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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.



This is a fascinating topic, especially when I see zombies playing such a prominent role in contemporary pop culture. A local children's theater is performing a play called "Zombie Prom" right now. J.C. Penney is using commercials with zombified, walking clothing to target teen shoppers. Your argument about the political nature of the figure of the zombie is compelling. I'm wondering, too, about the domestication of zombies represented by these two examples.

I look forward to reading the article. Good luck with your word count!


Cool stuff! Our article may help you with some theoretical legwork...

Zombie Trouble: A Propaedeutic On Ideological Subjectification and the Unconscious
Authors: Gunn, Joshua; Treat, Shaun
Source: Quarterly Journal of Speech, v91 n2 p144-174 May 2005