Posts Tagged ‘zombies


Notes on Zombies

I just recently had a conversation about the current vogue for zombie related fiction/movies/video games. A friend of mine is playing in a zombie themed band. With the coincident popularity of vampire-centric media, we are in the midst of a full-fledged undead invasion.

Why zombies? Why now? I have a few theories. During the aforementioned conversation, my friend Sandro suggested that perhaps technological alienation lends force to the the humans-must-band-together subplots prevalent in much zombie oriented work. I wondered if maybe the debate over when life ends- at brain death? at loss of heart function?- might be behind the spike in interest around liminal life states like zombies.

I suspect that these are probably part of the allure. However, the theory that most interests me, and that strikes me as likely most responsible for zombie mania, is that our culture’s zombie fascination stems from widespread fear of Muslim terrorists.

In the last decade, the term Islamo-fascism has become one of the hottest political buzzwords in our lexicon. The figure of the terrorist is almost invariably imagined as Arab. Historically, the figure of the Muslim is also strongly aligned with that of the quasi-human and zombie. The western tradition has long associated Muslims with unthinking, uncaring zealots who are quick to cast aside any kind of human conscience to follow religious law. Veils and beards hide their faces, loose robes hide their bodies. They are thus figured as without the prominent visual markers of full humanity. They are cast in countless films (as well as news reports) incomprehensible others bent on the destruction of ‘our way of life’ because they, apparently, ‘hate our freedom’. This kind of simplistic, irrational destructive urge is not dissimilar to the insatiable desire for BRAINS.

In fact, the Muslim-as-Zombie has a long tradition in western thought. During the holocaust, it was common for concentration camp inmates to eventually entirely given up their will to live or any kind of relation to humanity besides that of physical resemblance. These people were literally understood as the undead or walking dead and were a source of terror far more than of pity. They were known as ‘musselmanner’- literally ‘Muslims’ because Muslims were thought not to possess agency or humanity, having submitted wholly to a regime of extremist religious devotion.

A few questions then: Is it any wonder then that the uptick in narratives of zombie invasion should coincide so neatly with the rise of widespread fear of Islamic terrorists? Does our fascination with zombies act simply as a symptom of this fear or does is contribute to the climate in which such fear is bred? Do even counter-narratives of the undead as misunderstood still play into the logic of Muslims as radically and irreducibly alien? Do narratives of zombieism-as-disease legitimate aggressive ‘treatment’ (western interference/regime change)?


January 2019
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