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The Coming Eucatastrophe
October 1, 2013 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Over the past few years, the zombie apocalypse has come to represent an alternative to neoliberalism – an ideology that admits no alternatives. The Political Economy of Zombies by John Powers [previously, previouslier] Bonus: What Terrifies Teens In Today's Young Adult Novels? The Economy
posted by chavenet (59 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Zombies as political and economic allegories is nothing new. Day of the Dead was pretty blatant about it.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:13 AM on October 1, 2013


For movie audiences, the mainstream, the 99%, catastrophes aren't something to dread; they are something to look forward to. They are a catharsis, a conceptual clearing of the deck.

....I have to admit that this is why I think I like The Stand.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:15 AM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


For movie audiences, the mainstream, the 99%, catastrophes aren't something to dread; they are something to look forward to.

People in RI are like this about hurricanes, even though they understand that there is a good chance that half the state will lose power for a week and people may die. It's kind of bizarre. IN the Upper Midwest, we are snooty about our snow-hardiness, but that doesn't mean we look forward to blizzards.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:20 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


A topic presented much more thoughtfully, I think, in the Christian Thorne piece linked from the Blue a few years ago.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:23 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zombies as political and economic allegories is nothing new. Day of the Dead (1985) was pretty blatant about it.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) touched on the those themes first, with the mall and the (sub)urban city being overrun by the undead.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on October 1, 2013


Urgh, got the two mixed up. Yeah, Dawn was first.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2013


of course it's a no-brainer and not a new development that zombies are being used as political and economic allegories. the article was really interesting for going into ways the author felt that the specific use and purpose of those allegories has changed
posted by titus n. owl at 7:38 AM on October 1, 2013


Hmm - Zombie hordes as Proletarian Revolutionaries coming for the power of the bourgeoisie. But since it's not directed it seems like a mindless horde, searching for meaning, power, lacking...
posted by symbioid at 7:38 AM on October 1, 2013


Is there a way to read the article without the twitchy graphics?
posted by mittens at 7:39 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmm - Zombie hordes as Proletarian Revolutionaries coming for the power of the bourgeoisie. But since it's not directed it seems like a mindless horde, searching for meaning, power, lacking...

That's why I think the better argument is that zombies are catharsis for the viewer's feelings not about hoi uprising polloi but about the bourgeois themselves, for congestion on the highways and in parking lots, for their dead, cattle-like movements through the shopping mall. The revolutionaries have purpose and meaning; the bourgeois have the luxury of idleness which they fill with endless consumption, and they live well past their usefulness, growing fat on the lives and energy of others: zombies.

I'm not necessarily adopting that as a political philosophy, mind you, just saying I think that's the metaphor in place.
posted by gauche at 7:49 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought this Eucatastrophe was going to be about eucalyptus trees, which are ripping up streets, smashing cars, and bursting into flame all over California.
posted by moonmilk at 7:50 AM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not to mention the koalas. It would be the cutest infestation ever.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


For my money, this is essentially a retrofitting of what zombies have always represented: the fear that the unthinking, unfeeling hordes will be the end of us. They're about the fear that stupid awful people are out to get us everywhere.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:00 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was that made-for-TV zombie movie a few years ago where the dead all came back...to vote the Republicans out of power. I feel like the movie had European funding.

I think the whole "it's easier to envision the end of the world than the end of capitalism" thing that gets attributed to Zizek originated with Frederic Jameson.

Honestly, I don't find it "utopian" when people are all "zombie-ridden hellscape is the only way to get rid of neoliberalism"; I find it depressing. Interesting, but depressing.

