It is interesting to note in both of these images, the similarities between the ones who are living, and the ones who are the undead. These notable simply because there is not much difference between the two. Those who have survived, are forced to live under uncivilized means with brute survival skills; always in a state of emergency. The undead are the deteriorating corpses of our friends and loved ones reincarnated to act in ways that they do not even understand, making the kill that much more difficult. So what are “zombies” really? They are representative of something larger, something brought on by the masses; buy what Adorno calls, The Culture Industry.
The Culture Industry promotes capitalism through its ideology, it is geared towards profit making and controlled by corporations; staffed with marketing and financial experts, star reporters and CEO’s which have together pushed the culture into mass production (Adorno). Thanks to this mass production, hundreds of millions of people now watch, “the same television shows and movies, listen to the same music and recordings, read the same newspapers and magazines” (Cook). Thereby, allowing the Culture Industry to play a powerful role in the daily life of the vast majority of the western world. The growing importance of The Culture Industry as a mode of mass production can be matched with its increasing influence over the psychology of those who helped it become “the masses” (Cook).
Now, the figure of the zombie lurks at the very center of global mass culture, they are both people and not people, representing that Other-ness we fear. They are “abjection”, they are, the dregs of humanity, a human face representative of capitalist monstrosity (Canavan 432). Remorselessly consuming everything in their path, zombies leave nothing in their wake besides endless copies of themselves, making the zombie the perfect metaphor not only for how capitalism transforms its subjects but also for its relentless and devastating march across the globe (Canavan 432).
So what is the zombie a metaphor for? Most critics look at the zombie as a representation of global capitalism, the sameness which we discussed in The Culture Industry article; with the mass consumption of goods being represented by the mass consumption of humans. While other critics discuss the zombies as representative of the racial, or colonial violence. In The Walking Dead the tools and technology of the empire are continually borrowed for the purpose of this sort of violent colonist fantasy. Swords, guns, tanks and trucks, repeated references to the brutal physical violence of slavery and to the cowboy frontier imaginary (presented through the riding of horses, and of Carls cowboy outfit and mannerisms). Verses how they attack us like animals, savages or cannibals with their arms and their mouths (Canavan 442). Leading us to another aspect of colonization, the fear of racial impurity. (However, I will add that this is contradicted by Michonne who bites through human flesh on multiple occasions in chapter five for “defense”… it could also be interesting to note her racial ethnicity).
Furthermore, by establishing the different positions of the one who looks and the one who is looked at, the structure of the “colonial gaze” can then distribute its knowledge and power to the subject who looks, while denying access to power for the one looked at. The zombie narrative operates under this colonial gaze. Zombies lacking interior, lacking mind, cannot look; they are, for this reason, completely realized colonial objects. Zombies cannot be recognized, accommodated or negotiated with; once identified, they must immediately be killed (Canavan 437). This immediate death of the Other, is an attempt at killing off the fear of racial impurity. When you consider that the audience for zombie narrative never imagines itself to be zombiefied then, “zombies are always are then always other people, which is to say they are Other people, which is to say, they are people who are not quite people at all” (Canavan, 432). Then you can understand that the zombies mark the line between life (that is worth living) and unlife (that needs killing). Therefore, “the evocation of the zombie conjures not solidarity but racial panic” (Canavan 433). This forces the Other to always be kept quarantined (like in the barn of the farmers house, [very disturbing scene]) or eradicated and destroyed. However, in a bizarre flip, we see Rick and his group find safety an abandoned jail. This is where the inversion typical to zombie narrative between the privileged “us” and the precarious “them” is made complete. Rick, a white police officer, will make his home inside a jail, while dangerous Others remain outside the walls. Under Rick’s leadership they protect themselves against all that is outside suddenly becoming a victim of their own societal downfall (Canavan 436).
So is the zombie than an divide of both of these modes? This would make the zombie both a personal and depersonalized activist of moral chaos. Responsible for widespread social breakdown; and, “a consumer of flesh and spectacular destroyer of our intricately constructed social and technological fortifications” (Canavan 434).
Zombie narratives, do however, trouble the, “us vs. them” narrative while paradoxically supporting them by forcing “survivors” to live in a perpetual state of emergency. Reflecting the state of near emergency we have had since 9/11. Many governments have rules in place to allow for the suspension of civilian rights at a moment’s notice, and to rule by exception, allowing a state of violence to be the norm. The zombie state that Kirkman creates dramatizes the world we live in on many levels. Take for example the section of the comic where they first discover the prison, it is their very own Guantanamo Bay but in reverse- they will be safe from the Other in the prison; acting as an island away from the masses. A representation of the kind of prison western world has become in the post 9/11 world, a walled in space for American ideals to continue. Kirkman says, “To me the best zombie movies aren’t the splatter feasts of gore and violence with goofy characters and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society… and our society’s station in the world” (Canavan 435).
To return full circle to the idea of “survival” as a form of death, we can see how this is proven through the idea that death was no longer something that suddenly swooped down on life- as in an epidemic. Death had become something permanent; something that slips into life, “perpetually gnaws at it, diminishes it and weakens it” (Canavan 437). As Rick explains in horror near the end of the one trade paperback, it is we, not they, who are “the walking dead” “In the end no matter what we do or how we live, we too must die and come back and be just like them”. Zombies are therefore, their only possible future and actual present- zombies inherit the earth.Work Cited:
- Adorno, Theodor. W. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” Cultural Theory. 1944 . 95-137.
- Canavan, Gerry. “”We are the Walking Dead”: Race, Time and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 431-453. Print.
- Cook, Deborah. “The Culture Industry Revisited: Theodor W. Adorno on Mass Culture” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 1996. Prologue. Print.
- Kirkman, Robert, Charles Adlard, Tony Moore, and Cliff Rathburn. The Walking Dead Compendium One. Berkeley, Calif.: Image Comics, 2009. Print.