Friday, May 15, 2009

Zombieism

“… we see it from coming overseas and that’s what really scares us.” (ZAPT: The Zombie Attack Preparedness Team)

 

Any classic Zombie movie utilizes the formula of predator versus prey; within the scope of Orientalism however, the Zombie can be likened to the marginalized groups of the Orient. By examining the practiced management of a threat known as the “Zombie Apocalypse” in the short documentary on ZAPT, the Orientalization of the Other becomes metaphorically clear, and the theory of Orientalism exposes how the Other systematically becomes demonized in the application of texts in order to exert control over the Occidental citizens.

Orientalism bases itself on the “textual attitude” (Said 3) one acquires through reading without having any knowledge that is based in real life experiences. In the case of the Zombie Attack Preparedness Team (ZAPT), this impending reality is all too real. The group, based out of Louisiana, is prepared for a biological attack that would result in the Zombie metamorphosis of their peers. They tout the acceptance of killing one another in the event of turning to that of the un-dead and they teach their children the inevitable Zombie extermination skills. They are driven from fear based off the application of various texts dealing with ‘Zombieism’ and what Orientalism teaches through propaganda is how to marginalize the Other. 

Edward Said speaks very clearly in the oddity of taking a text for doctrine. However, he states that people in fact “have tried and do try to use texts [to apply what one learns out of a book literally to reality…]” (Said 3). In the case of ZAPT, all they know about the world is through their own application of Zombie text to real world experiences. This paper is not so much to prove Zombie’s ought to have a chance before one systematically demonizes them, but rather to show how a discourse shapes ones views to an Orientalistic approach in the dealings of the Other. For the militia group, they are on constant guard against the threat of their version of the Other, Zombies. And in promoting fear of those “overseas” carrying a biological disease that would turn loved ones into the undead who feed off the flesh of the living, their experiences correlate with how one views fantasy and the zeitgeist of the nation, more specifically the military presence in the Middle East.

Orientalism was employed during WWII through the propaganda spread in the states; newspapers abound applied fear-based tactics to sway the US constituents in order to promote aggression towards the Japanese culture, and thus, caused the internment of Japanese American’s. This correlation in terms of Zombie movies and ZAPT arises out of a fear of the East in terms of the “War on Terror.”

What must be feared today are the Middle East countries who harbor terrorists and the threat of biological warfare such as Anthrax and nuclear bombs. ZAPT exemplifies a group who uses the information given and internalizes it by its application to a fantastical creature known as the Zombie. The Zombie can only be likened to a doll with which they are able to practice their aggression upon. However, this fear is rather irrational. A study completed in 2001 comparing the chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBNR) use at the Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies, states that the actual “proportion of incidents of use to total incidents, although rising, continues to be lower in the United States than any other region.” (CNS) Following up with the study updated in 2003, another article by the same group states that “the anthrax incidents have been small in scale, with the apparent intent of frightening rather than killing large numbers of people.” (CNS)

In addition, out of the roughly 354 Zombie movies beginning in 1932 to those in post-production, 205 were made between 2000 and 2009 (Wikipedia: “List of Zombie Films”). That seems to be a large cluster during the same time of the US invasion/ occupation of the Middle East, and while other sources are not factored in, such as the increase in demand as well as the increase in motion picture industry wealth, there still seems to be a need by groups like ZAPT to make judgments about the Other based off of those movies and their own fear of the Other.

Said references Michel Foucault as being an influence in his analysis of Orientalism. Much like ZAPT who arrive at conclusions based off of various Zombie movies. Foucault discusses in “Discipline and Punish” the influence that a power structure needs to acquire and maintain control on an individual. It’s written in Foucault’s meditation on the Panopticon in that the individual might not see a threat, but what these movies show and how they have affected a group in the South, has manifested a choice to kill based only off what they cannot see. This uprising of a homegrown military presence to protect the states from the Other is the perfect result of the propaganda of the divisive: Middle East bad, Americans good.

