Feminists Vs ZombiesOctober 19, 2011 No Comments
Generation Y seems to have developed a passionate love affair with zombies, an amour that is much more serious than the casual romp we share with their monstrous cousin, the vampire.
Our book shelves are stocked with Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide and the postmortem adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We participate in annual zombie walks in our home metropolises, study zombie apocalypse theories with more vehemence than we ever did for our undergraduate degrees, incorporate zombie attacks into our wedding albums, and we make zombie resistance helmets out of tin foil and sour cream containers for our cats.
No? That’s just me?
Despite the recent flux of vampiria in mainstream pop culture, largely due to HBO’s True Blood and the Twilight brand, which has developed a religious-like following of Twi-hards who carry an insatiable thirst for vampire-romance, there is something special about the zombie that has grabbed us by the jugular, and the attraction is more complex than a fantasy involving a stud with a wicked love bite.
The mystical construct of the vampire seems to reflect what we wish we were: seductively powerful, refined, immortal, manipulative, and sophisticatedly dominant. It is a romantically risqué, albeit conformist ideal that we aspire to, and it is molded by capitalist undercurrents. Zombies, on the other hand, mirror who we are.
It was George Romero who re-designed the zombie in 1968 with his film, Night of the Living Dead, and used this legendary creature — this anti-vampire — as a tool to socially criticize the state of society. It was he who coined the term “we are them” in his second zombie flick, Dawn of the Dead. While strong female leads are as rare in post-apocalyptic movies as any other action or horror genre, Romero’s zombie films are embedded with racial, feminist, and political commentary, and have inspired this kind of symbolic analysis to be explored in more recent zombie movies like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
In Dawn of the Dead, Fran, a powerful (and pregnant) TV executive acts as a model for 1970s feminism and symbolizes the merge between professionalism and motherhood. Her character expresses awareness of sexism, rolls her eyes at gender role assumptions, and ensures her empowerment by demanding that she be taught to fly the helicopter and carry her own gun. But as the movie progresses, Fran begins to demonstrate stereotypically feminine behaviour as she becomes preoccupied with the shiny commodities found within the shopping mall. Eventually Fran comes to resemble a vacant, artificially polished, mannequin (i.e., zombie-like), thus symbolizing the sacrifice of her own empowerment by giving in to capitalist lustre. Later on, Fran overhears the men discussing the possibility of her ending her pregnancy, and Romero uses this scene to symbolize patriarchal control over women’s bodies and social roles. By the end of the movie, Fran has removed her consumerist blind fold and is seen escaping in the helicopter, feminine empowerment, once again, intact.
The character of Selena in 28 Days Later acts as a more literal representation of female power. Instead of portraying Selena as a masculine idol, her character represents feminine strength by demonstrating an inner force rather than a brute force that is typical of male heroes in action films– although she is pretty bad ass at wielding a machete. While Jim is delineated as the romantic idealist, Selena is the cynical realist, and this swap of stereotypical gender characteristics gives a hearty boot kick to the limiting image of the hysterical, impractical woman who weighs upon men like a liability. The soldiers, who lure survivors to a military base with the intent of pleasing the men and repopulating society (“I promised them women!”), acts as a symbol of patriarchal power, which, even after the collapse of society, rears its ugly head. During a scene when Selena and 12 year old Hanna are threatened with rape, Selena, knowing she cannot overpower the men, feeds Hanna prescription pills so she can make it through the experience with less trauma. This kind of resourcefulness, perseverance, and practicality offers commentary regarding the value of different types of strength, or more explicitly, the value of feminine strength.
In addition to the feminist commentary that runs throughout zombie apocalypse classics like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later, so does fervent commentary about intertwining institutions, like capitalism, imperialism, global politics, and the consumerist lifestyle. It is in this critical analysis that Gen Y zombie lovers (including Gen Y feminists) have developed an adoring fascination with the zombie.
The notion of the zombie apocalypse mirrors our conscious, and sometimes unconscious unease about the system in which we live, including our feelings of vulnerability in regards to patriarchal power. It highlights our frustrations about the spatial segregation of private ownership, the rules we adhere to in conformity to our social and economic frameworks, and our blind dependency on the government and urban conveniences. Romero’s zombie infested, pop culture creation has offered us a glimpse into a world that can no longer hide systemic issues under a shroud of deception. It’s a world that is stripped, grittily survivalist, and makes us look at the current state of our reality and wonder: What if we had to start over again? Who would I be?
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