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Monday, 27 August 2007

The Twilight of Capitalism

Introduction: Zombie Nation

In the last decade, zombies have taken a place of cultural prominence that in some ways is incongruous with their low culture origins. Among other things, this essay accounts for this increase in scholarly interest by examining the usefulness and relevance of the zombie figure in representing the relationship of individuals to society at large. I will frame my discussion first by describing the figure of the zombie, arguing that it constitutes a strand of postmodern subjectivity which takes its modern form in the second half of the twentieth century with the release of George Romero's legendary Night of the Living Dead. One of this essay's political aims is to reassess the scholarly orthodoxy regarding the role of race in North American zombie film with particular attention to the first two films of George Romero's "Living Dead" series. This essay offers a corrective to a stubborn naivete about Romero's decision to cast Duane Jones as the male lead in Night of the Living Dead "not because he was black, but because we liked Duane's audition better than the others we had seen" (Romero 7). In the course of establishing the importance of race to North American zombie film, I explain how Romero's Night of the Living Dead dramatizes the conservative rehabilitation of its irrepressible black protagonist to critique the racism of late 1960s America, combining two strands of critical development which until now have remained disconnected. With regard to Dawn of the Dead, I will argue that Romero transforms Night's pessimistic dramatization of 1960s American race relations into a cynical postmodern utopia, a fantasy that places the burden of human survival upon a mixed-race duo and their unborn baby. I will end with some remarks about how Romero's conclusion to Dawn of the Dead represents miscegenation as a correlative of apocalypse, a trend that has been developing in both American and international zombie cinema for the last decade.

Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead mark, respectively, the birth and maturation of the cinematic figure of the zombie. In 1968, during the infancy of what Steven Shaviro has called the "postmodern zombie" (83-88), the figure of the zombie is one of radical abjection, one that provokes reactions of horror and disgust but none of identification. Over the course of thirty years, however, the figure of the zombie matures to such an extent that it not only serves as a cultural repository for the manifold anxieties Americans have about the environment, the government, nation states, and shared humanity. The figure of the postmodern zombie is able at the end of thirty years also to provide the politically ambivalent and spiritually unrooted subjects of late capitalism a metaphor for enacting, if not understanding, the ontological quandary they find themselves in at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Because such an arc is the proper subject of a series of books, let alone a brief essay such as this one, I will limit the films I closely consider to the first two films of George Romero's "Living Dead" series, briefly touching upon films such as Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932), Jean Yarbrough's King of the Zombies (1941), Del Tenney's reprehensible but culturally significant I Eat Your Skin (1964), and Thom Eberhardt's Night of the Comet (1984). My general aim is to highlight the main developments in the evolution of the zombie figure. More specifically, I will consider the figure of the zombie in three main areas: 1) representations of apocalypse, 2) cinematic racial representation, and 3) expression among what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call "the body without organs." First, both films depict the onset and advent of apocalypse but come to different conclusions about what a postapocalyptic world means for continued human survival, conclusions which reflect the historical moments in which each film was produced. Second, both films inherit and transform the racial origins of the zombie, origins rooted in Haitian voudoun culture. I will consider how the representations of race in these two films reflect twentieth and twenty-first century North American attitudes regarding both miscegenation and postcolonization. Third, the zombie is also a metonymic figure for the increasing ambiguity between organism and mechanism, one that in many ways represents the incorporation of humans into assemblages comprised not only of tangible things such as machines, organisms, tissue, and minerals, but also of intangible things such as religious doctrine, foreign policy, and economic theory, things which in certain circumstances comprise what Slavoj Žižek refers to as "partial objects." This essay will conclude with an analysis of what the figure of the zombie reveals about contemporary attitudes regarding the transformation of humans into posthumans, into zombies, during the twilight of capitalism. end of article

Works Consulted
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Romero, George A. "Preface." The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook. Ed. John Russo. 1st Harmony ed. New York: Harmony Books, 1985: 6-7.
Žižek, Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006.
Shaviro, Steven. "Contagious Allegories: George Romero." The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993: 83-105.
Dawn of the Dead. Dir. George Romero. 1978.
I Eat Your Skin. Dir. Del Tenney. 1964.
King of the Zombies. Dir. Jean Yarbrough. 1941.
Night of the Comet. Dir. Thom Eberhardt. 1984.
Night of the Living Dead. Dir. George Romero. 1968.
White Zombie. Dir. Victor Halperin. 1932.

