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Zombies in Western Culture
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When Zombies Attack! Nova Science Publishers, Inc. Retrieved 9 August Iowa Law Review. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Global catastrophic risks. Future of the Earth Ultimate fate of the universe. Extinction risk from global warming Tipping points in the climate system Global terrestrial stilling Hypercane Ice age Ecocide Human impact on the environment Ozone depletion Cascade effect Supervolcano winter.
Overexploitation Overpopulation Human overpopulation. Extinction event Human extinction Genetic erosion Genetic pollution. Dysgenics Pandemic Biological agent Transhumanism. Alien invasion Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction List of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction List of apocalyptic films Climate fiction Disaster films List of disaster films List of fictional doomsday devices Zombie apocalypse. Horror fiction.
Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Comics Films Magazines Television programs Video games survival. Category Portal. Stock characters. Byronic hero Man alone Tragic hero. Gentleman detective Jack Trickster. Harlequin Zanni. Bad boy Gentleman thief Pirate Air pirate Space pirate. False hero. Double agent Evil twin. Dark Lord Mad scientist Supervillain.
Dragon Lady Femme fatale Tsundere. Jungle girl Magical girl. Princesse lointaine Southern belle Valley girl Yamato nadeshiko. Class S Laotong. Columbina Mammy archetype. Girl gamer Meganekko. Final girl Princess and dragon. Wise old man Elderly martial arts master Magical Negro. Feral child Noble savage Caveman Moleman Mountain man. It's a bit of an odd concept selecting various Seattle power-pop bands to pay tribute to the Zombies -- especially when one considers the mid-'90s resurgence of orchestral pop composition, with bands like the High Llamas , Ladybug Transistor , and countless others.
Aggressive Bittersweet Druggy. Energetic Happy Hypnotic. Romantic Sad Sentimental. Sexy Trippy All Moods. Drinking Hanging Out In Love. Introspection Late Night Partying. Rainy Day Relaxation Road Trip. Romantic Evening Sex All Themes. When we take our attention away from the mindless walkers long enough to look around at their human counterparts, we are perhaps meant to genuinely wonder the difference. No one in film save the more comedic renderings ever refers to a zombie as a zombie. But they never use the most common cultural term.
In fact, they seem wholly unfamiliar with the concept of a zombie until the apocalypse befalls them. They are ignorant to the tropes associated with the genre of their distress. Once again, even in name the zombies communicate their incommunicability. The first exception is World War Z. Uncharacteristically, zombies are here referred to by name, but the characters are quite reluctant to use the term.
Why this reluctance? Traditionally in horror movies, characters are reticent to utter the name of the monster because of the sheer disbelief in supernatural agents. However, coming to believe in the vampire or the werewolf is often the first step in empowering the resistance to the monsters as soon as the hero knows she is facing a vampire, she knows to arm herself with a crucifix and wooden stake.
In contrast, the zombie is not supernatural, nor hard to detect. In World War Z as in most films of the genre the protagonists are surround by hundreds if not thousands of zombies, so there is no cause for disbelief. Nor does naming the monster provide any empowerment. Absent these traditional reasons, an alternative explanation for the reluctance is needed. The evil of the monster becomes a normative guidance; it inspires the effective righteousness of the protagonists. This accommodation is not a passive acquiescence, but an active and effective resistance.
The characters can now fight back. To use the term is to despair. It was directed by Jim Jarmusch and released in to critical acclaim. The vampires use it disdainfully, not in reference to the usual undead creatures, but to ordinary humans. These fanged beings, whose lives appear as meaningless as they are enduring, find the lives of their human contemporaries even more meaningless.
Their contempt for our zombie behavior is casual and matter-of-fact. The malaise of human life is, at least to the vampires, an obvious and unquestioned fact. We are the walking dead. The creature of the zombie is the icon of the zeitgeist, and as we have explained, the name of the zombie also carries a symbolic conveyance that embellishes the phenomenon.
We might say that these are the first two symbols in the constellation. The next two symbols are more diffuse in their representation. The third symbol is the relation between the viewer and the zombie genre as she encounters it. Independently and in concert, these symbols speak for the meaning crisis. The relationship between these two perspectives can be called the metanarrative of the story. The interplay between these perspectives affords the viewer a kind of participatory insight.
This insight in turn inspires a transformation in the viewer. The metanarrative binds the viewer to the meaning of the story. However, in the zombie story there is no transformation. In the zombie story, the two perspectives clash. In the zombie story, the metanarrative fails to bind. The rising action begins with a very sudden appearance of the outbreak, which the character narrowly manages to escape.
