Zombie Multitude

Contains minor spoilers!

“The zombies outside the walls are thought to be dumb-as-bricks-of-shit. Normally they can be distracted by fireworks or loud noises. But now, they are gaining intelligence and learning to use tools, unbeknownst to the people inside [the city]. It’s only a matter of time before the zombies figure out how to tear down the walls and go on a feeding frenzy.” (review here)

“I suppose I should be happy Universal gave Romero what appears to be a lot of money (at least by his usual standards), but I can’t shake the fact that they aren’t launching the promotional fireworks (or as the film calls them, “sky-flowers”), thus notifying the world to stare up in awe at this powerful display. Fireworks are the one truly effective weapon against the zombies, and when you see why, and take a moment to consider the varying levels of the clever gag, you’ll be on the track to understanding what sets a Romero zombie film apart from the countless imitators that have been decomposing on screens for decades now.” (review here)

I am looking forward to seeing George Romero’s Land of the Dead in the cinema. There seems to be almost an inversion of the classic zombie flick us vs them scenario. We feel empathetic for the zombies…

What strikes me as interesting is the use of fireworks — or ‘sky flowers’ — in the film. Initially nearly all the zombies are seduced by the spectacle of the fireworks. Eventually they learn that when the fireworks go up it means that something bad is going on. The zombies mobilise and move to take the gleaming, bright tower of the walled city. From Debord on the emergent consumer culture in France of the 1960s:

“In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. […] The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production. […] In the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the world and is superior to it. The spectacle is nothing more than the common language of this separation. What binds the spectators together is no more than an irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their isolation. The spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate.”

The second film review above accurately notes the irony of a lack of ‘promotional-fireworks’ for the release of a film that critiques the society of the spectacle. The movie going public is bound to what Virilio calls the politico-military-entertainment-complex. We are zombies watching zombies pretending like they are alive. It is not a class antagonism that fuels the revolution. Some have already assumed this: “The obviously post-9/11 stage is set for a class-conflict of Marxist proportions. There are references to state-sanctioned vice, incorporated government and military indoctrination via video games.” There certainly is obvious class conflict between those in the tower and rabble of an underclass who live below. Yet, such conflict is stultified. It has zero potential. (Am I talking about the movie?)

There is an implicit social contract that is premised on a relation of either force or seduction between those who dominate in this zombie-world, those who are dominated, and the multitude who serves as the motor for biopolitical production. The zombie-as-singularity in popular culture is defined by two well known rules: 1) They are undead. They are not alive, nor will they die; 2) They have a insatiable hunger for human flesh. The reproduction of power relations that maintains the status quo of the island city-state of the humans relies on these two dimensions of the zombie-singularity.

“The distinction between these human classes [of dominated and dominating] is only a step up from the next division, between humans and zombies. The rough-riders, living in shacks and tents and making extensive use of the “vice” Kaufman sells them, also deploy the zombies for distraction: zombies are shot at or loosed on disposable humans (like Slack) for sport, or chained up just short enough so they can’t bite, so humans can pose for photos with ghoulish others dripping and growling, providing freakish backdrops to fantasies of danger.” (review here)

The zombies serve as the spectacle for the human underclasses. They are part of the apparatus of servitude by which power relations are maintained which one character calls ‘games and vices’. The humans are not revolutionary because they never truly break with the intoxicating relation to the zombie-spectacle.

Finally, true revolution comes when the zombies evolve, begin to communicate and self-organise. Romero:

“If you look at my other films, it begins at the end of ‘Dawn.’ The zombie drags a gun around for the whole movie and then at the very end grabs the hero’s gun and decides that’s better. He doesn’t even know it’s a gun. Then in ‘Day of the Dead’ there’s a zombie named Bub who actually shots the villain in the end. He’s this very sympathetic guy. It’s sort of following the same track. Now in this film when Big Daddy does it, there’s other zombies that come around and imitate the behavior. So all of a sudden, ooops, there’s a bunch of them out there.”

They organise around their singularities. Their hunger drives them, but it is the monstorous flesh of the zombie multitude which sees them prevail. As Negri writes:

“The revolutionary monster that is the multitude and appears at the end of modernity continuously wants to transform our flesh into new forms of life.”

n.b. Early script here (via)!

EDIT: Here is a review from some online ‘family‘ film service. It serves to reassure right-wing fucktards in the US that everything will be alright, and that little Johnny or little Suzie will grow up to be just like them, because the dumb arse class will remain subsumed by the ‘orgy’ spectacle (I think it is no coincidence that religious language is used):

“Too much preaching and horror fans will revolt; no brain at all and it’s just a dumb, bloody orgy.” So which is it? Is Land of the Dead more sermon or orgy? I’ll let the words of an enthusiastic moviegoer answer that one. Walking out of the screening I attended, a young twentysomething gushed to a friend, “I told you the intestine pulling was my favorite part!”

EDIT July 11: Steve Shaviro has posted some comments on LotD on his blog.

EDIT July 12: Chuck Tyron and Scot Barnett on the sub/urban landscape of fear and Romero’s zombies.