Post-apocalyptic dystopias are pretty interesting precisely because they don't fit neatly into left/right boxes. Is The Stand left wing? Not really. Hell, Occupy wasn't left wing as we know it, which was why it was exciting, fucked up and disconnected from a lot of long-term activist projects. These stories do have this sort of bad narrative that I don't like, though - they're always yearning for an empty world, an emptied world, and that's way too close to USian frontier fantasies for me.
posted by Frowner at 8:01 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I should add that the political implications of eucatastrophic fantasizing go across party lines. Preppers stockpiling ammo and canned goods and gas masks in the basement are doing so because the breakdown narrative (hyperinflation, rioting, every-man-for-himself) speaks to them in much the same way as the zombie narrative speaks to some of the folks here in this thread (myself included.)

A lot of people want to indulge the fantasy of escaping the economic system to some imaginary alternative, some future-past in which things were/will be better. As the link in the post suggests, it is hard to imagine that alternative arising without cataclysm or violent upheaval from the structures of late capitalism, which is able to ravenously co-opt its alternatives just as fast as they can arise. Something terrible has to happen to start the fantasy.

Please note that I'm not suggesting an equivalency between indulging one's love of zombie stories and building an underground bunker.
posted by gauche at 8:02 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or what Frowner said.
posted by gauche at 8:03 AM on October 1, 2013


Frowner: "There was that made-for-TV zombie movie a few years ago where the dead all came back...to vote the Republicans out of power. I feel like the movie had European funding. "

Are you talking about "Homecoming" from the Masters of Horror series? That was the one by Joe Dante (Gremlins) where dead soldiers come back to life to vote for a president who will end the war.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:04 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also this recent MeFi thread in which a hardware store's staff outlines their plans for the zombie apocalypse. You didn't have to scratch hard in that one to get the feeling they were mostly fantasizing about an opportunity to kill large numbers of "the wrong kind of people" en masse.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:07 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I should add that the next step knows no party lines, either, which is that the indulgence of the fantasy is (to crib a term from Zizek) always-already part of the system, always-already coopted by the reality from which we wish to escape. Watching a zombie movie is participating in capitalism and arguably even pacifying oneself against one's realities through escapist entertainment. Buying a bunch of mail-order tactical shit in the deluded belief that YOU will be the one who makes it out alive and untouched to start the brave new world is just as much capitalism, just as much escapism.
posted by gauche at 8:08 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are you talking about "Homecoming" from the Masters of Horror series? That was the one by Joe Dante (Gremlins) where dead soldiers come back to life to vote for a president who will end the war.

Unfortunately, the end-the-war zombie constituency is only stable and reliable if you constantly have wars with soldier fatalities that you can then end. Hmmmmm...
posted by srboisvert at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2013


The catharsis hypothesis (that the zombocalypse spectacle panders to a subconscious death-wish against our quotidian neoliberal society) seems to echo one of the points Corey Robin made in The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, i.e., that conservatism has at its heart a schism, between hierarchy and violence, and between the desire for a hierarchical and thus harmonious society (be it feudalism or neoliberalism) and the urge to prove power through exercise of force and violence: even the most hard-nosed captains of industry are never held in the same respect as actual leaders of military force, Thatcher would have been a one-term PM were it not for the Falklands, and such. Robin asserts that this comes from ur-conservative Edmund Burke's idea of the Sublime, which contains the terrible and awesome (in the literal sense), and is not to be found in debt leveraging or hedge funds but in the bringing of force to bear with terrible consequences. (Which also sounds like Freud's(?) idea of Thanatos, the death-urge.)

So perhaps zombie/apocalypse films, where all this weak, effete neoliberal order of shopping malls and credit cards will crumble and force will once again rule, is a conservative response to a conservatism that has lost its thanatic zeal?
posted by acb at 8:14 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I should add that the next step knows no party lines, either, which is that the indulgence of the fantasy is (to crib a term from Zizek) always-already part of the system, always-already coopted by the reality from which we wish to escape. Watching a zombie movie is participating in capitalism and arguably even pacifying oneself against one's realities through escapist entertainment. Buying a bunch of mail-order tactical shit in the deluded belief that YOU will be the one who makes it out alive and untouched to start the brave new world is just as much capitalism, just as much escapism.

And yet.

