

Zombies aren’t just funny, “Ha ha.”

Kim Paffenroth identifies “the comedy of reversal” as another type of humour in zombie films, “especially the reversal of social roles” (16).  He suggests that zombies are the “lowest, most ‘peasant’ type of monster . . . but enjoy greater success at annihilating humanity that any previous monster ever did. . . . The whole idea of zombies taking over the world is both a funny and potent parable of human hubris, arrogance, and self-sufficiency” (17).

They are physical comedians and they provoke the ironic snicker, but I suggest we laugh at them for a third reason: as a means of dealing with the despair of living without transcendence.

Gallows Humour

The humour inherent in zombie narratives enables a distancing between ourselves and a reality that would perhaps be too much to bear.Click To Tweet

Given that they bring material man face to face with his annihilation, the comedic dimension of the zombie is a form of “gallows humor”—a dark, fatalistic humor, the sort one might display on the gallows before being hanged.  James Thorson argues that genuine gallows humour is intentional and purposeful, the main purpose being to cope with death, either through defiance or emotional escape.

We laugh at the zombie as a means to cope because, in the context of the closed immanent frame, death is something too terrible to contemplate.  The humour inherent in zombie narratives enables a distancing between ourselves and a reality that would perhaps be too much to bear.

Next zombie post: The Zombie Horde

Also Cited:
Thorson, James A. “Did You Ever See A Herse Go By? Some Thoughts on Gallows Humour.” Journal of American Culture 16.2 (Summer 1993): 17-24. Web. 11 July 2012.

Zombies (12): Invasion of Privacy

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The type of death one can expect from a zombie is nothing if not intimate.  They use no secondary object, like a knife or even a rock.  They use only their own teeth and hands.  Victims are frequently shown having their abdomens violated by a group of zombies who proceed to then put the vitals into their mouths.  Like I said—intimate.

In our culture we resist intimacy.  There was a time when servants would bathe and dress their betters, but nowadays we have a hard time carrying on a conversation with someone standing next to us at the urinal.

Charles Taylor observes that our culture is characterized by a “withdrawal from certain modes of intimacy, as well as taking a distance from certain bodily functions” (Taylor 137).  Taylor cites the work of Norbert Elias in his book, The Civilizing Process, where he describes a shift involving a “steady raising of the threshold of embarrassment, one might even say, disgust” (Taylor 138).  Where once people were advised not to blow one’s nose in the tablecloth, we now insist on leaving the table to perform the same act.

We are uncomfortable with intimate connections to others.  It is the convention that bodily functions are not even mentioned.  How much more offensive is the disembowelment and consumption of entrails witnessed regularly in a zombie film.

Clearly, this is a monstrous affront to our modern sensibilities.

 

Next zombie post: Zombies are Funny

 

Zombies (11): Modern Monster, Modern Death

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Jaime Russell claims that the ultimate meaning of the zombie is as “a symbol of mankind’s most primitive anxiety: the fear of death” (8).

Well, our primitive fear is our modern fear and the zombie forces the modern self to face it.

Death is persistent and there is nothing we can do to stop it from getting us eventually.  One of the strategies of we modern people to deal with the fact of death is to just not think about it.  But we are also fascinated by it in zombie movies.

The persistence of the zombie personifies the inevitability of death and thus augments our fear of mortality.Click To Tweet

Simon Pegg, co-writer, director and actor of Shaun of the Dead, explains that zombies

are death and they will get you in the end. We could all be in a room now with one and quite happily walk round and round the room and he’d never get you because he’d just be stumbling along. But eventually you’d have to go to sleep and when you did, he’d eat you. There’s just something really eerie about that (Russell 183).

Death’s persistence has always been with us, so this characteristic of the zombie isn’t what makes it a uniquely a modern monster.  Almost all monsters kill us, it’s like their thing, but it’s just not the killing bit that is the problem these days—it’s the death.

Death in the Modern Sense

Zombies do not just deliver death, but they also embody death as we understand death in the modern world.

Like all monsters in the history of human storytelling, the zombie kills its victims, but the threat of death’s inevitability is more significant when one lives in a reality without the transcendent. In this context, life is equivalent to biological life.

Without any future beyond this world, the zombie horde represents to modern man an “ambulatory mass grave” and as such is “both a reminder of the inevitability of death and an affront to [modern man’s] belief in its finality” (Russell 69).