 This particular Zombie aficionado group is genuinely fearful of the “Zombie Apocalypse.”  They have been watching movies and in turn Orientalizing groups they have yet to meet. In describing Napoleon and de Lesseps, Said states, “they knew, more or less, about the Orient [] from books written in the tradition of Orientalism” (Said 3), and furthermore, for them the Orient [] was something to be encountered and dealt with to a certain extent because the texts made the Orient possible.” (Said 3) So too have the Zombie movies made those overseas possible and the culprit of turning the West into an apocalyptic vision of the flesh eating, undead.

The first Zombie movie was made in 1932 and called White Zombie which follows the jealousy of a man, Charles Beaumont, who owns a plantation in Haiti and acquires the services of Murder Legendre. Legendre turns Beaumont’s love into the living-dead and provides Beaumont with cheap labor for the opportunity to experiment on the young woman. What should first be noted lies in the mystery surrounding a place like Haiti; it provides the perfect threat so close to home, one that employs much different customs than that of the traditional view of Occidentals. The other important factor can be found in the use of exercising power over an individual. Beaumont’s love falls for another and in the guise of feigning a celebratory party, takes control of his lost love by turning her to the undead.

Similarly, in 28 Weeks Later the use of the American military is all too a common element in any movie whose subject matter requires control. The military knows the best way to handle a Zombie outbreak, and shows the people of England how they protect the citizens from the Other who are lurking at their borders. This is similar to Said’s description of this phenomenon in respect to Orientalism “as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient…” (Said 1) With respect to ZAPT, they are taking it upon themselves to “deal[] with the Orient.”

Just as 28 Weeks Later utilizes the institution of the military to show the Occidental prowess, so too does ZAPT take the initiative to become just like the military power of the army in 28 Weeks Later. They own fully automatic weapons, they perform drills, and they state they will shoot to kill anyone that threatens their livelihood. ZAPT can protect the citizens who remain unaffected in order for them to go about their daily business. They can learn form the snipers in 28 Weeks Later who hover above waiting for the split second to shoot anyone who breeches the border. The use of fear of the Other has become palpable for groups like ZAPT witnessing this protection of the borders or rather the protection of the threat of the Other against the One.

Furthermore, because their militia camaraderie is directly related to the viewing of the destruction of Zombies, the common thread among Zombie movies is this protection through violent means. It seems to be resonant with Said when he discusses that “Orientalism is premised upon exteriority” (Said 2).  In the case of Zombies, the extermination of them is based off this “exteriority” and groups like ZAPT are more than prepared to utilize what the surface has unfolded. They know Zombie’s from the “textual attitude” (Said 3) they have gained through the viewing of Zombie films, one that necessitates the removal of the Other.

When biological attacks occur they will with the utmost confidence gun down all those who threaten their sameness. After all, what they know is based off the Zombie “canons of taste and value” (Said 2) so-to-speak. It is through the lens of Zombie movies, which has molded their ideas and these ideas have provided them with a paranoid view of the Other.

This resonates with Said’s assertion, which says that Orientals are unable to speak for themselves and must be spoken for. Fido provides an excellent experimental look at how the Other can be spoken for. In this particular Zombie film, the Zombie’s are chained in people’s backyards, hooked up to “The Domestication Collar,” (Fido) and treated as slaves by “becom[ing] productive members of society, even after [they] die” (Fido). If this were an option, to treat the Other as a slave, then why would a group like ZAPT want to automatically kill when the One turns to the dark side? If the Other is able to have a mind to think and plan, this threatens their world. So, a group such as ZAPT is forced to take measures that are drastic but lasting. With even the inclination that the Other might have an effect on the One it is best to rid this threat all together.

The movie Fido, furthermore, shows the threat quite clearly when the mother, Ms. Robinson, falls in love with their pet Zombie, Fido, as well as when the high-ranking military officer is turned into a pet Zombie. Firstly, the discourse, which Said understands to be the most significant factor of Orientalism, is expressed in the blossoming love. It is what Said points at in respect to a “cultural discourse” (Said 2), one which he states “is commonly circulated by [] not “truth” but representations.” (Said 2) The mother is attracted to the elusive and exotic elements of the Other. In order to make the Other unattractive, they must have a disparaged identity given to them.

