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The Political Economy of the Living Dead
Ben Ogrodnik

Good post.

One transgressive aspect of the zombie, which I think the discussion has touched on, is their violation of a spatial division of inside and outside, in both physical and cultural terms.

Day of the Dead’s military bunker and Night of the Living Dead’s farm house represent defensive spaces, and defensive conceptions of identity, that fall apart under the swarm of zombie masses.

This idea of containment against the zombie Other, and the desperate (ultimately hopeless) struggle to preserve divisions of outside/inside as they fall apart, are aspects of Romero’s zombie franchise that have re-emerged in recent, socially conscious horror films.

I’m thinking of Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015) and Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night (2017). Both films - like the Dead franchise - are based around spatial divisions and the bloody destruction of a sense of identity built around keeping the alien Other outside at all times.

It is obvious how relevant Romero’s ideas have become in our own time where the US political culture is increasingly isolationist, self-destructive and paranoid about being contaminated by all kinds of outsiders…

Hi Kyle, Great post. I tend to agree that language is usually interpreted as a sign of civilization and humanity. It makes sense that lovers of human communication, in all its forms, have a long history of privileging language over action. However, written and verbal communication use different parts of the brain, different parts of us “speak” depending on how we chose to communicate. This is made dangerously clear in the film as Stark, the writing mind, tries to destroy Beaumont, the acting mind. So, my question for you is: are we different people when we act? Is it possible that the mind that writes might actually hate, fear, or resent the mind that acts, the mind that talks? Which mind best represents a subject, which mind should we trust? Why do the parts of us that speak do so much rhetorical work to demonize or debase the parts of us that act?

The Political Economy of the Living Dead
Andrew Spieldenner

I’m struck thinking about the roles of zombies as antagonists. The horror genre antagonists and protagonists provide social commentary about our world. They reveal cultural constructions of power, social norms, and fears. They become signifiers for the moment they emerge from.

What, then, do zombies do?

Zombies circle humans. They hunt, they feed, they shamble, they riot, they rot… they do these things, but they do it by circling humans - whether together or alone. Zombie narratives, then, become all about humanity. What does the success of zombies in the past two decades - their proliferation throughout popular culture - indicate about us? Are they a response to a narcissistic need to make it “all about us?”

The Political Economy of the Living Dead

Hey Kyle, Thank you for the comment and the question. I think Romero’s theory of community might be very well developed and of particular relevance now. First and perhaps most apparent is his critique of the formation of community based on the exclusion of “others.” The zombies’ “unlife” could serve as an allegory for “bare life.” Zombies are identifiable, interchangeable, human enough to represent an existential threat, yet stripped of enough humanity to make any act of violence against them easy to justify. The survivors, on the bases of their common enemy, forge a community based on the principles of us vs. them. And yet, Romero shows us just how destructive and violent that form of community can be.

Even as the zombies seem to parody the consumer rat race, they also don’t actively work against each other. Each Z is out for its own sake; they might impede each others progress but there does not seem to be any malice in a zombie, just hunger. This leads me to believe that the zombies lack any coherent notion of community until Land of the Dead. Land is different because during one of the human raids into occupied territory, as zombies are being killed indiscriminately, zombie subjectivity is born. This is the first time that the audience sees zombies experience the deaths of there own kind as a loss. The zombies become grievable subjects, if only to each other. In the Land of the Dead the sense of community based on shared precarity ultimately triumphs over the community based on exclusion.

Ryan Lizardi

I was struck by the way your post cogently lays out a prescience I had not previously considered in Romero’s work. I had always looked at his allegorical and satirical commentaries as holding a mirror up to society, but the argument that he was holding up binoculars to the future is intriguing.

Though not nearly as acclaimed a film, Diary of the Dead might also speak to the eventual and absolute explosion of YouTube/streaming culture. Yes, YouTube was founded in 2005, but I do not think it is at all a stretch to say that by Diary’s release in 2007 it was not nearly the cultural juggernaut that it has been since.

The Political Economy of the Living Dead
Kyle Christensen

Antonio, as I was reading through your curator’s notes, I was struck by your description of the zombies in Land of the Dead as “cooperatively mov[ing] closer and closer towards something resembling class solidarity.” I find this notion of solidarity amongst these monsters intriguing in that it might move us beyond the discussion of class/consumption and zombie narratives that you have concisely addressed here, and toward other discussions regarding how community is represented in these films. To be sure, the Living Dead series has always explored what happens when particular human communities are invaded by the undead (even the strangers trapped in the farmhouse in the original Night of the Living Dead begrudgingly become a sort of community, and by extension, a microcosm of the issues affecting larger society). Likewise, as your reflection suggests, human beings also create narrow communities based on their shared value systems (including, again, their mutual class values).

