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.

 

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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.

I Walked with a Zombie

220px-iwalkedwithazombieJacques Tourner and Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943) is frequently listed by horror buffs as a top in its genre. The film is not a gruesome or violent as expected but rather a quiet disturbing movie of a young catatonic beauty suspended between living and dead. The ‘horror’ tag of this film seems a little disjointed from our modern recognizable troupes of the genre. Where blood shed and blood curdling screams are absent, island voodoo and family tension make the bulk of suspense. The mystery of Jessica Holland’s state and the method that created here waking-sleep are never quite answered. By the film’s end it is up to the viewer to decide whether Mrs. Rand’s appropriation of Haitian belief made a zombie of Jessica or it was the result of an illness.

Recent critics have applauded the quiet horror and Lewton’s mastery of atmosphere to produce the suspense of the film. Blending lighting, music, and an unfamiliar setting results in a fascinating picture. As a modern viewer, I can appreciate the visual effects for what they were of the time. While they of course do not measure up to the advanced effects of the current age, Lewton’s immersive experience is impressive. More so, it was the parallel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which was most interesting of the film. Betsy’s past is not explained so explicitly as Jane’s, yet their attraction to Byronic men married to  unwell women is obviously shared.  Jessica may be catatonic, but we learn prior to the illness she was part of an unmatched marriage just as Bertha was. Fortunately, for Saint Sebastian, Jessica does not burn the home down and shows no danger to the people of the Rand/Holland home. As there has been a contemporary reimagining of Victorian era novels as speculative fiction by authors like Seth Graeme-Smith or Ben H. Winters, this 1943 adaptation was unexpected yet enjoyable.

The film had some faults, mostly concerning the unconvincing love story of Betsy & Paul or the too-quickly resolved ending, however the filming and reimagined story-line was worth watching!

 

What is a zombie?

To begin this year’s Speculative Fiction course in Zombie literature and media I will state my current understanding of the term. As ‘zombie’ has become ever-present in pop culture through various movies, comics, tv shows etc. the term is recognizable and I consume zombie media with an assumption of what the creature is. As this is an academic course, perhaps with further study my definition will change. However, at this point I believe a zombie, generally, to be a reanimated corpse. Depending on the source material, the zombie is in limbo so to speak, and can be referred to as undead. Also dependent on the source, the zombie’s characteristics vary. The level of cognition seems to change, with some being totally void of mental processing and some capable of finding love and communicating. The former seems the more typical of the zombie type, the later seems to be a more recent update to the genre. The physical characteristics are usually humanoid but abilities differ, some adaptations or publications demonstrate the undead to have speed and sprint after, others almost crawl towards their targets. Zombies often seem to bring about an apocalypse as the virus that creates them moves quickly through populations, ruining every human that comes in contact. All in all though, the undead are gruesome looking monsters sustained and violently motivated by human brains.

With that preliminary understanding stated, it will be interesting to see how the novels and films measure up or disprove. Updates to come!

 

 

 

Welcome

Thanks for visiting my blog for ENGL3722 studying Zombies. As mentioned during our introductory class I am a fan of zombie novels, movies and shows with limits. I am more drawn towards apocalyptic literature and themes from rebuilding worlds. Because of this I am looking forward to where the course texts overlap. I am also excited to revisit classic and blockbuster films which have helped to solidify the zombie as such a recognizable monster in film and print in the last 50 or so years.

Can’t wait to read/hear my classmates opinions on the genre!