Recent Comments

Andrew Scahill

Wonderful piece! I’m struck my the multiple ways in which this video queers and requeers the original text to meet the needs of various fan subcultures. There is the gay male queerness of the origin text, and then there is the long-standing”yaoi” (beautiful boy) tradition in manga/anime/video games where heterosexual girls play with queer male sexuality. But this is fascinating because it uses the yaoi genre of fandom to playfully express lesbian sexuality. It also allows the young women to display their considerable skating talent in a sport that still underplays womens’ athleticism in favor of traditional norms of femininity.

Romero's ghouls shambling
Jennifer Van Houdt

I like your idea that there’s a set of characteristics put in place by Romero’s ghoul and that we see deviations in only a few those characteristics at a time. As a revolving set, it’s easier to see how the zombie can operate as an empty signifier. I am tempted, though, to think of the zombie’s mostly-consistent mindlessness (and lack of speech) as key to its malleability as signifier—with only one central, defining desire (consumption) it seems easier to transfer the zombie into other contexts and flexibly interact with other ideas.

John A. Riley

Was thinking about another way Stranger Things uses music: to create certain character associations. We know Bob’s a bit of a square because he listens to Kenny Rogers, while Billy’s bad boy credentials were cemented the moment we heard Ted Nugent blasting out of his car stereo. The music (pre-existing and specially written) is for me one of the main pleasures of the show.

John A. Riley

I’m only 3 episodes in to the new season, but it seems the showrunners are setting up a response to the shoddy treatment Barb received in season 1. Do you - and will other fans - feel that she’s finally getting her due, or is it a more cynical move?

Christina Ivey

I wanted to make sure that my student, Samantha Haskell, also got credit as a co-author for this piece. She was integral to bringing this trope to my attention, and provided all of the research related to the trope itself.

Romero's ghouls shambling
Ryan Lizardi

That’s an interesting question. I almost feel like the Romero core is what will be retreated back to after any deviation. So if we could figure out something like top 10 Romero zombie characteristics (e.g, slow, flesh-eating, damage to the brain kills, etc.), then after a new film experiments and changes #6 and #9 the next film will revert those two back to Romero-style and try to change #3 and #7. 28 Days Later changed a lot and was influential, but next film up likely reversed most of those changes in favor of the Romero core. I’m struggling to think of any significant changes to zombie characteristics that have been solidified and long-lasting post-Romero. What do you think?

Jennifer Van Houdt

Thanks for your post, Ben—it’s an enlightening account of the local dimension of Romero’s work and, I think, a fitting way to conclude this week’s posts.

I simply wanted to add that your emphasis on the nonhierarchical character of Romero’s work reminded me about telling moment in one of his interviews regarding Land of the Dead, where Romero laments that the money spent on fancy cigars for Dennis Hopper could have paid for extra days of shooting (https://tinyurl.com/ohszc2f). Though a simple comment about budgets, I think it speaks to the ethic Romero’s productions evinced and what you’ve underscored here (even when working with larger film studios).

Romero's ghouls shambling
Jennifer Van Houdt

Thanks for the astute post, Ryan—I find it a compelling account for thinking through the zombie’s iterations over time.

I’m curious if you think there’s any characteristic of this empty signifier set in stone, or perhaps even definitive of the kind of allegorical malleability the zombie exudes. For example, do you think zombies, post-Romero, will likely stay flesh-eaters/biters (falling back on that same core)? Or perhaps does the zombie’s initial mindlessness—even if pushed beyond expectation like in Day of the Dead—contribute in its function as a “utility tool”? I’d like to know what you find the important outlines (if any) of this signifier to be.

Romero's ghouls shambling
Ryan Lizardi

I definitely agree that one of the most consistent traits of the Romero ghoul/zombie is the real danger only in the unstoppable mass (its one of those Romero legacies that the genre always seems to “snap back” to even after successful deviations). There are certainly some examples where the danger is comparatively atomized, to reflect similar societal concerns. I have write at length about the most notable example, 28 Days Later, where the “infected” trace their cinematic ancestry to the Romero ghoul/zombie, but are remarkably quick and pose a serious threat even on an individual level.

See this clip where there only two but their speed and power make for formidable foes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-a68r1d9iQ

Romero's ghouls shambling
Ben Ogrodnik

Hi Ryan. Thanks for your post.

I agree with your point that “there will undoubtedly be countless variations and deviations from Night’s ghouls.”

However Romero’s revitalization of the zombie came at a powerful cultural turning point in 1968, and many of the characteristics he ascribed to them have obvious resonances with the culture of the US at that tumultuous time.

Many traits of the zombies since then have endured - their apparent mindlessness, their propensity for violence, etc.

I think one of the biggest recurring traits is that the zombie, since Romero re-conceived it, has to be a social mass. Something that is a large, unfolding, growing structure without a unique singular identity. Zombies after all tend to be portrayed as frightening, unstoppable crowds.

Is this an aspect where the genre may look to change? As our society gets increasingly technologically and economically atomized, do we need a new conception of the zombie that is similarly atomized rather than mass-ified?

I am not an expert in recent zombie trends - sadly - but I would be curious what new directions seem to be for this venerable movie monster!