Pride Prejudice & Zombies

Image result for pride prejudice and zombies book                     Image result for pride and prejudice

The mash-up trend of zombies X anything surprisingly has extended to classic works of the Regency period. I am sure that I am not alone in sharing my shock at the blending of each very different genre. With a little more thought however, the genre-blend makes literal the metaphoric monsters of English high society. The Austen novel, does have monstrous elements, fiends like Mr. Wickham, threatening Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or the social system itself. Grahame-Smith’s retelling of the classic, places literal monsters into a society already frightening. With violence normalized, the Bennet women are empowered with the martial arts and able to physically defend themselves. Even with this historically incorrect characterization of women, the Bennet’s are still unsafe in society without proper marriage. The addition of actual flesh eating zombies makes the threat of spinsterdom quite ridiculous, and increases the humour in Mrs. Bennets’ unrelenting matchmaking. Surely society in England has much more to concern itself with than the pomp and ceremony of courtship with zombies on the loose!

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An illustration by Roberto Parada from the deluxe

gift edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Admittedly, the novel and movie feel like a bit of matchmaking between the two unlikely fandoms the Janeites and Zombies. I however, prefer to think of the match like Elizabeth and Darcy; an unlikely pair that brings the best out of each other and makes a mockery of their failings.

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Political Commentary

Representations of the political climate by way of the zombie trope has revealed itself to have a long tradition. First read as a master/slave relationship in the “historical” Seabrook accounts, zombies are a representation of the racist plantation model. In this view, the creatures have a pitiful existence and demonstrate the American exploitation of Haitians and minority groups. Of this period as well, the early movies such as I Walked with a Zombie or White Zombie are films concerned with the “primitive” cultures of the Caribbean. The zombie film of the 1930s allowed for a horror narrative based on the spiritual practice and “othering” of People of Colour. The genre progressed throughout the last century to include symbolic commentary on the evolving political landscape of the west.

Countless films on the Nazi undead have given way to a genre mash up of Zombie Nazis. The political commentary possible with these films (and many video games) doesn’t need an intense academic lens to understand nor interpret. Zombies are the decayed ruin of a human being, acting on animalistic impulse… this isn’t too far a leap from the modern understanding of a Nazi solider. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead features quite a significant reference to the American civil rights movement and the racial disparity of the Southern United States. Later Romero repositioned the genre to address the growing American consumerist culture. This use of the zombie trope as an economic reflection is part or a larger analysis of the genre. Zombies as metaphor for the plague of capitalism is the most prominent social reflection of the creature in recent years. Countless researchers have found academic value in B-movies by relating the zombie as an artistic rendering of the horrors of the western world in the grip of capitalist culture. As the zombie mindlessly gives into baseline desires for empty gratification, so does American youth at the mall. I guess we all crave ironic tee shirts as much as zombies crave brains.

In more recent productions the zombie as a viral infection has provided a more entertaining metaphor for the genre. In a world so scientifically advanced, with such medical capabilities, the idea that an unknown pathogen could cripple the entire populations is incredible. Aligning previous global contagions like Ebola, SARS, HIV/AIDS etc with the zombie virus is as easy as the Nazi comparison. The outbreak of each of these viruses, was met with fear, suspicion, prejudice and panic. In a situation like a rapidly spreading viral zombie plague, could our highly connected global market provide the best method of spread? In these modern tales of epidemic induced apocalypse, the biggest fear is the rapid transmission of disease. I can’t help but recall the early HIV/AIDS cases of the 1980s widely linked to “Patient 0” an airline employee, by media outlets.

Subzero Zombies

Every conversation on the topic of survival during the zombie apocalypse includes a strategy to head north. There is always one in the group that states zombies cannot travel that far, nor survive in harsh winter conditions. Well, I hate to say, that while the north remembers, it does not invite.

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Image courtesy of Game of Thrones

It is not a class required text, however, George R.R. Martin and HBO’s Game of Thrones certainly has zombies. The White Walkers are walking dead in themselves and spread the affliction as they move across Westeros’ Far North. Their origin is quite like that of the Haitian tradition, as they were created by magic/spiritual substance and utilized by their creators. In the Haitian sources, plantation owners created the zonbi to work the sugar fields. Martin’s are created to protect the Children of the Forest from the invading First Men. Unlike the traditional zonbi, the White Walkers display a more modern aspect of the trope, as they are able to rapidly convert the living to wights, thus spreading the condition amongst the living population. As the creatures are the undead of the north, and are in part ice themselves, Martin/HBO’s White Walkers and their wights disprove the theory that extreme cold will protect the living from threat of the zombie plague. In this world it looks like the north is actually a breeding ground for a new version of the zombie to arise.

Jessulat’s The Decline

Reading a zombie novel set in a familiar city brought the threat of a rising incredibly close. As we were shown with Dr. Jones map of Jessulat’s novel, the events of The Decline are easily followed quite recognizable. While the Coast Guard building is no longer standing, the novel does not lose any credibility to more recent readers. Jessulat’s setting forces the reader to examine their plans for the zombie apocalypse and situate it in their own backyard. The novel is zombie fiction, however the story seems more interested in the interpersonal issues which arise in a society attempting to survive.

