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Do we think too much?

I’ve finished another glorious book of essays about the meanings of zombies, movies and post-humanism. But I’ve stumbled across another book (apart from another one I want to buy) that questions all the research I’m reading and planning on doing.

In Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, the author questions critiques of zombie works for over-reading the text. Some of the analysis, he says, is not really in-depth but just pointing out what happens in the movie and only a surface interpretation. E.g. Dawn of the Dead being totally about consumerism because zombies are in the mall or an African-American dies by a redneck, therefore the text about race.

“Simply because a film seems to point out problems of social inequality does not mean that it is a radical film, or even one that is therefore ‘smarter’ and more aware than those films hell-bent on entertainment, social critique be damned.”

So I’m trying to think about this and my own work deeper, but I’m not sure how it’s going. Directors of some zombie movies had spoken in interviews about how the movie and zombies are very deliberately placed to examine 9/11 or consumerism or race or whatever. Dawn of the Dead is not just about consumerism because the zombies are in the mall, but about how the humans interact with being in the mall too. Maybe I’m not reading this bit properly.

I’ve seen the ‘reading too much into things’ directed at scholars and reviewers before. Is it always about the author’s intention? One of my favourites, I kissed a zombie and I liked it by Adam Selzer, has zombies reborn through the magic of a big supershop wanting free slave labour. Asking the author on twitter (ages ago) if it was relating to the original Haitian zombies as plantation slaves, he said he wanted a good reason to have zombies in our world. Does this mean that we shouldn’t read into the whole Walmart-like business wanting to use people (or zombies) for their benefit?

You can check out a review of this book here and a preview of the book here.

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Vampire love can be nothing but tragic

We all know zombies are far superior boyfriends than vampires.  Vampires are pushing, demanding, patronising, cruel and have a very twisted idea of love. Zombies never want their loved one to lose their independence or give up their dreams because of them. Zombies don’t require the human to convert to zombiism, and don’t encourage it. Zombies love you for you!

And of all the terrible vampires to have as a boyfriend, Edward from Twilight takes the sparkle. He is straight out abusive, as is the other love interest in the series, “Shirts chafe” Jacob. There are so many academics who pick apart the Twilight series for its screwed-up-ness, and perhaps the scariest thing of all is that people see this cruel relationship rife with domestic violence and domination as a relationship to crave!

One of the things I love about the world and humanity is our insane curiosity and desire for meaning which leads us to such incredible in-depth analysis. A book is never just a book! Bordieu said something about art (which I got from an art class at uni, but can’t find the direct quote), that art styles do not develop independently but rather they develop out of particular social interests. Can anything created be separated completely from the context in which it was created (not meaning everything is a direct analogy)?

Anyway, the main thing I wanted to share was this awesome analytical piece of the Twilight series (ignoring all the horrors of the English language that take place within) about how it’s really a tragedy of the loss of who Bella is, her soul. It’s a very well done piece, and I not-so-secretly wish the author would write a whole thesis on it (I’m a geek, I know it, and I don’t care who knows it!)

Read it here on Reddit!

Being historical

 

One of the things I constantly have to remind myself of is the historical context. I’m reading White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film by Gary D Rhodes. For me, White Zombie with Bela Lugosi is hugely racist, but in the book and comparing the role of African-Americans at the time, it was actually quite good with racial issues. I cringe for the heroine, Madeline, and all the men slobbering over her and wanting to dominate her, but this was an extremely different time for gender too.

Romero’s movies can be the same, although in a lot of cases, Romero did it deliberately. What a sook Barbra is! At least Fran learns a few things about survival, and Sarah is quite capable and intelligent, even in the face(s) of death. Later and later, with Re-Animator and the sequels, men seek to dominate women again, to say little of the nude women of the Italian zombie movies.

It’s most likely been the same throughout history, asking ‘What were they thinking?!’ of earlier generations. But that’s precisely what we have to ask. What were they thinking? What was the historical context? What was the panic of the time? What were the key events that influenced people? There’s always debate over the conscious and unconscious inclusions or exclusions – what is the extent of the influence of events on authors, such as WW1 and Tolkien (Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth is one I’m interested in 🙂 )?