Unlike preceding centuries, in the modern materialist universe, death is final. It is not, as in the past, a transition through which one passes, but a permanent state of non-being.

Like all monsters in the history of human storytelling, the zombie kills its victims, but the threat of death’s inevitability is more significant when one lives in a reality without the transcendent.  In this context, life is equivalent to biological life.

Without any future beyond this world, the zombie horde represents to modern man an “ambulatory mass grave” and as such is “both a reminder of the inevitability of death and an affront to [modern man’s] belief in its finality” (Russell 69).  Unlike preceding centuries, in the modern materialist universe, death is final. It is not, as in the past, a transition through which one passes, but a permanent state of non-being.

The zombie articulates a profound—and profoundly modern—shift from older cultural attitudes about death: “the process of dying no longer means the conveyance of our eternally unchanging soul to another, more timeless realm; rather, death becomes a state we inhabit within our own earthly vessels, something we become rather than somewhere we go” (Muntean 83).

In the zombie narrative, the undead are the agents and the bodily representation of this “becoming.”

Next zombie post: Zombies and Intimacy

Zombies (10): The Horror of the Body

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The zombies are an abject horror in themselves, but what they do to their victims is even more horrifying.  Spurting blood and biting of flesh, and the ingestion of slippery entrails and bloody organs, are staples of the zombie genre.   The zombie film exploits the fear that, in the absence of any transcendent meaning, we are nothing but vulnerable, and soon to be dead, flesh.

The zombie film exploits the fear that, in the absence of any transcendent meaning, we are nothing but vulnerable, and soon to be dead, flesh.Click To Tweet

Stephan Asma describes how modern horror focuses on “the subjective revulsion and terror of the flesh.” In the absence of the transcendent, there is a terror in “all things biological” (198).

The bodily violence in the zombie films exploits the vulnerability we feel as biological beings.  In his analysis of Night of the Living Dead, Jaime Russell explains how “Romero never lets us forget that this is a film about the body. Or to be more accurate, the horror of the body” (67):

Romero demonstrates the essential frailty of human flesh, repeatedly showing the violent capacities fingernails, teeth, knives, and bullets have to reduce living tissue to bleeding inert flesh. By objectifying the human body in such a graphic manner, Romero relentlessly dissolves the boundaries between the living and the dead, the human and the zombie, and the living beings and intimate products. (Russell 138)

The violence done to bodies, both of the living and the undead, forces modern viewers to consider the possibility that the human body may be “nothing more than meat, aligning human beings unapologetically with stockyard animals and game” (133).

This is a scary idea, indeed.

Next Zombie post: Modern Monster. Modern Death

Zombies (9): Why are zombies so disgusting?

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Zombies are disgusting–open wounds, fluids running out of their orifices, and what’s that stuck in his teeth, a piece of Barbara?

According to the theorists, identity–that which is us–is understood in relation to the Other–that which is not us.  The boundaries between the two are important in understanding the self.  These boundaries are clarified through challenges.  That’s where monsters come in.  They cross these lines as if to us to ask, “Where do I end and where does the Other begin?”

The Victorian wolfman, for example, transgressed the boundaries between human and animal in order challenge and perhaps clarify the boundary between these categories.  At that time, one of the challenges to the collective identity came from the ideas in books like Darwin’s Origin of the Species.  What is a human being?

The Abject–Julia Kristeva

There is a category of things that disgust us because they occupy the space between the self and the other–bodily fluids for instance.  We find these revolting because they transgress the boundary between the self and other–they are in between what is clearly me and what is clearly not.  Because zombies leak bodily fluids all over the place, they are an embodiment of this sort of revulsion.

Julia Kristeva puts vomit and pus and that sort of thing in a category that she labels the abject and suggests that, because the abject challenges boundaries between self and other, our identities are formulated against it.

Because the abject challenges boundaries between self and other, our idenities are formulated against it.

Julia Kristeva describes the abject as being “neither inside nor outside, neither subject nor object, neither self nor other, troubling identity, and order with the instability of boundaries, borders, and limits” (Zakin).

In Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Kristeva describes the process by which identity is constituted.  Identity formation is a process involving the establishment of boundaries between that which is the self and that which is not the self.  It starts with the individual beginning to a distinction between the self and the body of her mother.  For this to happen, the person pushes away from the other.