Of apocalyptic novels and films,  often the struggle of rebuilding generates more conflict than the threat of destruction. Jessulat’s novel profiles each personality of social reconstruction. I paid most attention to the characters Keeley & Jacob who are the opposites attract couple that motivate each other. Keeley, empathetic and sensitive, balances Jacob’s tough and calculative manner. His wife also provides a necessary acceptability to the more harsh decisions Jacob makes in the novel. As the novel progressed, it seemed Jacob’s personality created a fissure in the relationship.I continually thought because the two had a relationship prior to the zombie outbreak, they are able to comment on personality changes necessitated by the apocalypse. While the situation becomes more dire, this couple is the best way to demonstrate the fluctuating acceptability of violence. Clearly Jacob’s slide into a more militant or harsh persona has warped the prior view of his character for Keeley. The same can be said for Jacob who cannot find Keeley’s more sensitive qualities useful in the rebuild of society.

Including this relationship into the novel is an interesting way to track the changes of personalities after the fall of society. Hopefully, Jessulat’s sequel uses the mirrored aspect of their marriage to question the ethical position of survival techniques.

 

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Blogging Through the Rising

Mira Grant’s 2010 hit Feed blends the world of American politics with life post-zombie rising. Interesting premise , however in execution I cannot agree with the author’s legions of fans. I will state the Grant’s “worldbuilding” is extensive and thoroughly detailed. From this Feed offers a vividly realistic picture of American society existing after the “rising” of zombies nearly decimates mankind. Grant does give a wonderfully reasonable explanation of the development of zombie-ism, which is not always a luxury given to the genre. Through the main narrator, Georgia “George” Mason explains to the reader, the zombie take over was really just a dreadful mistake in medical science. 20 years prior, after successfully curing cancer, medically managed viruses blended and mutated to form the Kellis-Amberlee strain. KA as it is commonly referred spread quickly throughout the globe, infecting the entire population. Uncommon in the genre, this means that everyone of Grant’s new world is half way to zombie, and that the full breakout or ‘amplification’ of the virus will occur to anyone when their body is harmed/dead. I like this twist in the zombie-by-virus trope, the inevitability of the terror makes escape truly impossible. Unfortunately, this is where originality begins to wane.

Grant’s novel relies so heavily on detailed and well researched technical information regarding pathology that the reader may forget to examine the characters that inhabit the novel. Amidst the virologist jargon and quarantine protocols, George, Shaun and Georgette/Buffy are terribly weak characters. Starting with their names, the feminized George (for father of zombie movies George A. Romero) and Shaun of the Dead references show the author’s habitual spoon-feeding of pop-culture references to her readers. These references become nauseatingly obvious, almost pandering. These characters follow the same uninspired stock-style flatness that many sci-fi/speculative fiction follows: strong, no nonsense females who just can’t figure out how to dress like a lady, the “kid idiot brother”, and the ditzy blonde that really knows how to rewire her monitors. Coupled with cliche statements, this trio forces Grant’s originality to falter.

In a genre dominated by male authorship, I truly wanted to enjoy and praise this series. However, I just can’t get past it’s first instalment. As an area of interest, I was impressed by the pathology discussions and the effect zombification had on public policy, yet Grant didn’t make a meal out of these tidbits. Her decision to focus on the technicalities and moral superiorities of bloggers in a post-media world lost me quite early.

 

Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk, born 21 February 1962, is one of the most popularly critiqued writers of the 21st century. His writing, which is frequently cited as both transgressional and minimalist, polarizes readers due to the graphic and physical content. Palahniuk started writing in his mid-thirties following a writer’s workshop hosted by Tom Spanbaur. From this Palahniuk was inspired by the technique of “going on the body” to write his first published short Negative Reinforcement in August of 1990. The technique of extreme physical descriptors, has attributed to the stylistic and thematic elements present in all Palahniuk writing (and what is most disturbing to the average reader). Douglas Keesey informs us “going on the body” is a involves conveying a character’s experience by describing it in very physical terms so that the reader can feel what the character feels and thus form an even closer identification with him or her”. Of the conflicting reception to the theme, Palahniuk explains, “[t]hat’s why all my stories tend to involve sex, or violence, or drugs, or illness, or accidents,[…] because they are strong visceral events that generate a sympathetic engagement from the reader.”. This emotional manipulation leads to a direct experience in the audience or readership, with many unable to stomach the more graphic material. (Keesey, 6-7). Within his visceral pattern, Palahniuk employs a minimalist approach to fiction, described by Keesey as fiction “unified around a limited number of main themes, key characters, and symbolic objects. The themes, known as “horses” because they carry the reader from the start to the end of the story, are repeated throughout the narrative, each time being illustrated in a different way” (7).  This is apparent in the significant reappearance of slogans, announcements or objects. Each time they appear, more meaning is revealed. When these patterns are firmly established, Palahniuk crafts an often satirical view of Western civilization, complete with the lampooning of reality television and celebrity status, the importance of wealth, human fallibility etc.