I just bought a new book (always!), an anthology of zombie stories throughout the 20th century and including some of the most famous authors in the genre, Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and then some not so famous. The first is from W B Seabrook, the one considered to be the author that brings zombies into the US – and then the world’s – consciousness. Researching the context is not quite enough, but being aware of your own expectations, bias’ and assumptions when it comes to critiquing the historical.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Narrelle Harris

Over April I looked at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. While Aussie Author Month is over for this year, it is now Zombie Awareness Month! Start getting prepared today!

Lady of the dark beings and mysterious shadows, Narrelle Harris, is deep within the realms of the undead, and comes from the coffin today:

Why do zombies make good bad guys?
The threat of zombies is an en masse kind of threat, and one of the real horrors I think is not that you’ll be eaten alive, although that’s a very horrible concept, but that you’ll lose yourself and become part of the mass. You become part of the virus or the machine and then maybe harm those you love because you don’t know who you are any more. So as a bad guy, they kind of metaphorically stand for all those things in the world that can reduce us like that – not just disease, but mob mentality, the pressures of consumer society, even sometimes the willingness humans can have to willingly give up their autonomy for others to make choices for them.

Really, zombies are as rich in metaphor as vampires, but in the opposite direction. Becoming a vampire sets you apart; becoming a zombie absorbs your individuality in to the unthinking mass. They’re different ways of exploring humanity, but they’re both effective.
~

What are the limits of a zombie before it becomes something not a zombie?
Like vampires, the concepts of what makes a zombie vary a lot, and have departed hugely from their origins. There’s a lot of scope for playing with the idea, too. Romero zombies are hugely removed from John Lindqvist’s tragic zombies in Handling the Undead.

I suppose for me, for a zombie to be a zombie they have to lose rational thought and be part of the mass hunger. That doesn’t mean they have to be mindless, or forget how to love. In fact, I think it’s an interesting story idea to explore how a zombie might reclaim their lost selves. It is, after all, something of the story of all of us, trying not to just be part of the consumption machine, or the societal machine. It’s so telling that at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead it takes people ages to realise the zombie apocalypse is upon them, because so many people are kind of spiritually or mentally zombified already, just by their lives.
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What is your favourite/most influential zombie text and why?
Felicity Dowker’s Bread and Circuses really opened my eyes up to the potential for zombie stories. I found it very moving. I love the first season of The Walking Dead too, because it really made you feel compassion for the (un)dead. It also is a great example of my theory that vampire stories reflect our aspirations outward, onto the vampire, while zombie stories are more like mirrors that make us reflect on our own humanity and who we, the survivors, are and want to be.
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Tell us about ‘The Truth About Brains’ and how you manipulate the zombie.
I decided to go back to the original idea of zombies being raised by magic, so it’s not a zombie apocalypse, it’s one dumb kid’s stupid choice to raise the dead with an incantation.  I thought, too, that what magic can do, magic can undo, because I wanted hope that Dylan could be saved, if only his sister Amy could find out how. Really she just wants to fix Dylan before their mum finds out, because she’s going to be in SO much trouble, otherwise, for letting her baby brother get zombified.

I’ve always got ulterior motives for the paranormal tropes I use, though. This time I wanted to explore a family dynamic in an unusual way. I was inspired originally by the mental image of an exasperated teenage girl being followed to the shops by her zombie brother. I have four brothers, two of them younger than me, and that image resonated with me. 😀 Don’t tell my brothers I said so.
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What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?
My plans are to hide out in my fifth floor apartment in the CBD, maybe pooling resources with the others on my floor, to ride it out. My expectations are that I’ll either a) be overrun and eaten b) starve to death and my cat will have to eat me to survive or c) leap to my death from the window. None of those scenarios see me surviving. I’ve seen the zombie apocalypse films. I know my chances. Practically nil.

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Narrelle has a number of books, vampires, witches, zombies and all the things we love (with some crime and non-fiction and more sprinkled in!)  and you can keep up with her at her website.