“[A]ll manner of meanings have been and continue to be plastered onto the zombie. Much can be made of him, because he makes so little of himself. He is the consumer, the mob, the Other, the proletariat, the weight of life, the dead soul. He is too many e-mails in your inbox, a kind of cosmic spam. He is everything rejected and inexpugnable. He comes back, he comes back, feebly but unstoppably, and as he drags you down, a fatal lethargy overtakes you.” James Parker, “Our Zombies, Ourselves,” The Atlantic, April 2011.
“In the early zombie films, small groups of survivors banded together to increase their chances of survival. In the post-apocalyptic genre, global unity is not possible; there are simply too many differing belief systems at play. Instead, our world is fragmented into tribes—all insistent on surviving, but on their own terms. More than zombies, the true carriers of death and destruction are the remaining human factions, battling over limited resources. And so the globalization of the zombie exposes our truest, deepest fear: each other.” Zachary Crockett and Javier Zarracina,
“How the Zombie Represents America’s Deepest Fears,” Vox, 31 Oct. 2016
English 348 investigates the meanings “plastered onto the zombie” in 20th- and 21st-century films, literature, comics, and television series. We will ask how and why popular culture texts represent zombies at specific historical moments. How do zombies embody our culture’s “deepest fears”? How do zombie narratives comment on contemporary social, economic, and political structures? How do they engage ideologies of gender, race, class, and ability? What counts as “human” when humans become “fatally lethargic” or outstrip zombies as “the true carriers of death and destruction”?
To explore these questions, we will begin with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), the film that established contemporary zombie tropes in US popular culture while serving as social commentary. We will then look at 21st-century films that reimagine the zombie’s origin and physical capabilities or merge the zombie genre with comedy and romance. During weeks 4-7, we’ll examine texts that depict social and political structures that emerge—or reemerge—after a zombie apocalypse. In the final weeks of the quarter, we will turn to a film that revivifies the zombie by returning to its origins in slavery and a comic book and several television series that reimagine the zombie once more by featuring self-aware undead protagonists.