Drugged Up Zombie Laborers

A video essay about the drug Burundanga reminds me of the (much more authoritative) work Wade Davis did regarding "Ethonobiology of the Haitian Zombie" (subtitle) in Passage of Darkness.1 Zombification in Haiti involves the use of a powerful neurotoxin that places subjects in a death-like state, though these people maintain full awareness. The houngan who administers the potion (according to Haitian folklore tradition) gains power over the person(s) so enthralled. In his introduction, Davis notes

The peasant knows that the fate of the zombie is enslavement. Yet given the availability of cheap labor and the debilitated physical condition of the zombies, there is obviously no economic incentive to create a workforce of indentured labor. Instead, the concept of slavery implies that the victim of zombification suffers a a fate worse than death—the loss of individual freedom implied by enslavement, and the sacrifice of individual identity and autonomy implied by the loss of the ti bon ange. It must be emphasized that the fear in Haiti is not of zombies, but rather of becoming a zombie. (9)

At the start of the report on Burundanga, Ryan Duffy explains that the drug (whose main ingredient is scopalamine) is

basically like the worst roofie you can ever imagine, times a million. You're at the whim of suggestions like 'Hey, take me to your ATM,' 'Hey, take me to your hotel room,' while you're completely conscious and articulate.

I can't help but wonder if Duffy is himself under the influence of Burundanga (minus the articulate part), as he proceeds to tell "campfire horror stories" about the drug, such as

waking up in a bathtub with an organ cut out and a sign saying you have five hours to get to a hospital. [Duffy and his colleagues have], of course, also heard that it's used as a date rape drug.

For Duffy, the possibility of losing an organ or being raped is nothing compared to "one particularly chilling story" about someone who

woke up the next morning in [an] empty apartment, completely confused as to what happened. [He] Went down and said to his doorman, "Why is my apartment empty? What happened?" and the doorman said "Well, you brought it out with two of your friends last night. All your stuff. You loaded it into a van." The guy was like, "Why in the hell would you let me do that?" And he was like, "Cause you told me to."2

These stories about the loss of free will and of zombification are powerful to the North American imagination precisely because they are about the appropriation of one's labor against one's will. In such scenarios, one has no choice but to work for the benefit of others at the expense of one's own self. It's no coincidence that one source of continued anxiety in North America is about the enslavement of Africans, even as the historical circumstances of this enslavement are cinematically distorted in films such as Victor Halperin's White Zombie and Jean Yarbrough's King of the Zombies. The difference is that where early North American zombie cinema imagines the appropriation of black labor by white colonizers, early twenty-first century web journalism imagines the zombification of yuppies by Burundanga-wielding burglar rings, the site of zombification moved from the Caribbean to Any City, USA.

Speaking of displacement and distortion, when Duffy explains

Apparently there's a lot of different parts of the plant that are a bit dangerous, possibly a bit fun, depending on what you're into. So we're going to be looking for the tree, talking to people who've had experience with it and seeing if we can find some of the actual drug ourselves,

he sounds as if he's talking not about "the most dangerous drug in the world, Burundanga," but about another drug young white North American males are known to search for in Bogota, Colombia. end of article

1 Essay via MetaFilter.
2 Note the lack of horror the "victim" has regarding the suggestibility of the doorman, presumably not under the influence of Burundanga but of North American capitalism.
Works Cited
Davis, Wade. Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
King of the Zombies. Dir. Jean Yarbrough. 1941.
White Zombie. Dir. Victor Halperin. 1932.
"Shopping for Pure Evil." Colombian Devil's Breath. Part 1 of 9. 23 July 2007. VBS.TV. 27 August 2007. <http://www.vbs.tv/player.php?bctid=1119242704&bccl=MTExOTE3NDYwNF9fTkVXUw==>.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Skim This

The users who have been complaining about iMovie '08 and the pundits who have nothing more to say except "It should have been called something else" have failed to see that the skim feature present in iMovie '08 (and in a different form in iPhoto '08) is not only the future of video editing. It is also the future of computer file manipulation.

FCP is a powerful program that has its problems as well as benefits. It will inherit the scanning features present in iMovie '08 and thereby improve the process of digital video editing. Great. But I can imagine the skim feature (as present in iMovie '08) integrating into search capability: for example, piles of items that can quickly be perused by passing a mouse over them and marked on the fly for future reference). I can also imagine dozens, hundreds, of (say) on-demand video items being easily perused using a technology adapted from iMovie '08.

It's the way forward but no one in the Macosphere seems to see this. end of article

Main Means of Interface

Before I begin, I hope you will forgive me for being so short of hyperlink references for this entry. I'm in the middle of an article and I can't psychologically justify the effort it would require to hunt down those canonical references (DaringFireball, Slashdot, MacWorld, ATPM, etc.) that would give this entry the heft of authority.