We shall not know the moment and we shall not know the hour! That's what is so great about it.

The thing is, "you're always already enmeshed in capitalism" is a way of thinking that slams doors. It's a way of thinking that people who consider themselves of the left/of radical movements tend to fall into, I think, and it makes us confident that we can predict and we can know, and that people who are not of the left won't create their own forms. That is why Occupy was a marvel and a mess and why a lot of long-term activists hated it, because it was something truly new which had horrible as well as exciting aspects. (I was not heavily involved in Occupy; if anything, my general social circle intentionally stayed out because of the whole heteronormativity and creepiness factor. But I know a LOT of people who came into my social circle because they got involved in stuff via Occupy. They have a characteristic social style and a lot of different concerns and experiences than the rest of us, and that's cool.)

The one thing I feel confident about is that if there's large scale good social change, it won't be unambiguously good or anything much like what folks predict.
posted by Frowner at 8:16 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Notably, Shawn of the Dead ends in the ordinary returning and zombies are harnessed for menial labor tasks.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:17 AM on October 1, 2013


Also, I think zombies are popular because they encompass a lot of concerns rather than because there is one primary explanation for their appeal. (Om nom, encompassing!)
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, the part of the article I thought about most was what they said about people's thoughts about the aftermath of such an apocalypse event. You know - the zombies have attacked or the superflu has wiped a bunch of people out or whatever, and I am one of the survivors - and that is where my thinking usually picks up, with the starting-in-on-society-from-scratch. Because the economics of that scenario are way different than what we're at now - there isn't as much competition for housing or clothing or whatever, and the weird home-makey habits I've developed like canning or knitting suddenly become super insanely relevant, and I will end up living in a place where I actually have room to start a small vegetable garden and I can putter around with a couple of different cottage industries and work out a barter system with my neighbors for things and basically the city I live in reverts to the kind of quasi-hippie commune that I always kind of think I wanted to live in.

Which is why the discussion of Colson Whitehead's book made me sit up and take notice - that in his post-apocalyptic vision, the big corporations still find a way to lay the smackdown on us even when the world's fallen down. It was a marked difference between the other post-apocalypses I've read, and that's what finally crystalized for me the weird fascination I have with them - that they're actually a fantasy about clearing the whole deck and starting from scratch and doing things the way I think they should be done.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:25 AM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also zombies are cheap to film and write. Why does stuff exist? because zombies. I've always been more interested in the whole re-building aspect, the post-zombie universe so to speak.

Actually, in terms of economics in genre fiction, I had a breakthrough last night (on TWITTER of all places) when I realized the missing element from my outline was *money*. No one ever has to stop being a daring adventurer cause they can't afford it anymore, and you know mage's college isn't freaking cheap.

Basically I wanted to tell a story where dragons are just as big a threat as not making rent.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


(also probobly why I really like Fallout: New Vegas, because the world shown there is mostly recovered from the apocalypse, yes there are still pockets of lawlessness and crazy, but this is the last uncivilized frontier and no matter what you do The Law is going to eventually win, because it's a Western riff and they always end with the barbed wire and trains)
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on October 1, 2013


yeah i've long found it interesting that sort of difference between apocalyptic fiction which boils down to "i really look forward to the actual apocalypse, during which i'll finally be allowed and justified to murder the people i don't like" and post-apocalyptic fiction which boils down to "i really enjoy the idea of getting a clean slate and starting a new and more different society"

(use of "apocalyptic" and "post-apocalyptic" there are not meant to imply that ALL fiction which can be described in those terms matches the way i've just described them, nor am i attempting to define those terms with my description of certain specific subsets of the genre)

sort of tangentially, i tend to look askance at people who have "zombie survival plans" in real life. people who are just interested in zombie fiction as a genre? that's cool i am one of those people. people who actually have survivalist plans that they've come up with thinking SERIOUSLY (not for a joke around the bar, but THOSE PEOPLE WHO SERIOUSLY DO THIS, they exist and i've spoken to them) about how they could murder people in the neighborhood in which they live. there is, for some specific people, a very different view of zombies which isn't a political or economical allegory but is a justified excuse for doing murders. which is pretty hecked up yo
posted by titus n. owl at 8:33 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would imagine that being a minor provides even more attraction to economic based dystopias because you are living entirely at the mercy of adults and their ability to hack what can often be a rigged game.