Anything that is between the self and the other, that is both me and not me, falls into the category of the abject.  These things include an open wound, excrement, nail clippings, pus, blood, sweat, even the skin on the top of milk.  The abject often evokes the physical reaction of nausea because it reminds us of the fragility of the boundaries that constitute the self.  Thus, the abject is “horrifying, repellent, but also fascinating; it is strange but familiar” (Zakin).

Zombies generate revulsion in the viewing audience because they evoke the fear of the abject; they challenge identity in the same way the abject does.

Zombies are disgusting--open wounds, fluids running out of their orifices, and what’s that stuck in his teeth, a piece of Barbara? Zombies generate revulsion in the viewing audience because they evoke the fear of the abject.Click To Tweet

Zombies are Abject

Two things are necessary for zombies to elicit revulsion as falling under the category of the abject.

First, in order to inhabit the liminal space between that which is the self and also not the self, they need to have a strong association with the self.  This is an easy task for the zombie, because it looks just like us; it is the most human of monsters.

Secondly, they must be not the self.  This is accomplished by them being dead, and by their resultant state of decay and the bodily fluids they ooze and spew.  Thus, the zombie “disturbs identity, system, [and] order. [It] does not respect borders, positions, rules” (Kristeva 4).  The zombie is, therefore, abject.

As monsters, zombies help us understand who we are, by challenging the boundary between us and what we aren’t.  The abject does this as well.  In the zombie we have a convergence of monster and abject.  That’s why zombie movies are disgusting.  I would like to underscore once again, that the abject, like the zombie, challenges physical (or immanent) categories for, to the modern secular self, there is nothing else.

The Modern secular self assumes it is simply physical.  The zombie forces us to face the implications of this belief.  It is purely physical, purely biological–and totally disgusting.  This is unsettling.  This is what monsters do.

Next zombie post: Horror of the Body

Also Cited:

Lennon, Kathleen. “Feminist Perspectives on the Body.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 28 June 2010. Web. 19 Sept. 2012.

Zakin, Emily. “Psychoanalytic Feminism.” Summer 2011. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 9 April 2012.

Zombies (8): Challenging Modern Boundaries

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Zombies are thoroughly and completely physical monsters.  There is nothing spiritual or supernatural about them.  They aren’t even superhuman.

They are a very modern monster.

All Monsters Transgress Boundaries

Monsters basically do two things that trouble us.

First, they make us dead.

Second, they cross boundaries.  And not just literal boundaries like doors and fences in order to do the first thing that troubles us.  They transgress abstract and psychological boundaries as well.

People have an idea about what’s good and what’s bad, what’s “us” and what’s “them.”  Monsters challenge these categories reminding us that they are pretty flimsy.  In doing so, according to Richard Kearney, monsters remind us “that we don’t know who we are” (Strangers 117).

Like all monsters, the zombie kills victims and transgresses boundaries.  Its uniqueness lies in the particular boundaries that it blurs, the nature of the death it brings and in its presentation as a horde; each of these is a particular horror for the modern secular self.

Like all monsters, the zombie kills and transgresses boundaries. Its uniqueness lies in the boundaries it blurs, the nature of the death it brings and in its presentation as a horde; each of these is a particular horror for the modern secular identity.Click To Tweet

The Monster: From Supernatural to Superhuman . . .

The monsters of old transgressed different boundaries that do our monsters today.  People lived in the ordered wholeness of the cosmos, filled with categories that ensured order and held meaning.  The monsters, through supernatural means, transgressed boundaries between human and nonhuman and between living and dead.  These monsters were demons, ghosts, and witches.

Later, post-Enlightenment monsters lost the spiritual dimension that the monsters of Christian mythologies possessed.  Asma says these more natural monsters

came under the new umbrella of a mechanistic worldview, and spiritual monsters (e.g., demons and devils) were sent packing, along with diviners, priests, and theologians, never to return in any significant way to the pages of the natural philosophers (149).

The modern monsters still transgress boundaries, but rather than supernatural ones, they transgress natural or immanent categories—often animal and man.

Our monsters “usually possess the worst but most potent qualities of both species: brute strength, diabolical intellect, deceit, lechery, lust for power, and savage disregard for life” (Paffenroth 7).

As the idea of the mechanistic universe strengthened at the expense of the old cosmos, the monsters lost much of their transcendence but were still superhuman. Frankenstein’s creation, the wolf-man, and Count Dracula are such monsters.

. .  .  to not super at all.