Many of us spend a lot of time in front of our computers. For those of us whose livelihoods primarily depend on research, interacting with computers (over and against print) is the main mode of our production. We communicate with far-flung colleagues, busy fellow faculty, overbooked administrators, and hardworking students using our computers. For those of us with workable digital filing systems, research articles are paperless, existing to our immediate perceptions only as pixels rendered to our monitors. For those of us who produce digital texts such as blogs, online catalogs, and machine-readable texts, the amount of time spent in front of a computer can devour between twelve and sixteen hours of a typical work day. This is all a short way of saying that the evolution of digital media and its effects will dwarf the changes to human interaction which resulted with the advent of print. Our shared values--which amount to no less than the idea that print is sacred--will seem so much sentimentality inside of our lifetimes. For many of us, this moment has already arrived. It certainly has arrived for the generation coming of age today.

But I was on about those missing hyperlink references.

It has been noted that Apple doesn't produce new technology as such. Rather, Apple takes existing technology and puts it into a form that people find more intuitive than what came before. That is, Apple understands how to build usable interfaces for complicated technical devices. While I might reserve an exception for the Apple ][ which integrated the keyboard as its primary means of interacting with its electronic registers and memory circuits, there are many examples of Apple leveraging existing technology to commercial and (more to the point) computing advantage: the Macintosh 128k, the iPod, the iPhone, the Newton (oops), etc. The word on the street is that Apple doesn't invent so-and-so. Rather, Apple innovates by packaging existing technology into a form useful to the average consumer.

Undoubtedly, such logic is a massive oversimplification of the complex process of design, prototyping, and testing involved in bringing a mass-produced technical device to market. Even so, such simplified thinking helps me to make my point that with its August 2007 introduction of its new keyboard, Apple has finally produced a (nearly) perfect keyboard. This is important because next to the monitor, the keyboard is the primary means by which we interact with our computers. For writers especially, the haptic interface provided by the keyboard is one that can never be too good. We writers can only hope that the action of our keyboards will at least be good enough.

I learned how to type on a manual typewriter in 1980 (thanks Ms. Weber and Mr. Cowan) and have typed on many keyboards since. There is nothing that compares to the experience of typing on the current Apple keyboard. Many of you who know how to type (hunt-and-peckers don't count since they don't really know how to use keyboards) will try the new Apple keyboard and never (want to) look back. I have been waiting for this keyboard ever since I began typing. Its main features (expect imitators to flood the market which, in my opinion, is a good thing) are low profile, shallow keypress, and separated keys.

Perspective for low-profile of 2007 Apple Keyboard

Perspective illustrating the low profile of the 2007 Apple Keyboard.1

Low profile is the feature that changes everything. It obviates the need for a wrist rest. Now, ergonomically designed work spaces can use elbow/arm rests in conjunction with a properly elevated desk surface to support the wrist and relax the carpal tendons. The low profile also transforms the typing process from one that uses fingertips to one that emphasizes fingerpads. The difference cannot be described but it definitely should be experienced.

The second feature--shallow keypress--encourages the use of a soft touch while typing. The tactile feedback is gentle but unambiguous, primarily an effect of the normal force coming back through the fingers. This is ingenious design that accelerates typing and increases endurance.

The third and final feature I will mention is the separated keys. Touch typists don't (mainly) use adjacency or contiguity to locate keys. Typists locate keys as a matter of spatial memory. As a result, keys which are too close in proximity increase the chance of accidental presses. We've all tapped on more than one key at a time or on the same key twice in row. Key separation minimizes these errors.

Of course, fifty dollars is a bit steep for a keyboard, but outside of the monitor, the keyboard is the primary tool of interaction people have for their computers. A keyboard that facilitates input so seamlessly might be worth the not-exactly modest investment. end of article

1 There are lots of reflective surfaces in this photo, I know. The main one is the plexiglass on my desk, but the reflection coming off the keyboard is not a Photoshop trick but the reflection of Saran Wrap which I'm using until these folks update their offerings. Yes, my mother's Korean.

Sunday, 12 August 2007


I need word counts.

Tuesday, 07 August 2007

Hello Corruption


Some do not understand how Mr. Pongpat Chayaphan's policy of issuing wayward Thai police officers Hello KItty armbands could serve as a deterrent to police corruption. The following video should clarify matters.2

Hello Kitty (Corrupted Mix)

Clicking downloads a 13.4 MB file.
Please be patient while the file loads
Ctrl/Right-click here to “Save File As . . .”
2 I found this video months ago on YouTube on Hello Kitty Hell, site worth every second you spend on it.

Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Fantastic Four

Oh, snap!

end of article

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