I remember as a teen, an extensive amount of anxiety about parents getting laid off. We were always dealing with some sort of crisis or anxiety, and as a person developing into a woman, marriage for security simply wasn't something to consider- there's no prince charmings waiting in the wings, so there's no use to pursue the pretty-and-docile route of survival. Instead you're spending your teenage years in an institution for the purpose of sorting you into the same game you think is grinding your parents to pieces (and probably the main cause of your family's instability, if any).
posted by Phalene at 8:35 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The thing is, "you're always already enmeshed in capitalism" is a way of thinking that slams doors. It's a way of thinking that people who consider themselves of the left/of radical movements tend to fall into, I think, and it makes us confident that we can predict and we can know, and that people who are not of the left won't create their own forms.

That's not what I was trying to say, though I can see why it may have been unclear. I agree that this way of thinking can seem disempowering and dispiriting, but I think it's useful in this case to point out that, once we understand the meaning of the fantasy (that is, and I say this not without a certain amount of chutzpah, once we accept the interpretation I've offered as more-or-less correct) it is important to realize also that the "solution" which the fantasy offers is closely related to the problem which the fantasy cathartizes. The solution is really just more of the same.

And that this realization is necessary and useful to help one to think beyond fantastic and violent reforms and to do the very hard work of actually bringing into being a form which will in fact be new and not more of the same. I don't intend the always-already comment as a way to reject people for being insufficiently radical -- I intend it to suggest that a surface radicalism is often coopted, and to encourage people -- and especially, to encourage myself -- to examine more and more closely the conceptual toolbox which they have assembled so as to ensure that whatever tool they may use, they are using it mindfully and not because it is simply the tool at the top of the box. It's not meant to say only the perfect is good enough; it's meant to say, change is hard and often counterintuitive.
posted by gauche at 9:13 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because the economics of that scenario are way different than what we're at now - there isn't as much competition for housing or clothing or whatever, and the weird home-makey habits I've developed like canning or knitting suddenly become super insanely relevant,

That's always the fantasy, yes, and that's what makes it so common for these disaffected times. You may be an office drone (like me), or a barista, or un/underemployed in a society that doesn't see your inherent worth, just as a source of expensive student loan payments. But when the world ends, knitting and canning and even just basic smarts is going to allow you to flourish, and you certainly won't be dumb enough to be eaten by a zombie, right?

But I think a much more likely outcome is that your student loan servicer goes out of existence, but then guys with guns (and there will be lots of them) 1) make you their serf, 2) eat you, or 3) kill you to get rid of the competition. Unless you know how to spin wool and have sheep, knitting is just going to be a pastime, particularly given the likely surplus of garments once the pandemic/zombie uprising/sharknado hits. Canning is not going to be important unless and until you have arable land to grow vegetables, and all the supplies. What seems like pre-fall resourcefulness is really just consumerism that relies on the marketplace as much as purchasing store-bought pickles or a Gap sweater.

The people who will make it in the post-apocalyptic society are the same people who fuck up the pre-apocalyptic society: bullies with guns. I expect there will be many more militiamen and criminals than knitting home canners after the fall. It's a flight of fancy to think otherwise.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


which is pretty hecked up yo

Typo, or amusingly mild new slang?

Since I am fairly slow, have bad knees, and no woodscraft skills or weapons skills, zombie movies don't appeal, because I'm basically a goner. If the zombies don't get me, not knowing how to find food or an infection will.

Also, being a woman, I have a fairly grim view of what my fate might be during a societal breakdown, and lots of zombie/apocalyptic movies either skirt this or accept it/focus on women who can manage to be "rescued", which is when it stops being escapist and becomes extremely depressing.

