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
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.