Friday, March 22, 2013

Zombie allure

What is so exciting about Rob Zombie? I cannot explain the natural quickening of my heartbeat when I hear the name and think "More Human than Human ... House of 1000 Corpses ... Halloween [revisited] ... Halloween II [revisited, leider]". Ha. Ha. Har-dee har har.

But seriously, why are zombie films in television in such persistent circulation these days? The same could be asked of the vampire-vs.-werewolf theme, I suppose ("Underworld", "Twilight", ad nauseum, with the emphasis on the nauseum). I will restrict myself to the zombie genre, although I must confess that I am personally disposed to dislike all of these quasi-horror/fantasy films. 

Premise 1: The persistent circulation of a genre or subgenre (e.g. zombie films) is a sign of the purchase this intellectual/cultural meaning has for use.
Objection 1A: These subgenres are merely commercially successful, not necessarily intellectually/culturally meaningful.
Response 1A: Intellectual meaning is not necessarily excluded from the grounds for commercial success.

P2: Zombie films/shows have a series of consistent components, which are part of the basis for their categorization as a subcategory.
P2a: The end of civilization as we know it. Zombie apocalypse extends globally, for the most part.
P2b: Zombies are humans who have been infected, leading to a death that then is followed by a rebirth as purely voracious, non-human eating machine (brains are preferred, in the more comical versions).
P2c: Uninfected humans defend themselves by killing zombies.

Am I missing anything? Other aspects seem like variations on the subpremises of P2. 

In the "Walking Dead"(2010-present), a viral infection produces a fever that is extremely high, leading to biological death.  Then zombies become alive again. 
In "28 Days Later" (2002), the zombies are persons infected with the "rage virus" that almost immediately makes them into killing machines.
"The Crazies" (1973, 2010): bad water.
"L.A. Zombie (Gay of the Dead)" (2010): okay, I didn't see this.  But it sounds hilarious.
"Night of the Living Dead" (1968): extraterrestrial radiation, infection?

The apocalypse is an incredibly prolific aspect in film, which has to do with establishing settings whereby the conditions of human life are interrupted and the rules and mores of human intercourse are suspended.  All is permitted? Humans redeem themselves through brave, selfless acts despite the setting. I.e. morality story. "Zombieland" (2009) is an example of this.

Zombies have the general appearance of humanity, but lack sentience and recognition (apparently there is even a philosophical zombie concept on these lines). And then, on reflection, lots of films start to fall into this category, including films that we might otherwise have excluded, like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and all of its kin. In other words, humans find themselves separated from people that were just like them but have become radically unhuman. Ideological, cultural alienation.

More importantly, zombies threaten the existence of uninfected humans and therefore must be exterminated (usually with extreme prejudice, if the "Walking Dead" is considered). In addition to apocalyptic moral suspension, violence is not only permitted but required for (1) the security of the uninfected and (2) the previous honor and dignity of those infected (this is less frequent).

A repeated image advertising "The Walking Dead":
the ambiguity concerns the target, as the show develops.
This last aspect, or P2c, as I would put it for short, is what I think is really the meaning behind the zombie craze. I believe that, especially with the tendency of televisual representations to showcase violence (P2ci or P4), that we watch these shows because the prohibition on murder has not only been lifted, but it has become a duty to murder/kill (zombies).

I am troubled by this. To put this differently, if all films express a fantasy or wish, zombie films express the wish to kill with impunity or the wish to kill as a duty.

P3: Zombie movies are in especially frequent circulation these days.
O3: Empirical evidence may not bear this out.
R3: I'm a philosopher, I don't need no stinkin' evidence!

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