I'm a little more into alien takeover movies, because zombies are an enemy that mostly requires brute force, guns and ammo, but dealing with an alien invasion is something that is going to need every skill and all the intelligence your group has got.
posted by emjaybee at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2013


The people who will make it in the post-apocalyptic society are the same people who fuck up the pre-apocalyptic society: bullies with guns. I expect there will be many more militiamen and criminals than knitting home canners after the fall. It's a flight of fancy to think otherwise.

Except that there's also a strong chance that people will pull together and cooperate. There will of course always be defectors (in the game theory sense) and there will be a lot of conflict, but I think the adaptive traits will have a lot to do with getting along with people in one's emergent community.

It'll be shitty for sure, but man seems to have left the state of nature behind a good ten thousand years ago and I don't think we'll full-on revert to that.
posted by gauche at 9:24 AM on October 1, 2013


I found this to be a good read on the politics of zombie movies, and how their meaning can be changed by making them fast or slow. (And the discussion of the series on the Blue.)
posted by nubs at 9:28 AM on October 1, 2013


But since it's not directed it seems like a mindless horde, searching for meaning, power, lacking...


Occupy brains.
posted by Foosnark at 9:34 AM on October 1, 2013


Preppers stockpiling ammo and canned goods and gas masks in the basement are doing so because the breakdown narrative (hyperinflation, rioting, every-man-for-himself) speaks to them in much the same way as the zombie narrative speaks to some of the folks here in this thread (myself included.)

On the one side, they're coming for our guns.

On the other, they're coming for our brains.

Yeah, I can see values falling out along those lines.
posted by Foosnark at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that there's also a strong chance that people will pull together and cooperate.

I don't dispute that--you and me and EmpressCallipygos will have a commune with the rest of MeFi where we'll grow veggies and read books and rebuild a society based on mutual respect and an emphasis on intellectual, artistic, and personal growth. And then in our glorious second year, when our Arcology has 400 people, six disaster prepper nutjobs with assault rifles will steal all our stuff, kill us, and then kill us again. It's going to be like The Road, but with favorites.

That's the issue I have with these post-apocalyptic fantasies--and I'm no exception to this in my flights of fancy. We tell ourselves that our liminal place in society is that our special talents are not valued, and that in some fantasy world, our abilities would let us flourish. But in reality, what holds most of us back is not that the world doesn't value a well-knit sock enough, its that we don't have the gumption/greed/solipsism to take whatever we want (say, like a PE banker, or petty crook)--and it's precisely that inability to take mindlessly that will mark the winners versus the losers in the Hobbesean dystopia that follows, er, the Hobbesean dystopia we currently live in.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:59 AM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


there is this particular strain of fantasy in these narratives that posits someone totally self contained and self sufficient ; finally free of the bur den of other people - - which always struck me as bizarre cause in disasters group affiliation and tribal ties become way way way more important - like no one wants to talk about how the best survival skill you can have is being really likable
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


But in reality, what holds most of us back is ... that we don't have the gumption/greed/solipsism to take whatever we want (say, like a PE banker, or petty crook)--and it's precisely that inability to take mindlessly that will mark the winners versus the losers in the Hobbesean dystopia that follows, er, the Hobbesean dystopia we currently live in.

Interesting -- this might be a purely intuitive disagreement. It sounds to me like you are saying that the take-whatever-you-want-without-regard-for-others is an adaptive trait, but a rare one, and that it's both adaptive in the context of this social order and (likely to be adaptive) in the (glorious?) post-cataclysmic wasteland. Do I have that right?

Because intuitively, I go the other way: I think that's a common but maladptive trait which is in most people, most of the time, held in check by other, better-adaptive traits such as empathy and loyalty. I'm not sure I can defend this belief by reference to any data, though.

