Consumerism and the Undead may have perhaps been a more fitting title for the following series, however I feel that the symbolism often branches into more nuanced areas of political discourse, thus Capitalism feels…right. In this 3 part series I shall be looking at the progression of capitalism/consumerism as an underlying motif/theme is zombie films, beginning with the classic George A. Romero era of zombie horror films, through to modern day high-budget action horrors. The evolution, mutation and gradual change in and of the characteristics of zombies in general is not just intentional, but a natural reflection of the society in which the film resides. Thus when one watches a zombie film, one bears witness to the masses-of-the-times, the sprawling unthinking decay, the unavoidable mutations of thought under capitalism.
How these ‘parts’ end up is entirely up to them. They will not be a critical synopsis of the films, as this has been done to death and is simply not my job, neither will be they be in line with my REDUX posts in their obscurity an abstract-nature, I wish to use popular horror films as a basis for lucid-critical engagement with consumerist though and the consumerist ‘way of life’.
The undead, zombies, biters, walkers, infected, etc. The idea has many names, yet they all reflect one kind of entity, a brainless consumer. Who’s entire directive is purely to consume another’s flesh and brains, to consume another’s originality, or simply to consume. Usually zombies come about via the spread of a virus or infection, I may look into the ways in which the virus comes about, however I feel it’s the manifestation of the virus that is of importance here. A walking, slurring infected husk, a shadow of a human being, a failed clone of humanity, an evolutionary body aborted at the last minute, a humanoid being with everything human taken from it.
EARLY ZOMBIE FILMS:
Between 1932 and 1968 there were many zombie films, beginning with Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932), considered by many to be the first in which ‘zombies’ as we popularly know them now are used, however it’s not until Romero’s work in the late 60’s that zombies come into their own as a key symbolic element of popular entertainment, it’s not until the late 60’s that the zombies of films are watched by their real-world counterparts, the risen-dead (the undead) acting out cannibalistic desires towards society.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Night of the Living Dead, the quintessential beginners guide to reanimated cannibalistic corpses. The beginning of an entire genre taking its first slow drawn out steps in a graveyard, a hollow quote that never leaves the mind of any true horror fan “They’re coming to get you Barbara.” And with that, they begin to come…and get us. It’s quite apt that the first film of its kind is based solely around one night, a snapshot of the cadaver apocalypse, this proto-film is a glimpse of what is to come and what is ‘outside’ the house in which Barbara and the cast reside for the film’s length. Within the house is the firm glimpse at a strange motif that carries through all zombie films, get above them, whether it’s upstairs, in a helicopter or atop a skyscraper, being literally above zombies is always necessary, to look down upon the consuming masses is of course a pleasurable feat, for us who know we are not on their level.
To lock oneself away with like-minded others in a worn-out house, rural, tucked away, they shall never find us here, they are the problem. We must get above them, the mindless hoards of hollow entities, to be underground is dangerous, to stay still is dangerous. As the group are torn from their artificial womb one-by-one, as the infection spreads to friends and friends of friends, you see your closest bow down to the nothingness of unthought, and so you lock yourself away in a cellar armed only with you. With only your brains, the thing they want is the thing keeping you you, for they shall remove the origin of you. And thus you become the they.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
I didn’t concentrate too much on Night of, as I feel Dawn of the Dead is the real father of the genre, with it’s baby acting as a prototype, a blueprint.
The infection, the consumer, you will not be scared of at first, they will appear an uncanny human to you, attempting to lure you into their unalloyed hedonistic appetite. And with a bite the relation to your right or left – neither matter in an instant – becomes only food, only the desire to consume everything for your own personal gain matters, to fit in with the crowd and consume with them, for brains are desired and create desire simultaneously, an all-absorbing feedback loop. Think not for yourself simply consume the thoughts of others and drool some more.
As Flyboy in his helicopter begins his journey with the group to the consumerist nirvana – the mall – he notices the “Rednecks are having a field day…” those who never bought into consuming before wont buy into it now, and flock to their own brand of identity and rebel against the mindless in-take easily. The southern-vibe as anti-capitalist is an easy lay. Different groups of unthought for different collective purposes.
Why the brain? Why-oh-why does a zombie only die after being shot in the brain? That’s where the idea is stored, the fuel for the never-ending cog of a consumer identity, the belief that to be is to belong, that to win is to own, more. Hollow humanistic shells without organs, no structure except that which tells them what to do, they only need breath, eat, shit, piss, fuck and enjoy if they give into an externally programmed desire, a desire which always has a malicious agenda.
And as the zombie bites a human the infection that flows past the cog flows too, into their veins, acidic and tinny, sliding into the ducts and destroying the not-needed. Fuelled only by the originality of others, the destruction of a single means the assimilation of another into the larger, with each ego-death their strives a further chance of complete cultural purification, all for the single aim of hedonistic-consumer desire. Race, gender, age, physicality etc. etc. and so on are no longer divided but merged into a pliable dough, given to CEO-hands. And then it’s over.
