« Jib-Jab puts the ROCK in Barack. [krakatoa] | Main | Overnight Open Thread – Lawyers, Guns and Money (genghis) »
June 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on Zombies - Mætenloch

Are Zombie Movies a liberal parable?

While everyone is focused on what’s happening in Iran, I thought we should take a moment and look at the second most pressing issue of our time – the undead.

This week Paul Waldman of The American Prospect has an interesting article where he covers the history and recent popularity of zombie movies and then asks whether the zombie genre is fundamentally liberal or conservative. His conclusion is that z-movies are in fact liberal parables reflecting the value of progressive ideals. Now let me first say that Waldman has clearly done his research on zombies and is familiar with all major works in the canon. He even unearths some interesting nuggets of zombie lore – the first true zombie movie was White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi and the first movie of the Nazi-zombie subgenre actually appeared in 1943 when we were, uh, still fighting actual living Nazis.

So Waldman knows his stuff. However his argument that zombie movies reflect progressive ideals doesn’t really make sense. He admits that fighting off zombies requires lots of guns which seems to be an argument for the Second Amendment, and also in most Z-movies the government is ineffectual or just plain absent leaving people to their own devices which again is a generally conservative view. However he notes that in a zombie-apocalypse capitalism breaks down with people taking whatever they need from hardware and gun stores, malls, etc. In addition the key to survival is usually diverse people coming together in the progressive ideals of common cause and collective action. Hence he claims zombie movies are really a liberal genre.


Well first of all common cause and collective action are hardly unique to the left – most of the difference between the left and right is how collective action should be implemented – top-down or bottom-up, government-based or strictly voluntary. And furthermore insofar as zombie movies actually have a political viewpoint, I would argue that it’s more a conservative one. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “The facts of life are conservative,” and the facts of the zombie apocalypse seem even more so.

Most z-movies end up with a small band of survivors holed up with guns fighting off zombie hordes, planning a way out to safety with no assistance from authorities. At the very least this suggests that conservatives and libertarians would be the most prepared to survive a zombie-filled world. Even if you’re not into guns, it’s good to have at least one neighbor who is, just in case. And while most movie plots revolve around a collective plan to escape, the emphasis is on individual action and responsibility. Z-movies usually contain a mini morality tale where a weak character through cowardice or distraction allows zombies to get through and kill other characters. Personal responsibility is not a virtue unique to the right, but it’s something that you generally only see celebrated in conservative-themed movies.

But the most telling point in favor of zombie movies being conservative is how they view the zombies themselves. The movies don’t bother focusing on their back story, motivations, or how or if they feel. The zombies are an implacable force that must be destroyed. Sure they may have been human friends and family once full of love and life, but now they are the undead who hunger for human brains or flesh. No moral equivalence here. And while occasionally a character expresses some sympathy for the zombies, no one ever tries to negotiate or find common cause with them. It’s pointless. They’re zombies, they’re hungry, and they have to be destroyed.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more stark, good-vs-evil view of the world in anything Hollywood produces. Even Nazis and Klan members are given a more shades-of-gray treatment, but not zombies.

Zombies – a metaphor for the war on terror?

One particularly interesting item in Waldman’s article is a chart where he graphed the number of zombie movies released by decade. From a glance it’s obvious that zombie flicks have exploded in popularity since 2000, and we seem to be in a zombie golden age. Out of curiosity I took the data from the same wikipedia page and plotted the number of z-movies released year by year. From the chart you can see that the z-movie spike is a post-9/11 trend with the number of movies only taking off around 2002. They peaked around 2006, and seem to be fading back to normal levels.

The shape of the curve looked vaguely familiar so for kicks I plotted a scaled version of the number of US military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan along with it and got this chart:

zombie_movies_graph.GIF

Amazingly the popularity of zombie movies tracks very well with the number of deaths. Could zombie movies actually be a metaphor for the war on terror?

Well correlation does not imply causation and all that. But it is awfully interesting and does lead one to speculate.

Certainly you could view militant Islam as a sort of mind virus, infecting and spreading among people, filling them with rage, causing them to attack their own countrymen, and with no known cure short of killing them. Yeah, it’s kind of a strained analogy, but it would place the war on terror perfectly in the center of the zombie genre plus it avoids any niggling political correctness concerns.