I agree with what I think is your greater point, though, which is that the fantasy of being the one to survive and prosper after the cataclysm is basically a comforting solipsistic fiction about one's own underappreciated specialness.
posted by gauche at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2013


've always been more interested in the whole re-building aspect, the post-zombie universe so to speak.

This is why I loved the Newsflesh trilogy, by Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire). Zombies have been contained albeit not controlled, and it's a proper political/technothriller set in that universe.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:32 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well put, Gauche--I think that's an apt summary of my despairing view.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:34 AM on October 1, 2013


Canning is not going to be important unless and until you have arable land to grow vegetables, and all the supplies.

or know where to obtain them.

But yeah, I do at the same time acknowledge that this is in the fantasy alternate universe where either David Tennant or Alan Doyle just so happens to also be stranded in the same community as I and we take a shine to each other, so I am fully aware that my scenario is lacking a firm grounding in practical reality in several areas.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:37 AM on October 1, 2013


I don't dispute that--you and me and EmpressCallipygos will have a commune with the rest of MeFi where we'll grow veggies and read books and rebuild a society based on mutual respect and an emphasis on intellectual, artistic, and personal growth. And then in our glorious second year, when our Arcology has 400 people, six disaster prepper nutjobs with assault rifles will steal all our stuff, kill us, and then kill us again. It's going to be like The Road, but with favorites.

Or the preppers with assault rifles will be Mefites, who will be all "Hi guys! Bagged you some deer, need help or protection? I am desperately in need of knitted goods and jam. How's it going? Want to debate about this cool thing I saw by the side of the highway?"
posted by corb at 12:38 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Needs more The Gonk.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2013


(man, only thing I love more than jam is a cozy scarf. Er....Just as an aside)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:47 PM on October 1, 2013


In children's stories, the main characters are often orphaned, or in some other way forced out of home's safety.

It makes sense that many young adult stories would broaden this general idea, to feature expulsion not from the home, but from society itself. High school is often an intense, self-contained universe, and the adult world is both mysterious and boring - but what if, after high school, there was literally nothing? It's an intriguing idea.

...

Also, being a woman, I have a fairly grim view of what my fate might be during a societal breakdown, and lots of zombie/apocalyptic movies either skirt this or accept it/focus on women who can manage to be "rescued", which is when it stops being escapist and becomes extremely depressing.

I thought this worked in 28 Days Later. It had a fresh (to me) and quasi-realistic take on how "safe harbor" can sometimes be the most dangerous place of all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:45 PM on October 1, 2013


Nope. Not buying it. "Zombie Apocalypse" is nothing more than an extreme manifestation of "fear of the Other", but with grey, decaying skin substituting for any other skin color and "Brains" substituting for Jobs/Money/Women/etc.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:21 PM on October 1, 2013


I mean, I've worked with a lot of post apocalyptic set fiction things, from neo-primitive hunter gathers with tin cans to super fascist military juntas sitting intOn of precious resources to socialist Utopias with farms in spice crumbling skyscrapers and I've always tried to make sure we weren't accidentally enabling some buzzard power fantasy about killing people.
posted by The Whelk at 2:37 PM on October 1, 2013


In children's stories, the main characters are often orphaned, or in some other way forced out of home's safety.

While these tropes are obviously given symbolic and metaphorical meanings in stories, let's not forget that much of their popularity can be attributed to mundane storytelling convenience.

Why are kids in children's stories orphans? So they can have adventures and be protagonists instead of their parents or other adults. Why does fantasy literature love medieval society? Swords are cool, and that's the most recent time period where swords were the best weapons. Why zombies? So the protagonist can have lots of action scenes fighting and killing enemies and still be a good person (see also Nazis).
posted by straight at 2:54 PM on October 1, 2013


Why does fantasy literature love medieval society? Swords are cool, and that's the most recent time period where swords were the best weapons.