But in the zombie, we see the absence or irrelevance of the transcendent.  Monsters threaten identity because they transgress boundaries, and as modern monsters, zombies occupy the space between immanent categories.  Immanent categories would include individual/group, humourous/horrific, self/other, conscious/unconscious, consumer/consumed, human/not human and most significantly, life/death.

Zombies are monsters, but they are a very different kind of monster.  We will be exploring how they are different in upcoming posts.

Next zombie post: Why are zombies are so disgusting?

Zombies (7): “Mommy, where do zombies come from?”

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There is not clear answer to the question, “Where do zombies come from?”

Zombies are our monsters.

We are modern and we are secular, so our monsters will be just the sort of creature that would terrorize a modern, secular audience.  It’s like they are rubbing our face into what a truly material human being would be.  This is a horror.

If human beings are strictly material, then we have no meaning.

Cause and Meaning

This is why zombies resist meaning.  This is why there is no definitive cause to the zombie infestation.  To have a cause would necessarily attribute meaning to the presence of zombies.

  • If they are clearly caused by scientific hubris, then the zombies are a warning to not be scientifically hubristic.
  • If it is discovered that the dead have animated because of environmental degradation, then they mean we should stop driving SUVs.
  • If it is discovered that the infestation is a disease, the zombie would represent the perpetual struggle of man against a hostile world.
  • If they are the minions of an evil genius bent on world domination they would represent the negative effects of totalitarianism on humanity.
  • or created by aliens they symbolize an external political threat.

Ambiguity of Zombie Origins

Zombies refuse to explain their origin.

This motif was established in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and it is true of almost all the stories of the undead that follow. Within the story, various theories as to why corpses have re-animated are sometimes suggested: “human error might be the cause, so might the space program, extra-terrestrial forces, ‘natural’ conditions in outer space, and so on” (Waller 275-6). But the cause is almost never certain.

And that’s because it’s not important, nor is the plausibility of that cause, since the movies are really always about the effects, not the causes, of the zombie infestation.

To offer some rational cause for the zombie infestation would give meaning to the calamity--the lack of meaning is at the heart of zombie narratives.Click To Tweet

In fact, Italian director Lucio Fulci is “not afraid to throw aside logic or narrative.” In his film Zombie 2, for instance, the cause of the zombie infestation changes from a pagan curse early in the story to some form of contagious disease later in the film. This disregard for consistency shows that “the central concern of zombie films has nothing to do with . . . discovering the ultimate cause of the catastrophe”(Zani [Better off Dead] 108).

To offer some determinate cause for the walking dead would give meaning to the calamity. The search for the cause would end up being a search for the meaning of the zombie within the context of the film, and this is precisely what the zombie film will not do—the lack of meaning is at the heart of zombie narratives.

A consistent ambiguity surrounding the cause of the zombie infestation, both within or between movies of this genre, places the attention on the struggle of the human protagonists and away from a cause.  If there were a definite cause, the zombie and the struggle might end up meaning something–even transcendent explanations might have to be seriously considered.

When we stopped living in a world enchanted by the supernatural, we lost supernatural purpose and meaning.  Meaning, if it is to be found, will be found inside the self.

This means there are as many meanings as there are people, or at least groups of people.  It’s as if, out of respect for our unwillingness to impose some universal truth on anyone.

If there is a declared source of the zombie infestation in a particular movie, as does World War Z, (more here) then it has broken from a significant marker of zombie narratives.

The apparent meaninglessness of the zombie infestation challenges out identity and deepens the crisis.  Zombies resist meaning anything, because secular man refuses to mean something.  The zombie is giving us a picture of what meaningless may look like if we took it to its logical end.  And then it asks us if we are serious about it.

Next Zombie Post: Modern Boundaries 

Zombies (6): Settings

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The zombie is thoroughly physical; one of its primary qualities is that it has been emptied of transcendence.

The same can be said about the world through which it shambles.

The Setting of Night of the Living Dead

In George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the ordinariness of the setting reflects a thoroughly immanent world. The “dully commonplace settings” of the movie reflect the flatness of a universe in a different way than do the more fantastic settings of almost all of the American horror films that preceded it.