The military destruction is another cautionary tool developed. The antagonist of Fido is not the Zombie, but rather Mr. Bottoms, the head of security at Zomcom, the institution that developed the ability to domesticate the Zombies. At the end of the film, Fido saves Timmy Robinson, the son who treated Fido as a part of the family, from Mr. Bottoms and in turn, Mr. Bottoms is turned into the domesticated Zombie. Thus, Fido serves as a caution to discourage the humanizing and rather demonize the Other to protect against the adverse affect, one that will ultimately break the familial foundation.

Tokyo Zombie utilizes this enslavement of the Other as well, however, this comes directly from the Other. This film takes a gladiator approach to the Zombies by having an arena, which the wealthy citizens watch fights between enslaved humans and Zombies. The wealthy citizens similarly with the citizens of 28 Weeks Later and Fido are protected in a ‘healthy’ enclosed environment with the Zombies just lurking outside the border walls. Interestingly, in Tokyo Zombie the proper way is to watch the poor and Zombies fight to the death, because this city does not respect the inferior. They give them no voice, resonating with Said’s “relation between Western writing (and its consequences) and Oriental silence the result of and the sign of the West’s great cultural strength, its will to power over the Orient.” (Said 3)

Just as might be suspected, in the end of Tokyo Zombie, the protagonist flees the city towards the uncaged Zombies. This is a very symbolic scene because Mitsuo, even though able to kill the Zombie’s quite easily in the arena setting and hence closer to securing a better life for his family, flees this promise of luxury for freedom from the Western capitalistic ideals. Mitsuo rejects the Western influence that is expressed in the spectators who wear luxurious furs and throw their money around quite effortlessly, for a more authentic Oriental version that he may be proud of. 

For Said, he describes this Orientalization of the Other as the lion being touted as fierce and therefore is. ZAPT is treating the Zombie as “irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, “different”” (Said 4) versus ZAPT’s own “rational, virtuous, mature, “normal”” (Said 3) persona. As Said says, “we might expect that the ways by which it is recommended that a lion’s fierceness be handled will actually increase its fierceness, force it to be fierce since that is what it is, and that is what in essence we know or can only know about it.”(Said 2) ZAPT has no concept beyond what a biological attack based Zombie text has provided them with and are armed to deal with this “fierceness” they are imposing on Zombie’s whom they have yet to meet.  Even when a text attempts to humanize or use the Zombie metaphor to expose the absurdity in treating any being negatively, groups like ZAPT continue to press on because of the unyielding strength of propaganda.

Works Cited

Ackerman, Gary, Kimberly McCloud, and Jason Pate. "2000 WMD Terrorism Chronology: Incidents Involving Sub-National Actors and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear Materials." CNS. 30 Apr. 2001. James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. 15 May 2009 .

Fido. Dir. Andrew Currie. Perf. Carrie-Anne Moss and Billy Connolly. DVD. Lionsgate, 2006.

Foucault, Michel. "Discipline and Punish." Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. 549-66.

"List of zombie films." Wikipedia. 11 May 2009. 13 May 2009 .

Pate, Jason. "Assessing the Threat of Mass-Casualty Bioterrorism." NTI: Working for a Safer World. Mar. 2003. CNS. 15 May 2009.

Said, Edward. "Orientalism." Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 1st ed. Malden: Blackwell, 1998.

Tokyo Zombie. Dir. Sakichi Sato. Perf. Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa. DVD. Manga, 2005.

28 Weeks Later. Dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Perf. Robert Carlyle and Rose Byrne. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2007.

Webb, Morgan. "G4 Underground - Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse." G4 Underground. G4. G4, Los Angeles, CA. 29 Apr. 2009. 29 Apr. 2009. 15 May 2009 .

"White Zombie." Monsters from the Id. Ed. Chris Benedict. 13 May 2009 .

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