Are swords that much cooler than. say, six-shooters or plasma cannons or any other potential fictional weapons?
posted by acb at 3:03 PM on October 1, 2013


and no matter what you do The Law is going to eventually win, because it's a Western riff and they always end with the barbed wire and trains
also, dead indians
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:36 PM on October 1, 2013


SO MANY DEAD INDIANS
posted by The Whelk at 3:37 PM on October 1, 2013


I THINK YOU MEAN UNDEAD INDIANS
posted by entropicamericana at 3:38 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


its that we don't have the gumption/greed/solipsism to take whatever we want (say, like a PE banker, or petty crook)--and it's precisely that inability to take mindlessly that will mark the winners versus the losers in the Hobbesean dystopia that follows

But the question the apocalypse asks is: Are those skills transferable in the new world? A banker may be greedy without limit, but his knowledge is all involved in pieces of paper that no longer have a place in the new savage picture. How many pockets will the petty thief pick, when most of the pants are worn by the dead? Do we honestly think that either banker or thief will become a barbarian leader? Or is it more likely that people will surround providers, people who can help the group as a whole acquire food, shelter and safety? Those people with their organization, sweaters and jam now have a survival advantage over the cudgel-wielding banker. The provider does not have to be Fascist McStrongman, nor even an individual as opposed to the small emerging group itself.

We've already grown several civilizations, after all--we do know it works, and that the raiders can't destroy everything!

the fantasy of being the one to survive and prosper after the cataclysm is basically a comforting solipsistic fiction about one's own underappreciated specialness.

While I'd certainly agree that there is a lot of "everybody is special" going on out there as a cover for the subliminal message of "all of you are powerless," I think the fantasy of being able to survive post-zombie isn't entirely solipsistic, because people keep showing up in the story. That is to say, the during-zombie-period is much like the teen slasher movies of yore, where there are a dwindling number of survivors, until only the most morally pure is left. But if we are talking about after the apocalypse, things are a little different. The stories keep showing small groups forming. And, yes, everyone has a special place, and people can be appreciated, and the roles are so much simpler...but there continues to be a communal aspect to it that is trying to do something different than the lone survivor story is doing.
posted by mittens at 5:37 PM on October 1, 2013


SO MANY DEAD INDIANS

hey well at least those Roman guys' law won
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:22 PM on October 1, 2013


In the grim post-apocalyptic future, whenever someone on the MetaFilter Collective says something you like, you get to tattoo a [+] onto them. Rank in the new society is governed by how many [+]'s you have, ensuring access to better housing, food, and mates.

Its original meaning is lost to history.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:22 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm the author of the Political Economy essay. I appreciate that there are a LOT of other ways to interpret zombies. Because I am not a huge fan of zombies, I didn't feel I could be encyclopedic. I did write a separate intro for the piece on my own blog where I explain myself a little more in depth, and broke the genre into three distinct "Ages" - the latest being the post-28 Days Later "New Wave" zombies I discuss in the main essay.

What I think stands out about those New Wave zombies, and what made me want to write about them, is less what individual authors and directors might have tried to make them mean, and more the monsters' broad mainstream success.

It's not what we are being shown, its how many of us, and how intently, we're looking that gives them any real political meaning (as opposed to allegorical meaning, which is entirely in the hands of the authors shaping the stories).

[emjaybee: as I catch every cold that passes through NYC, I am convinced that, in a zombie movie, I'm the guy who gets taken out right at the very begining, before the fun even starts.]
posted by Powers at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are swords that much cooler than. say, six-shooters or plasma cannons or any other potential fictional weapons?

You say that like there aren't also shelves full of westerns and sci-fi.
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on October 2, 2013


there has got to be a reason beyond "swords are cool" that the High Medieval period is the main fantasy thing. there were swords in the 17th century, the Three Musketeers era. there were swords during the roman empire. there were sword-like objects and great battles and heroics in the aztec and incan civilizations. the middle ages was neither the only nor the most accessible nor the most recent (as claimed) period in which people used swords instead of guns. my vote goes toward the monarchy being way way more important than the swords
posted by titus n. owl at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2013


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