The graveyard in the opening scenes has no painted background or ominous lighting, but is “flatly lit and unretouched.” The house where the rest of the film takes place is an ordinary farmhouse, not a gothic “castle overlooking the perpetually befogged forest” (Dillard [in American Horrors] 17). The setting of this film in relation to those of other American horror films, like Frankenstein (1931), illustrates the shift in society’s understanding of the universe.  The world in which we live is no longer enchanted or terrorized by anything supernatural–it is a material, disenchanted universe.

The world of Night of the Living Dead is a wholly immanent one.

The Setting of AMC’s The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is one of the few shows that sill uses 16mm film.  The reason for this is that 16mm film is grainier.  The world takes on a grittier feel–more organic.

The next time you watch the show, look at the colours.  They are muted, emphasizing the bleakness of the world.  They use a technique called desaturation; they basically drain the colour.  Along with the colour, they drain the world of the show of its transcendence.  Unlike saturation, which adds life and vitality to colour, the  leaves in TWD leaves are not as green, and the sky is not as blue as reality, or even in other television shows.

The net effect of all this is that the world “feels” far more immanent.  The trees, buildings and people are far from suffused with a transcendent glow.

Next Zombie post: Where do zombies come from?

 

Zombies (5): Ain’t Got No Soul

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The horror story in general, turns fear, “whether personal or social, into a specific type of monster; and seeks to contain and destroy it” (Worland 17).

As a very popular figure in modern narratives, the zombie is the embodiment of the fears of modern man.  Because modern man is secular man, the zombie represents fears that have come as a result of secularization on the human identity.

Romero’s Night of the Living Dead took zombie narratives in a whole new direction from the voodoo zombie films.   This direction is resonates with a culture that is permeated with secular modernity: a culture that no longer recognizing the relevance, or even the presence of the transcendent beyond the material.   For this reason, it is called the first modern zombie film.

The zombie represents fears that have come as a result of secularization on the human identity.Click To Tweet

Betrayed by the Gods

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many in the west were coming to terms with the death of God, as declared by Nietzsche, by transferring their faith to a new master and savior: technology and science. But with the events of the Second World War, most particularly the Holocaust and the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the Cold War that followed, American culture found its new gods inadequate.  Betrayed by these gods–we thought they would bring salvation, fulfillment and flourishing– we now have difficulty putting our faith in anything.

The zombie that Romero’s presented in Night of the Living Dead still represented the loss of our selfhood (subjectivity), but more importantly, and more horrifyingly, it also represented humanity experiencing loss of the transcendent.

The Loss of the Transcendent

The transcendent is a broad category that includes realities beyond the simply physical, or immanent reality.  Things like God, the human soul would be considered transcendent.  As would the Good, or Truth and Beauty, as objective realities.

The modern self is secular because denies the existence, or at least relevance, of the transcendent.  So, the monster which terrorizes the modern identity is completely immanent.

The modern self is secular because denies the existence, or at least relevance, of the transcendent. So, the monster which terrorizes the modern identity is completely immanent.Click To Tweet

The absence of the transcendent is apparent in the modern zombie film, most particularly in the monster itself. In Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the walking dead, except for the fact that they are walking, are very ordinary. Some of them “are fully dressed; one of them is rather fat and dressed only in jockey shorts; one of them, a young woman, is naked. They look vulnerable, and they are vulnerable, to a blow to the head and to fire” (Dillard 21). Interestingly, “they were cast from local citizens of Pittsburgh . . . becoming extras in a story . . . and in many senses playing themselves” (Warner 366). There is very little difference between the zombies and one’s neighbours.

As a modern monster, like a werewolf, a vampire or a ghoul, the zombie has no supernatural qualities, but unlike them has no superhuman qualities either: “they cannot fly, they cannot turn into vapor, bat, or wolf; they are not possessed of superhuman strength; they don’t have fangs” (Paffenroth 8). Max Brooks, in The Zombie Survival Guide, reminds us that “the body of the undead is, for all practical purposes, human” (6).

Without transcendence or superhuman qualities, these lurchers are “just pale skin, gaping wounds, and noticeable decay” (Bishop 117). Unlike the spirits of distant generations, “a zombie is embodied and material, [it] walks and bleeds and sweats” (Warner 358).

Where is our identity in crisis?  We moderns have done away with supernatural categories.  Zombies are a representation of what a human being looks like if there is no such thing as the transcendent.  Are we zombies?  This is the terrifying question that zombies are asking.

The thoroughly immanent zombie, then, is a suitable terror for the residents of a world that is only material.

Next Zombie post: Settings

 

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