I wonder if there is an argument to be made about the existence of community amongst zombie populations, as well. On one hand, these monsters do work together as a united front in order to invade each new locale they stumble across, something that they could never do if working alone. On the other hand, communities are also purposefully constructed, negotiated, and enacted, which the Romero zombies (devoid of any propensity for logic and rational thought) are perhaps not capable of achieving. Maybe the question is not whether the zombie horde would “count” as a community as it is traditionally defined, but whether zombies radically alter and threaten our understandings of community as we currently know it. Thanks for a great post that now has my wheels turning…

examples of past and present Klingon character design
Alla Gadassik

Richard Dyer, “The Light of the World” in White: Essays on Race and Culture (Routledge, 1997).

Stuart Hall, “The Spectacle of the ‘Other’” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (Open University, 1997).

Adilifu Nama, Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film (University of Texas Press, 2008).

Paul Glavey

I’m not familiar with the idea of ‘Postsouthern’, thank you for the reference. What I have found is there is a sense of plausible deniability on the part of many people here (UK/Europe), about the use of the Confederate flag. The geographic remove is offered by some as a justification for its continued use, like the internationalisation of the flag cuts the connections with its origin. Others mitigate its presence by pointing to a love of rock and roll/rhythm and blues/blues music as evidence of no racist intent (this can be found on various forum discussion boards). One possibe point of comparison of symbols and subcultures is the adoption of the swastika by punks. Starting with Dick Hedbidge’s Subculture: The meaning of style, you can find discussions of how the symbol was appropriated; used as a means to shock and, “within an alternative subcultural context, its primary value and appeal derived precisely from its lack of meaning: from its potential for deceit.” (p117). The use of the swastika in punk has moved on from there and in certain contexts has become a truncated reference and the signifiers of the symbol stop at punk and never go back as far as the original usage. For some this seems to be the same, either as a deliberate refusal to engage with the original context of the flag or not. With the Confederate flag there is arguably a less immediate, deliberately offensive usage. In some ways the flag has remained a constant; as a signifier of America, rebellion etc,and the political climate has come round to offering it fuller significance. The photograph in the slides of the flag patches was taken in August in France at a ‘retro’ festival which had rock and roll/rockabilly bands playing but was more mixed (vintage cars, motorbikes, stalls etc). The stall was selling a range of Harley Davidson branded patches etc, stars and stripes bandanas, handbags with sugar skull pattern and then along side all that a board of patches for the Front National and Neo Nazi symbols. I have never seen those symbols at explicitly rockabilly events but it shows the overlap that has emerged (or become more explicit perhaps) in some quarters with these symbols. The flag is also flown at some sports events in Ireland. As Cork is known as the ‘Rebel County’, and wear red jerseys, some of their supporters bring the flag to gaelic games matches. Over the summer there was an explicit call post-Charlottesville to stop this: https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/gaelic-games/cork-gaa-officers-condemn-flying-of-confederate-flag-1.3188344

Joshua Jackson

A lot of what Paul’s saying about the Confederate Flag falls within a critical framework that Southern Studies scholars use to understand the role of southern symbols after World War II. That understanding is framed in terms of the “post-South,” i.e., the place the South became during postmodernity, which is to say, Americanized, globalized, and otherwise absorbed, exported, and assimilated into the culture of the rest of the United States and globe, especially at a time when globalization started to run its course. For a more comprehensive introduction to the term, see Martyn Bone’s entry for the term “Postsouthern” in _Keywords for Southern Studies_ (2016).

This process of divorcing symbols of the South from their historical roots, and particularly the Confederate Flag and other antebullum imagery, could also be viewed as part of a trend that John Egerton calls “The Americanization of the South,” which might also be said to entail the “Southernization of the Globe.”

What I think Paul brings forth with this post, especially in his discussion of the Confederate Flag’s appropriation around the globe, are implications of the Southernization of the Globe. I think we spend less time engaging in discussions about the Southernization of the Globe because we, and by “we,” I mean Southern Studies scholars like me, prefer to talk about how the monolithic South doesn’t *really* exist, especially as it’s portrayed in popular media, and that there are exceptions to the rule of blanket conservatism in the US South. This pivot gives us more room to talk about people and texts that aren’t all white in our scholarship. However, doing this important work may have created a bit of a blind spot when it comes to noticing how symbols of the American South have been appropriated abroad. Which is why I think that dealing with the Southernization of the Globe — especially if it can be traced to the insurgent populism (and surprising popularity) of far-right and alt-right political subcultures in Europe — should be a consideration for everyone thinking about the cultural context of the Confederate Flag today.

Carrie Fisher Then and Now
Mariana Lins

I have been watching the fans’ reaction surrounding Carrie’s death since December on social media and I noticed most of them seemed to share a very unique bond with her. Their mourning, as Tanya already pointed out, undoubtedly had a lot to do with their personal associations, but what really impressed me was the amount of stories they shared regarding mental illness and drug addiction. It seems to me that Carrie’s fragilities, to a certain extent, brought people closer to her more than her acting accomplishments. Do you agree?