Palahniuk has lived many lives, and it is not difficult to draw parallels between lived experience and the struggles of many of his characters. Growing up in rural American community, surrounded by both economic and identity conflict certainly wiggled its way into the bulk of his heroes. Palahniuk experienced the gruesome early in life with tales of his paternal grandfather’s murder-suicide of his wife (Palahnuik’s grandmother) revealed to him throughout his teen years. Along with the family shock, his parents long-foreseen divorce occurred as Chuck entered high school in eastern Washington State. His high school experience seems typical of the age, but certainly not the material of early John Hughes-esque films. Instead the author relates his Burbank, Washington high school to be a place of accepted date-rape, bullying and harmful identity politics. Following graduation, Palahniuk enrolled in the University of Oregon and obtained a BA in Journalism. The major was largely inspired by reporting by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein covering the infamous Watergate Scandal. After graduating, Palahniuk was unable to sustain himself with journalism jobs and turned to mechanical work with Frieghtliner. His writing process seems to have retained much of the research required in the field of journalism. Each novel Palahniuk produces features meticulously researched and detailed accounts of even the most obscure elements.

Since entering the world of fiction writing, Palahniuk has produced roughly a book a year, starting with 1996’s Fight Club. Due to the graphic and counterculture nature of his novels, critics are largely divided on how to fit Palahniuk into the cannon of contemporary literature. Many discredit him entirely as the ultimate figure of “cheap high school nihilism” “shock-jock writing” or “angrier than it needs to be”. To this, the author affirms he is truly a romantic, and believer in community. It seems his community is a disjointed one however, with many of his heroes addicts, runaways or misfits finding peace in the unimaginable. His bibliography does not reflect the negative press, as each novel outshines skeptics in the circles that celebrate him. Whatever the opinion of his subject matter, it should be noted by all critical of him that Palahniuk is a generous figure of the contemporary literary scene. He often hosts writers workshops throughout the United States, promoting young or inexperienced authors who chose to write beyond the pale.

His current body of work:

Novels: 

Short Fiction: 

  • “Negative Reinforcement” in Modern Short Stories (1990)
  • “The Love Theme of Sybil and William” in Modern Short Stories (1990)
  • “Insiders” in Best Life (2007)
  • “Cold Calling” unpublished (2007)
  • “Love Nest” unpublished (2007)
  • “Mister Elegant” in VICE Magazine (2007
  • “Fetch” in Dark Delicacies III (2009)
  • “Loser” in Stories (2010)
  • “Knock, Knock” in Playboy (2010)
  • “Romance” in Playboy (2011)
  • “Phoenix” (2013)
  • “Cannibal” in Playboy (2013)
  • “Zombie” in Playboy (2013)
  • “Let’s See What Happens” in Nightmare Magazine, Issue 37 (2015)

To review today’s visuals please visit: CP Presentation

See also: Author’s Website and/or Understanding Chuck Palahniuk by Douglas Keesey

Get Out (2017), a Revival of Haitian Zonbi Traditions

GET OUT, Daniel Kaluuya, 2017. ©Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out (2017) is a masterpiece of the horror genre. The film approaches the quiet terror of suburban niceness, and the ease in which monsters may blend into polite society. All this while revisiting classic monster narratives of White Zombie(1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) tradition. The tension of the movie is firmly established with Chris’ anxious awareness of the car following him in the perfectly manicured subdivision. As the film was released in a time of highly publicized hate crimes and a greater public acknowledgement of the very real danger of simply being black in America, the audience is made to recognize the consistent anxious nature of Chris’ life. As the film progresses, Peele does not simply rely on the racial context of the film to produce a truly horrifying atmosphere, but it certainly adds to the layers of genius at play. Amidst the social commentary, satirizing the parent’s overly liberal condescension and the party-goer’s blatant fetishizing of black men, Peele blends a contemporary zombie production.

In recent years, the typical zombie film or television show has led to a general box office definition of zombies as undead monsters out for human flesh. However, as this course introduced me to the origins of the genre or characters, I argue Peele’s work is in line with early cinematic representations of the zombie. In keeping with the Haitian voodoo-induced zonbi methods, Get Out produces these creatures through procedure and practice for the explicit use of bodies for work. Targeted individuals like Georgina or Walter, fall victim to unwanted reanimation just as Jessica from I Walked or victims of White Zombie’s Legendre for use of their corporal body. The process employed by Peele’s Armitages has enough modern medical ritual to resemble the Houdon practices of Haitian voodoo. Black characters are picked for a range of reasons, recalling various stereotypical views of African cultures (i.e. physical strength, sexuality etc), to continue the lives of the white people who bid on them. People are purchased for explicit use of labour, and to assist that process, the indentured servants are hypnotized and made mindless. If that does not make an easy comparison to early zombie films and literature, I’m not sure what is missing to assist you.

The film is brilliant in so many ways, and I could sit and blog about the creative methods Peele demonstrates the real nightmare of minorities in a white world. However, as this is a course on zombie speculative fiction and not horror nor social failings, I will stop here.