Please note: This is a follow-up class to a seminar on zombie culture that I have taught in summer 2016, but anyone can participate without having attended the earlier seminar. We will cover some of the same ground but also build on the results of that previous seminar and take into account more recent zombie media.
Zombies have a long history, with roots in voodoo cults and folklore. Their early Western cultural forms are expressed in nineteenth century gothic literature, in early twentieth century cinema, and in post-war literature.
The current form of the zombie has emerged in the 1970s with the films of George Romero, which have inspired a gruesomely satirical subcultural genre of splatter and body horror throughout the 1980s and 90s. But only in the twenty-first century, in the wake of 9/11 and the US-American War on Terror have zombie apocalypse narratives exploded into a global phenomenon of popular culture.
Today, zombies inhabit all kinds of genres ranging from survival horror, disaster movie, epidemic drama, soap opera, and even comedy and romance; they are used as a metaphor for many different socio- and psycho-cultural phenomena.
In this writing-intensive seminar we will explore the zombie as metaphor and we will use cultural theory (biopolitics, queer theory) to read the contemporary zombie phenomenon symptomatically and critically: What cultural functions does it serve? Which discourses does it affirm or subvert? What politics of gender, class, ethnicity, or even sexuality do different zombie media advocate? What concepts of ‘humanity’ are threatened by zombies?
Some of the tropes of zombie media (often intersecting) that we will investigate are:
- social coldness, individual alienation, and sexual ‘deviance’ (threats from the erosion of middle-class heteronormative family values)
- mass migration and terrorism (threats from enemies of the nation)
- virality and pandemic infections (threats from environmental and evolutionary changes)
- precarity and uselessness (threats from the breakdown of capitalism and labour economies)
Thus, zombies are never ‘just zombies’. They are agents within cultural products and as scholars of literature and culture we are interested in the meaning of these products.
I will update this description with a list of required and suggested ‘reading’ (movies, TV series, novels, comics, video games) toward the start of the term break.