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I actually have been thinking about the concept of zombies in relationship to the mindless way people seemed to line up to get into stores on 'Black Friday'. By contrast I have heard some in the media imply that they thought the use of the 'human microphone' was zombie-like. Yet I've heard very little from same media about some of the antics people pulled last Friday aside from it being 'unfortunate'. How would you argue that it is the shoppers who are more zombie-like? Have some in the mainstream media been infected?

Love to you and the lovely Olga!


Hi Lauren.

Thank you for your question. You've struck a bit of a nerve for me when it comes to zombies. I remember I was telling somebody here on the Farm about my enthusiasm for the zombie genre of media, and this old hippie asked me if all zombies were Republicans. I gave a wan smile and said nothing. I hope I didn't actually roll my eyes, but it certainly occurred to me to do so. Using zombies as a way to insinuate that one's perceived opponents in the culture war are mindless followers is, to me, the least interesting and imaginative application of the zombie meme. Zombies are more interesting than that.

Pundits for Empire in the corporate media have been grasping and struggling in their attempts to ridicule the Occupy Wall Street movement. So far the only trope that has found any traction whatsoever relates to hygiene. "Dirty hippies" is certainly a much hotter search engine term now than it was six months ago. In late October,  Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield (Republican), in oposing an ad hoc curfew intended to squelch protest, told the media, "While I am no fan of the flea baggers' Occupy Nashville protest, I do not think they should be banned from protesting at the capitol." While this rhetorical tactic didn't give me any respect for this particular politician, I did see a bit of poetic justice in his choice of invective, as the term "flea baggers" is a play on "tea baggers," a term of ridicule that liberals use to belittle to Tea Party activists. 

Right-wing blowhards who try to denigrate the OWS movement by calling its members zombies have a particularly uphill slog because some of the OWS protesters actually dress up as zombies and do the zombie shuffle through the streets as a form of protest. Do these pundits expect us to imagine that the protesters accidentally fell into a vat of white powder makeup and fake blood and that they don't realize that they're dressed as zombies? So in that sense, I will concede that the zombie label adheres more readily to Black Friday shopping berserkers than it does to people who camp out on high-rent real estate in order to confront the affluent with the reality that a shrinking class of haves enrich themselves at the expense of the growing class of have-nots.

Just last night I followed a link from the Friends of the C-Realm group on Facebook to a fatuous editorial in the Washington Post by Ed Rogers which opens with, "I think it’s safe to say the Occupy Wall Street experiment as a political force is over. Sorry, Carter, it was born a political zombie, and it only became more rancid over time." Rogers did not follow-up this comment with any explanation of how the Occupy movement is anything like a zombie other than that it smells bad, so I give Rogers an F for effort and and a D for insightful analysis. But even if he'd written something clever, calling members of a despised outgroup "zombies" exhibits a shallow appreciation for the zombie archetype.

Yes, we do have a consumer culture which fuels a consumption-based economy, and the corporate media relentlessly reinforces the ideological programming that legitimizes our absurd predicament, and certainly the zombie as insatiable consumer offers itself up as a weapon in the arsenals of "progressive" culture warriors. In George Romero's 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, zombies did return to a shopping mall and mill about aimlessly, and in that respect, so long as there was no living human flesh nearby to tempt them into a feeding frenzy, the zombie mall walkers behaved almost identically to living mall walkers. And yet I think Romero's true damning criticism of consumer (un-)consciousness manifests not in re-animated corpses doing laps around the food court but in the living human survivors who took refuge in the mall and attempted to isolate themselves from the decay of their own society by reveling in a practically unlimited stockpile of luxury goodies. 

Nearly three decades later, in his 2005 zombie flick Land of the Dead, George Romero went a step further in dramatizing this theme. Other than the film's protagonist, the characters in Land of the Dead fall into three categories. At the top are the uber-wealthy who take refuge in a luxury high-rise and ignore the suffering of those who can't afford to join them. In the city streets below them, living in squalor, are their minions who carry out the will of the elites under the delusion that if they work hard enough they will rise to that privileged social strata. The remaining group, the vast majority of moving bodies in this world, are the zombies, who in spite of the depravity and predation of the elites, do what they can to preserve some shred of the normality of their former lives. Clearly, Romero's sympathies lie with the zombies.