They enter the Mall from the roof, sliding down into the consumer-nirvana, settling safely into a side room. They box themselves in with food, humans in a small room next to tins of meat, tinned meat…meat in a small space. “Why do you think they come here?” “Memory, perhaps?” Memory, or present? A human walks to the mall and buys and eats and drinks and consumes because….why? A zombie walks to the mall and eats and eats and eats and consumes because that’s just what a zombie does? OK. And so the line blurs and fringe groups become nano-anomalies.
The power is turned on, the dynamism excites the shells of flesh, which ones? The store windows are lit, the tubular bulbs glow bright, the attractions spin and entertain a mass, a mass of beings they view as no different, a mass whose purpose is to be entertained. As pathetic legs give way on escalators, ponds splash with the hit of the dead, a concentration on the stable mannequin.
Those on the semi-outside, those not-undead, those still alive still have to live within this world, survival still has its origins, only now there are two kinds of survival: One in having to literally keep breathing, two is having to stay sane in yourself amongst the murmurs of the undead surrounding.
Those alive grab a cart for the essentials and enter the new halls for the undead, buildings, rooms and floors meant for zombies, a controlled architecture helping guide the frozen culture around and around, a circular life is aimless and also pointless, but for one to throw the idea of meaning in there, that is a tyranny. And the muzak plays.
In their successful attempt to gain supplies one of the group becomes aware, aware of his own possibility to fit in, the inside in warm and easy, to be undead is to be alive and not-think, what a beautiful state of being he thinks, many think…most think. And so he goes insane, to remain with a few in a tension, or to fall lustfully into the welcome, the embrace of a mass, the split causes insanity and weakness prevails. Next you wake up and you are dead, then undead, and you cannot go back.
And the mall begins to bore the alive, for they do not fit in here, the toys and entertainment work only short term for those with form. Those of us with originality have little time for lights and gimmicks; and the zombies keep going, the same trinkets and toys tussled with over and over. The alive now at terminal boredom sit and wait, not once pondering of a re-entering into the animalistic and chaotic ‘outside’, to sit on the wall is a travesty of spirit.
And so the outside invades, patience cannot be employed and thus can be taken by anyone, the roar of the engines and machinery crashes in, metal into mall, a defence happens. But it is too late, a confusion of states occurs and a realisation of non-belonging begins, a merging of kinds into a uniform blob of violence for-the-sake-of begins; and zombies are dotted, waiting for an entry, still ready to take.
As the many fall and organs spill, preferences also tumble, and the zombies begin to eat shit, intestines empty into the mouths of morons, for they know no better and think of this as a fruit of origin.
It is either head to the outside or commit suicide, for some simply cannot become-mass.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)
To begin with the nightmare of a consumerist force so strong it can literally penetrate your private space/residence, enter into your diary, your thoughts, your memories…your dreams. Your desires are not your own.
Once again the undead are awakened into their dynamic via noise, entertainment draws them near, nothing substantial, not even a coherence, just a vacant loud-noise interests them, they hear not a noise but something they can consume making a noise, originality THIS WAY.
The base underground this time, surrounded by a wire-mesh fence which holds away hundreds of the undead. This time the alive enter not into the hive itself, but shy away, leaving the existence of humanity underground a pathetic whimper against the mass above.
Within the underground there are pressures, tensions between the alive, towards a direction, militaristic, scientific, philosophic? Everyone is at each other’s throats, above and around are the undead and humans still bicker. The aggressive-passion turns inwards, towards each other.
The experiments are underway, conditioned so a zombie can survive simply from a stem and a brain, a vessel to be filled with organ-structure, the brain a pulsating remnant of what it should be. Primordial-instinct is replaced with a consumer instinct, to buy and consume is to breath and eat. “It can be conditioned to behave the way we want it to behave.”
“All the shopping malls are closed.”
It’s in the streets now, the infection creeps into the world unnoticed, unchained and released from its source, its haven, infecting everything it comes into contact with, a cultural poison of hedonism, consumerism and cultism.
And Bub comes into focus, a new kind of zombie, one that remembers his past, what it was like to have ideas of his own, to think and feel and act as he wants, but still, he is to be trained, moulded by science and disciplined by the military, from his mindless slumber he wakes and in an instant a gun is shoved into his hand. His is taught how to shoot, but more importantly who to shoot at.
The experiments go south, the Dr runs out of food and toys for the undead, he begins to feed them their own, the undead regurgitating what they will once again digest, a consumer cycle, flesh-in, flesh-out, shit-in, shit-out…then shit back in again.
Bub escapes his chains, entering a simulacrum of the outside, unsure of his meaning and thus aimless in his escape, to escape for the sake of escaping, into what, a nothingness you know not of. He finds his carer dead and with that his questions fall silent.
It’s suicide or a state of flux. One must keep moving amongst such a degenerative force. To stand still means death, death by fitting in. The ‘in’ is death.
And so Romero gives us the push-overs, zombies one can nudge out of the way, walk by without distracting them. They claw and slowly grind towards originality, yet not at a perverse speed, their place in the world is empty and without dynamic, hollow shells made to search yet not know what for, and thus their desire has been filled by the malicious. The evolution has begun, the mutations creep from left to right, a twisted creature, the relation we want to forget.