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“I’m out of ammo!”

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2013 at 4:13 am

zombie hordeAnother important characteristic of the zombie that makes it ideally suited to terrorize our contemporary society is that it is a horde.  They attack in large numbers and overwhelm their victims by sheer weight of numbers.  The horde absorbs individuality—and we modern selves are obsessed with questions of identity (what is me and what is not me?).  And with the absorption into the zombie horde, these questions, for the victim, become irrelevant.

With absorption into the zombie horde, questions of identity are irrelevant.

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 loss of the unique self is an affront of to our modern conception of the individual.

Charles Taylor observes that the individualism of the past was restricted to the artistic élites, but by the time of Romero’s first zombie film, it had become a “mass phenomenon” (473).  Prior to the Enlightenment, one’s identity was, in part, contingent upon one’s place in society and the honour conferred accordingly.  A shift occurred in the Enlightenment when ideas of honour were replaced with the more Universalist notions of the dignity of all human beings.  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.  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). Taylor considers 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 bite of the zombie means an imposed conformity that bases identity, not on uniqueness, but on context.

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).

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: Zombies Can’t Be Evil

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Zombies are Funny

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 4:00 am

Zombies Funny

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)

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

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.

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

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.

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