So could zombie flicks actually be the war movies that Hollywood has refused to make for the last eight years?

Maybe. But I think this decade’s popularity of zombie movies can be better explained due to something else: fast zombies. In 2002 both Resident Evil and 28 Days Later appeared and these were the first successful movies to feature fast zombies rather than the slow shambling ones seen before. This made zombies a more fearsome threat and re-energized the entire genre, opening up all sorts of creative possibilities as well as a multitude of imitators. I suspect if anything, the curve reflects the rise and fall of fast zombie exploitation by Hollywood rather than the war on terror.

However the kind of movies that are successful often do reflect the anxieties of the times. The 50’s were chock full of alien invasion movies and now these are generally viewed as reflecting a fear of communism, and the 80’s featured a lot of movies with nuclear armageddon as a plot background. So why shouldn’t movies of the last eight years reflect the anxieties in the age of the war on terror?

I figure someone could get a whole PhD thesis out of this or at least a full blog post like I just did.

digg this
posted by xgenghisx at 07:36 PM

| Access Comments




Recent Comments
CatchThirtyThr33: "193 Wiehl's plastic surgeries are off-putting. ..."

Sharkman : "So I don't have to hide behind the fat guy to avoi ..."

Banana Splits Guy - Bunch Em If You Got Em: ">>>Did Bergdahl get sentenced today? Delayed un ..."

Bill O'Reilly is a rapist: "$32 million. That's rape. No one is paying that mu ..."

Deplorable Jay Guevara [/i][/b][/s]: "I don't get this. In most classes, your grade depe ..."

TheQuietMan: " I wonder if this has been brought to the school' ..."

LASue: "When who you sleep with is the first item listed ..."

tu3031: "Did Bergdahl get sentenced today? ..."

Christopher R Taylor: "[i]Maybe it's about time we whites withhold our mo ..."

Chris M: ""None of us is as stupid as all of us."There is a ..."

fixerupper: "They say they want "Social Justice" We think t ..."

Les Kinetic: "Who's gonna tell her that her Twitter handle is so ..."

Recent Entries
Search


MuNuvians
Polls! Polls! Polls!
Frequently Asked Questions
The (Almost) Complete Paul Anka Integrity Kick
Top Top Tens
Greatest Hitjobs

The Ace of Spades HQ Sex-for-Money Skankathon
A D&D Guide to the Democratic Candidates
Margaret Cho: Just Not Funny
More Margaret Cho Abuse
Margaret Cho: Still Not Funny
Iraqi Prisoner Claims He Was Raped... By Woman
Wonkette Announces "Morning Zoo" Format
John Kerry's "Plan" Causes Surrender of Moqtada al-Sadr's Militia
World Muslim Leaders Apologize for Nick Berg's Beheading
Michael Moore Goes on Lunchtime Manhattan Death-Spree
Milestone: Oliver Willis Posts 400th "Fake News Article" Referencing Britney Spears
Liberal Economists Rue a "New Decade of Greed"
Artificial Insouciance: Maureen Dowd's Word Processor Revolts Against Her Numbing Imbecility
Intelligence Officials Eye Blogs for Tips
They Done Found Us Out, Cletus: Intrepid Internet Detective Figures Out Our Master Plan
Shock: Josh Marshall Almost Mentions Sarin Discovery in Iraq
Leather-Clad Biker Freaks Terrorize Australian Town
When Clinton Was President, Torture Was Cool
What Wonkette Means When She Explains What Tina Brown Means
Wonkette's Stand-Up Act
Wankette HQ Gay-Rumors Du Jour
Here's What's Bugging Me: Goose and Slider
My Own Micah Wright Style Confession of Dishonesty
Outraged "Conservatives" React to the FMA
An On-Line Impression of Dennis Miller Having Sex with a Kodiak Bear
The Story the Rightwing Media Refuses to Report!
Our Lunch with David "Glengarry Glen Ross" Mamet
The House of Love: Paul Krugman
A Michael Moore Mystery (TM)
The Dowd-O-Matic!
Liberal Consistency and Other Myths
Kepler's Laws of Liberal Media Bias
John Kerry-- The Splunge! Candidate
"Divisive" Politics & "Attacks on Patriotism" (very long)
The Donkey ("The Raven" parody)
News/Chat
Archives
Powered by
Movable Type 2.64