Given the chance they will both devour anyone in their way. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the genre together and see where it takes us.
I’ve discussed the concept of the “Other” before here and as I was watching the original Night of the Living Dead a few nights ago something hit me. With all the back and forth about the Elite Geeks and new comers, or even the geek girl conundrum I wrote about last week, are we causing these reactions? Are we maintaining that these reactions are okay in the media we enjoy. I love a good zombie movie as much as the next guy. I will also admit (brag) that I also really enjoy mowing through the undead and zombies in games like World of Warcraft or Diablo 3. However, is the sheer enjoyment of these examples also promoting an “us versus them” mentality?
Several months ago I talked about the “Monstrous Other” and looking at everything now I can easily see that Zombies own that mantle now. With the romanticizing of vampires and werewolves in movies like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries those monsters do not hold the same feeling of impending terror they once did. To be fair, these monsters have gone through a rise and fall of this romantic idealization several times through the ages. However, right now zombies hold that card.
The Zombie Genre establishes the concept of the
Monstrous Other in mainstream society. The Zombie movie origin begins in 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead directed by George Romero, who current filmmakers call the godfather of the genre. Romero states he was unaware the magnitude of his creative decision; he simply wanted to create a monster that was low budget and scary.1 Romero films present society with the walking dead, reanimated corpses that feed on the flesh of the living. Acting purely on instinct, their decaying bodies aimlessly shamble in search for food. These monsters represent several fears in society such as the obvious fear of death. Other fears include isolation, society crumbling, and disease.
In Night the characters fortify themselves in an isolated farmhouse, they possess no connection to the outside world and one of the survivors remains injured by the zombies.
In Romero films, now a staple in the genre, zombies spread their condition through bites. Once an individual suffers a bite wound, they die and rise from the dead. While appearing human, zombies embody the Monstrous Other concept in the sense that they possess no other defining characteristics of humanity. Previous monsters such as Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Monster still possess some level of reasoning or the ability to ward off (Bond 28). In some series, these monsters exist as sympathetic protagonists such as Twilight (2008) and Angel (1999-2004).2 The living dead possess no reasoning; truly acting on basest instincts like ravenous animals.
The genre provides social commentary regarding the Other in mainstream culture. Since 2002 the Zombie genre enjoys a new renaissance in popularity. Films such as Zombieland, 28 Days Later, a remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), and the AMC television show The Walking Dead (2010) further the genre. The modern entries further explore the Monstrous Other’s effect on society. Similar to the Frankenstein monster, zombies represent something that exists similar to humans but remains inhuman.
In all Zombie films, the walking dead meet fear and retaliation. However, unlike Frankenstein the story completely justifies these reactions. All media in the genre explicitly state the urgency to quickly destroy the walking dead. This creates the “us versus them” mentality found in all Zombie genre pieces. In The
Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, the lead character, tells Merle, a racist bigot arguing with an African American survivor, only living and undead remain, no other race classification matters.3 This presents an interesting ethical question when the Other infects the normal.
The potential for anyone to become the living dead creates fear and suspicion of everyone. Scenes from Romero’s Land of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead (2004) illustrate this paranoia. In Land, the main character must kill one of his men after they suffer a zombie bite, knowing that they would soon turn on everyone else. In Dawn one character hides his pregnant girlfriend from the rest of the survivors after she suffers a bite, knowing that once discovered she would be preemptively killed. Several other scenes highlight the necessity to exterminate the infected before they turn.4
In his novel, World War Z, Max Brooks illustrates this same mentality on a larger scale. The story presents collection of oral accounts of the war with the walking dead. In the sections leading up to the “Great Panic,” when the world learns of the plague, the oral accounts describe governments using any method possible to segregate the infected and exterminating them before they reanimate.5
In all pieces within the genre, when characters avoid action the consequences later prove the preemptive strike necessary. Walking Dead presents the ethical dilemma when the group learns one of their own was infected during a recent attack on their camp. The discussion about whether to kill him now or wait for him to turn occurs while other victims, who died from bites, reanimate in the background. This backdrop forces both the characters and viewers to face the consequences of inaction.6 This concept of destroying both the Other and those “infected” with otherness poses delicate issues in the current social climate.
Next Week I will wrap everything up in a nice bow and go into further detail about the social effect Zombie films could be having on society as a whole.
Part 1/Part 2
- Zombiemania. Dir. Donna Davies. Prod. Kimberlee McTaggart. Sorcery Films. 2008. Dvd.
- Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 37.1 (2009): 16-25. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. 20.
- “Days Gone Bye.” The Walking Dead. AMC. 31 Oct 2010. Television.
- Emanuelle Wessels. “They are Us/U.S.: 9/11, Zombies, and the Ideological Force of the Monstrous Other in Popular Culture.” Conference Papers — National Communication Association (2007): 1. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. 16.
- Max Brooks. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. Print. 42.
- “Wildfire.” The Walking Dead. AMC. 28 Nov 2010. Television.