Personally, I see the use of pepper spray against one's fellow shoppers as an example of the madness of crowds. It is a madness which the corporate media stokes, and the ever-versatile zombie meme encompasses this as well. Within the larger zombie genre, there is a sub-genre which depicts the zombies not as walking corpses but as living humans who have been driven mad by disease or exposure to toxic chemicals, and the Black Friday violence at Walmart and other temples of consumption does resonate with this particular sub-genre. I'm talking about films like The Crazies and 28 Days Later, although true zombie aficionados will tell you that the humans driven to pathological violence depicted in these films are not true zombies in the Romero sense.

Sure, the zombie is an avatar for a person who has abdicated his individuality, or as C-Realm guest Neil Kramer has put it, the de-spiritualized man; the empty shell of appetites and conditioned responses, devoid of understanding or higher purpose. It's much easier  to label somebody who commits violence in his programmed role as consumer a zombie than it is to pin that same label on somebody who uses costumes, makeup and street theater as a form of protest.  So, yes, I take your point that Black Friday maniacs certainly wear the zombie label more readily than do OWS protesters, but what this use of the zombie concept completely leaves out is the critical detail that humans are more dangerous than zombies.

Amost inevitably, in any zombie apocalypse tale, the zombies are not the ultimate threat to the living human protagonists. The zombies behave predictably. They are frequently slow in their movements and completely lacking in ingenuity. Once the human survivors establish their stronghold against the zombies  then the real danger which emerges is their inability to tolerate each other's differences; differences in ethnicity, differences in political orientation, differences in social class. Time and again we have seen fictional characters sabotage their own safe haven and elevate their petty cultural squabbles above their own safety.

Think of Patrick, the fictional producer of the Big Brother TV show in the 2008 BBC miniseries Dead Set. His identity is so wrapped up in his disdain for the people who work for him that when he finds himself safely ensconced in the fortified Big Brother set with a handful of surviving contestants and one of his employees, he is unable to accept that he has found an ideal hideout in which to ride out the zombie apocalypse. Here he has access to food, electricity, fresh water, a rooftop greenhouse, and the company of a group of people who have proven themselves resilient and resourceful. But Patrick cannot accept them as equals, and any situation in which he is not giving orders is repellent to him. He conceives an absurd plan of escape, a plan which only the one outcast member of the group agrees to. His escape plan has no coherent destination, and succeed or fail, it will allow the zombie horde into the fortified compound and destroy the sanctuary for everyone.

Think of Daryl, in The Walking Dead. While he exhibits extraodinary competence in his ability to track, find food, and most importantly, dispatch zombies, he is completely dependent for his survival on Rick, Lori, Glen and the rest of his group. Even so, a niggling voice, in the form of his missing brother Merle, an avatar for everything city-dwelling liberals encourage each other to despise in so-called rednecks, urges Daryl to sabotage the social structure which is his best hope for existence as anything other than a mere "survival animal."

As Daryl lies injured and bleeding, a spectral Merle hovers over him and taunts him for following Rick, the sheriff's deputy who is the group's defacto leader. “You his bitch now? You a joke, that’s what you are. Playing errand boy to a bunch of pansy asses, niggers, and Democrats. You’re nothing but a freak to them.”
There is one sense though in which the OWS protesters are like zombies. Zombies, particularly in George Romero's movies, are not very threatening as individuals. Part of what makes the zombie apocalypse an attractive backdrop against which otherwise unremarkable people manifest extraordinary competence is that a normal person with a baseball bat or machete is more than a match for most any single zombie. What makes the zombies a credible threat is their numbers. We are the 99.9%.

Zombie KMO
KMO is the co-host of the Z-Realm Podcast.

This commentary is available as an audio recording here:


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