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Zombies as symbols

October 25, 2012

“Zombies as symbols” by Debra Haight at The Herald-Palladium a Michigan paper reports:

While zombie books and movies can be entertaining, Brendan Riley said people’s increased interest in zombies in recent years is a reflection of their overall concerns about the human condition and fears about the future.

“Zombies are in a way about who we are,” said Riley, an English professor at Columbia College in Chicago. He spoke last week at Southwestern Michigan College.

Zombies “urge us to think about where are the lines between the living and the dead, and when do we die: Is it when our heart isn’t beating or we aren’t breathing or when we don’t have brain waves? It relates to other issues like senility and when life begins.”

Riley teaches a class on “Zombies in Popular Media.” The title of his SMC talk was “Why You Should Care about the Living Dead” and came just in time for Halloween.

But this is explaining it on the small scale. It’s not just the literal breakdown of living and dead, it’s the breakdown of all binomial categories. All categories are structured on these kind of false dichotomies.

This is the problem of the signifier. The symbols are empty, the signifier chains never-ending, the scheme recursive, and the show must go on… You can deconstruct living or dead, left or right, black or white, until you’re blue in the face but the zombie-forms just keep coming.

I’ve mentioned Bruno Latour‘s work before. His reassembling of the social is based on the premise that we have never been modern and that everything has always been hybrid. I am also reminded of Stephen Colbert recently interviewed by David Gregory on Meet the Press. Colbert said that on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart is a deconstructionist of the news laying it out like a “cadaver” for the audience, whereas he, Colbert through his character, “reconstructs” the news.

Another interesting note about symbol reassembly (and other similar language information processing) is autistic people do it differently. Recall prior zombielaw post on connection of zombies to autism (including the implication that autistics have greater connection to spirit world). In contrast, see this recent article in HuffPo by Hannah Brown, mother of an autistic child who writes: “Zombie Therapy: An Autism’s Mom’s Take on The Walking Dead” in which she describes her struggles with her child’s community-social interaction as like trying to survive a zombie world. In this version of apocalyptic-reality her zombies are:

special-education bureaucrats who make most of our lives much more miserable than they need to be, and the cold strangers who give our kids fish eyes whenever their public behavior seems odd.

It’s about communities of meaning. The bureaucrats and strangers just don’t understand. The words, just don’t mean what they think they mean, their entire category structures are flawed at the core because for every separation of living and dead there exists an infinitude of zombies between, around, and through the limits. And yet these language based category determinations can have drastic effects on the educational services available. We should care about the living dead because we are the living dead.

From → Academics

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