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Zombies passé become every disaster

March 20, 2014

At A.V. Club: “These are the American cities Hollywood loves to destroy” by Katie Rife writes:

Preparing for the zombie apocalypse is passé. So why not start making major life decisions based on a different set of arbitrary fictional criteria?

Except maybe that already makes it zombie. Once you are using arbitrary fictional criteria for decision-making, then you are already a zombie. There may still be substantial remaining questions of what kind of zombie, but the interest in zombie apocalypse has become a sort of generalized disaster concern, a floating signifier metaphor for all discussions of disaster scenario and/or anything haunting from the past. Since nothing is ever truly new, and since everything has some potential for disaster, everything is potentially zombie.

Some zombie puritans (and here I’m thinking particularly, and with all due respect, of Matt Mogk at Zombie Research Society) might argue that climate change is not a zombie, that only zombies are zombies and that word usage does not a zombie make. Ok, but tell that to the scientists and op-ed rhetoricians using the word. Instead, “zombie” has (at least temporarily) subsumed all monsters, all disasters, all fear. All your base are belong to zombie!

Lenny Bruce said: “If every politician from the beginning is crooked, there is no crooked.” So let me go out on a limb and say, there is no zombie (which is funny because most people might would take that as assumed, of course there are no zombie but) if there is no zombie, again, tell that to all those people using the word.

In “The Matrix” we must remember, there is no spoon, it is only your mind that bends.

Rife’s article was in reference to cool data visualizations (maps) from the Concourse at Deadspin: “Map: How Hollywood Has Destroyed America” by Reuben Fischer-Baum and Samer Kalaf:

How many times have you seen New York City destroyed onscreen? Los Angeles? Kansas? For nearly as long as there have been movies, there have been disaster movies. The map above shows 189+ such cinematic attacks—using a very broad definition of the “disaster” genre—that have afflicted various parts of the United States. Below, you’ll find each category listed as its own map, with an accompanying movie list.

So these aren’t zombie maps per se, but they totally are.

And, so this might get me into trouble with the zombie police but let’s argue that even “Godzilla” is a zombie movie. Invasive species, green, ambiguous gender, Cold War creature of dangerous science, routinely killed to return again later, and I bet there are more parallels if we give this more thought.

Welcome to post-colonialism where everything old is newly homogenized in the Hollywood machine monster mash, subsumed by a word that was itself culturally appropriated from those thoroughly assimilated peoples previously known as savages.

The monster mash is nothing new. And it’s no surprise to see multiple tropes handled together, see 2012, Forbes monster mash google trends chart


Studying one monster doesn’t preclude studying the others, it sort of implies it, because in the end, they are all monsters – they are all zombies – hybrid distortions of actual experience, murky undefined histories of mistakes and concessions.

These maps from DeadSpin are not evidence of zombie passé but of the continuing importance of the disaster trope. Rife is not the first journalist to call a premature end to the neverending all subsuming creature. Many expect improving economic conditions to devalue the zombie. But A.V. Club called zombie passé last year too.

And see similar in Wired: “Big Data for Healthcare: End of the Zombie Film Genre” by Michael Harden, ARTIS Ventures:

Big Data will fundamentally change the Zombie film genre.

Change of course, but the end? unlikely. Big data only means more zombies! Because the map is never the territory. The zombies are in the poorly explored data; the unusual stories within the aggregate, and the incongruity of that aggregate from the lived experience of individuals.

The bad news is that Hollywood is going to have to get really creative if they still want to make zombie movies.

No, the bad news is that Hollywood just keeps making movies regardless of if they are creative. Worse yet, the bad news that creativity is no more than zombie; mere rhetoric for a poor trace of complex systems.

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