After a period of isolation, the character meets other escapees who share information, and the survivors converge on a working perspective of the crisis and their predator. They find some advantageous haven with renewable means of sustenance, and they attempt to fortify it. They delegate roles and try to live as a community. They dissent over trivialities and their tenuous order fails.
Conflict divides them into factions, and selfishness breeds mistrust. Usually by some oversight, the wayward survivors alert the zombies to their whereabouts and once again become overrun. Their tentative home disintegrates. They struggle to escape and go on the run, and zombies follow in pursuit.
The film reaches its climax as the survivors become desperate and overwhelmed. Most of them fall.
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There is no one immune from infection. There is no garden to flee to, no island of retreat. There is nowhere left to hide, and there is nothing more to tell. Much like the zombie, the story drifts off as we realize the outbreak is unending. The credits roll ambiguously thereafter. As the camera and story pan, the situation darkens. Chances of survival become less and less likely, and the prospect of salvation becomes bleaker.
The story ends as it began, with calamity. But it does not grant us a final understanding. The story ends, but it refuses to conclude. We know the walkers are zombies and we know better than to confuse them with humans. We know they eat insatiably and we know they grow in number. We understand the threat before our fictional counterparts experience it, and we look for the firearm long before the survivors acquire it.
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We anticipate shelter before the survivors find it. We know it will be fruitless as the survivors brace it. We know the survivors will not sustain community. We know the zombies will win by attrition. We know these things as we would of any other fictional horror, but there is a discrepancy in that the survivors know none of it. There is a vast distance between us and the survivors because they are incapable of sharing our references.
This is another clue that the human survivors are not quite equal in elevation to the culture that authors them. We know more than they do. We see as they do not. Like watching Oedipus Rex , we have the expectation of incoming tragedy. We have the feeling of dramatic irony. We can predict the failure of the survivors before they fail. We certainly cannot predict anything beyond it.
And we cannot quite call it ironic either. But the zombie has no final result. It has no finality at all. Only drift.
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Tragedy is marked by a metanarrative, an overseen conclusion that makes sense of the events leading up to it. Metanarratives provide a frame for the story, but the zombie outbreak cannot be framed. Zombies bring not just death, they bring interminable death. The waves of a zombie apocalypse are always falling, without purpose, and without end. Tragedy is an afterword ascribed to events of dramatic suffering, a denouement that dignifies the events of suffering by giving them significance.
The zombie apocalypse is the anti-tragedy. It immerses us in a story and denies us closure.
It invests us into the face of character and has us look on as the face deforms. It has us watch as the eyes of our protagonists glaze and go blank. It has us hope for the redemption of the human survivors, and ever so slowly, it takes that hope away. The zombie is an aesthetic for the deepest despair because it chokes on a meaningful story. It pushes us into the position of a metanarrative, and then withholds the metanarrative from us.
We can predict the failure of the narrative and the absence of conclusion, but we have nothing to offer in its place. And that, more than anything, is a cause for despair. We cannot transpose ourselves into the crisis and be sure of a more meaningful experience. Even at a safe distance, our anxiety and uncertainty disable us because against all reason, we cannot help but to dread the absurdity of their predicament, and to wonder how distant it really is. We cannot integrate the perspective of the characters with the perspective of the viewer.
There is no participatory insight or transformation. There is no meaningful connection. This is a telling inaccuracy. The definition of apocalypse as a synonym for destruction only captures one axis of its biblical origins. The Christian apocalypse was never simply the end of the world: it was the resurrection of the body, and the revelation of final truths. As such, it represents the mutual transformation of mind and world.
In the everyday, this transformative process refers to the shifting of perspectives to accommodate an unforeseen exposure, the sudden, spontaneous emergence of comprehensions that deepen our understanding of reality. When the world cedes us something from beyond the frame of our existing perspectives, our sense of ontological surprise is deeply significant.
While it is crucial for us to have a grasp on the world, it is also crucial for the world to escape that grasp so that our mapping of reality can be recast and recaptured. The feeling that there is more to reality than what we know of it strengthens its integrity, and its independence from our subjectivity makes it more trustworthy. While it is necessary, as discussed above, to feel that the world is consistently intelligible, it is also necessary to have our sense of the world pulled periodically from underneath us.
Insight emerges from the wreckage of this experience. It allows our perspective to reframe itself around a fuller appreciation of reality, like stepping out from behind a camera, or losing your footing only to regain it with more traction. The world of the zombie decays but there is no revelation to redeem the fall. When the frame around reality is shattered, it is left asunder and never reformed.
There is some property to this world that lacks the dynamism for creation and reinvention. Nature overgrows but nothing cultural grows from it.
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