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Influences on Zombie figures.
The paper seeks to explain the development of the figure of the zombie and how the Night of the Living Dead reinvents it. The paper also analyzes the zombie as a representation of fear in people.
A zombie, according to the voodoo belief, is the supernatural power that enters and reanimates a dead body. The origin of the zombie idea is not easy to trace but it has gained popularity in the modern era. The popularity of the term zombie in the Western culture was due to its use as a metaphor to refer to people lacking consciousness and was a threat to social structures.
Servicemen from America who returned from Haiti in the 1920’s and 1930’s have brought home the stories of mindless zombies, black magic and voodoo masters. The zombie stories penetrated the imagination of the American culture. The zombie represented both slave and slave rebellion (Thomas). The Haitian zombie did not exude fear and was obedient and its purpose was to work as a slave. The fear was only for the power held by the creators of the zombies.
Night of the living dead and reinventing of the zombie
The film Night of the Living Dead that was released in 1968 was a reinvention of the zombie idea and a horror genre. The zombies in the movie are a combination of the zombie, vampire and werewolf. The living dead are shown to eat greedily like werewolves and also transmit a disease by bite like vampires. Unlike the previous stories on zombies, Romero’s movie acknowledges that there is no force from beyond but rather the enemy was the human themselves. The zombies in the movie are physically weak like humans and their strength was in numbers. The movie also provided a scientific explanation why the corpses returned, that resulted from radiation from a spacecraft that had crashed.
The zombie characters exhibit no moral responsibility whereby they take part in activities such as cannibalism, paricide and incest. The irresponsible acts of the zombies shattered family and personal relations taboos held by the American culture. The movie has scenes of zombies eating their victims and a daughter killing her mother by stabbing and eating her father. The fact that all the film characters die in the end shows that humans are not perfect and are all vulnerable. The zombie idea symbolizes different fears in the American Culture. In the Haitian voodoo zombie stories they represented a loss of free will as well as consciousness. The control of the zombies by their master indicated them been used as slaves. The Night of the Living Dead is a depressing reminder of own mortality that humans try to outrightly deny. The movie is also an illustration of the fear of humans for the said apocalyptic destruction. The zombies in the movie multiply by transmitting their victims through biting resulting to the victim turning into a zombie. The zombie idea may be seen to measure the amount of anxiety and stress in the American society (Dotson).
The zombie as a representation of the fears of Americans
The zombie in several ways can be seen to represent the fears of the middle-class Americans. Zombies have in recent years evolved to diverse characters in films, TV shows, novels and video games. The zombies are full of symbolism that can be analyzed in different ways. The product of the entertainment industry directly relates to what people believe in, fear and love in the society where they live. Therefore the rise in popularity of zombies can be connected to the increasing social fears and anxieties. The fears could be in the collapse of social order, pandemics, and untrustworthy authority. Initially in the Haitian zombie stories they represented slavery while the recent time they may symbolize the fears of the working class revolution. The zombie character has no identity and those fighting the zombies are the humans. The fantasy shows the need for survival in the modern times. The unemployed and poor in the American society may be seen to be a threat to the middle class. The revolting of the unemployed is a reason for alarm to the upper classes that create fear. The only way to maintain the pride of the middle class is by protecting with all means the owned wealth.
In the film Night of Living Dead the black protagonist was able to survive an ambush, towards the end of the movie, by the zombies. Unfortunately, he was shot the following day by white gunmen. The shooting brings to light the racial inequality and equal rights movement witnessed in America. The existence of a black community in America could be a threat to the white American thus the indication of a need to do away with them. The advancement in technology has greatly affected employment as many people have lost their jobs. The result is a mass of unemployed people who have nowhere to go. The authority tries to contain these people by having them in prisons and other measures. However, these people are increasing in numbers to be included. The increased mass protests and the demonstrations are a sign that the under-privileged are fighting back (Dunne).
The Figure Change of the Zombie in the 60’s
The movie Night of the Living Dead changed in a big way how the zombie was viewed. The movie showcased new zombie myths such as being portrayed as cannibals. The movie seemed to focus on a culture dealing with uncertainty about actions taking place, motives and their future direction. The zombie had changed the films to horror movies. Initially a zombie was raised from the dead through voodoo witchcraft that also controlled them. The new zombies are not created by the use of supernatural powers but they bite to spread their disease. The zombies are more vicious and horrific. The voodoo zombies were not actually dead but were given a potion to make them unconscious so they could follow commands of their master without questioning. The Romero zombies were rising from the dead and were weak. The zombies are also seen to be associated with blackness. America colonized Haiti where the idea of the zombie was borrowed. Until the 60’s blackness was associated with exoticism, animalism and sometimes to show the inability of black Haitians to govern themselves. The Romero film shows a black character as a hero that was a change from old movies that had blacks acting like mindless zombies.
The film conclusion about race relations in America.
The movie ended with the hero a black character being shot by whites. A black hero in the movie is debatable to what was the intended meaning. The makers of the film could simply have used the character without prejudice and regarding his race as not important. Historically blackness was associated with the zombie figure. However, the film could also show that humans are their own enemies and not the zombies. The movie shows that if the living worked together then the zombies would not be a threat. The strength in the group of zombies indicates how being united people can fight their problems. The movie conclusion is seen to indicate that the black and whites relation in America is strained. The black character may have indicated the capable leadership relating to American civil rights. However, the shooting of the character may be seen as punishment for a role not deserved as well as the friendship of a black to a white woman (Allkins).
The zombies could be a representation of anyone whether a friend, spouse, priest, child or anyone else. An apparent war between us and them is obvious in the films. A concern for social order and economic development is apparent. There is also fear of racial mixing between the white and blacks that would be a threat to the white superior status. The movie represents norms in the society like the unexpected relation between black and white people. Generally the movie is a representation of the society and the problems faced. There is an indication that by working together solution to the problems could be easy to solve. The humans are their own worst enemies.
Allkins, Kyle. ""Those Things" and "You People" issues of racism in Zombie Cinema." http://www2.oakland.edu/oujournal/files/19_thosethings.pdf. 3 May 2015.
Dotson, Jennifer Whitney. "CONSIDERING BLACKNESS IN GEORGE A. ROMERO’S NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: AN HISTORICAL EXPLORATION." August 2004. http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04192006-211101/unrestricted/Dotson_thesis.pdf. 3 May 2015.
Dunne, Brad. "Zombie-conomy: Reflections of culture, class and the undead." 31 October 2013. http://rabble.ca/news/2013/10/zombie-conomy-reflections-culture-class-and-undead. 3 May 2015.
Thomas, Kette. "Haitian Zombie, Myth, and Modern Identity." June 2010. http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1602&context=clcweb. 3 May 2015.