So last week we talked about how the zombie genre creates the “us vs them” dynamic as the monstrous other. We also took a look at how several examples of recent films and tv shows portray this theory. This week we will take a look at all those factors and how they affect not only geek culture but mainstream culture as a whole.
These elements always exist in the genre’s theme; however, in post 9/11 America it strikes a deeper chord. In these stories, fear and paranoia provide vital resources to survival.7 This fear echoes feelings immediately after the World Trade Center attacks regarding Muslims.8 As a social group, society classifies Muslims as terrorists. Using words such as ‘animal’, ‘inhumane’, and ‘monster,’ to describe the terrorists passes that Otherness onto Muslim culture altogether. In his speeches after September 11, President George Bush frames the antagonists as ‘bloodthirsty fiends’ without reason.9 The concept of the walking dead spreading their condition through contact to the living mirrors existing fears of terrorist sleeper cells recruiting in suburbia. These fears present in Bush’s speeches stating, “They <terrorist Muslims> are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction,” echoing the same fear of the potential other.
Therefore, fear of the Other extends past the walking dead in this genre. In the post-apocalyptic setting, survivors possess good reason to fear their neighbor. Beyond the obvious threat of spreading infection, survivors fear outsiders because of the potential threat they pose.10 The “us versus them” concept presents itself in opposing groups of survivors fight for resources and territory.
The constant fear of the Monstrous Other intensifies fear of the outsider. In these situations, fear comes from other humans that can still think and act.11 In The Walking Dead, Rick’s group ventures back into the city of Atlanta to retrieve weapons previously left behind and they clash with a group of Hispanic men over the weapons. When the Hispanic teen encounters Daryl, assuming the worst intention, fear causes him to scream for help. After an altercation and kidnapping the leaders, Rick and Guillermo meet to negotiate. The fear of the Other prevents a civil discussion as Guillermo later describes since they were unknown he immediately suspected the worst out of survival instinct.12 Similar situations present themselves in 28 Days Later when the lead character encounters other survivors that initially distrust him.
The genre’s standard reaction to the Other takes on a grim tone when viewed in this light. In contrast, Romero’s films portray stories relevant to the current social climate of his time. Night of the Living Dead provides commentary on race relations and Romero’s feeling about violence in the Vietnam War.13 The groups of white survivors follow the leadership of an African-American lead character. More importantly the main character slaps a female character when she panics; an action unheard of in the political context of the time.14
Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead provide commentary on consumerism and Cold War paranoia of the 1980s.15,16 By labeling the Other, society designates it inferior. Interpretations of US-Islamic relations post September 11 worked to demonize Muslims as the new monstrous other.17
The sobering truth now lies in the fact that the zombie genre renaissance began with the release of 28 Days Later (2002) and the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004). Since then, the film industry alone released more than 600 movies in the genre.18 These films focus on the importance of citizens defending a homeland against a hostile monstrous presence.19
Creating the image of the Monstrous Other strips the labeled group of its perceived humanity, therefore giving free reign to use whatever means possible. In these stories facing the Monstrous Other, society may exclude no course of action when waging war.20 Society finds cause to worry when placing the concept of the Other, this genre presents, against the backdrop of the interrogation techniques used at sites such as Abu Ghraib.
Part 1/ Part 2
7. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 24.
8. Emanuelle Wessels. “They are Us/U.S.: 9/11, Zombies…” 4.
9. Emanuelle Wessels. “They are Us/U.S.: 9/11, Zombies…” 5.
10. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 22.
11. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 22.
12. “Vatos.” The Walking Dead. AMC. 21 Nov 2010. Television.
13. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 13.
14. Zombiemania. 2008. Dvd.
15. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 18.
16. Zombiemania. 2008. Dvd.
17. Emanuelle Wessels. “They are Us/U.S.: 9/11, Zombies…” 5.
18. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 18.
19. Kyle Bishop. “Dead Man Still Walking.” 18.
20. Emanuelle Wessels. “They are Us/U.S.: 9/11, Zombies…” 7.