May 3, 2007
For our project, Brett, Nick and myself decided to take theory and apply it to a very serious topic and one that effects us all…zombies. Though it may seem a bit of a stretch, there are some aspects of theory that we have learned this year which can actually be applied to a zombie epidemic.
One of the theories which can be applied to zombies is Derrida and his idea of decentring. The loss of the centre is a shift from widely held norms of the time, and is usually brought upon by a major historical event. An example is given of this in Beginning Theory:
The event concerns the ‘decentring’ of our intellectual universe. Prior to this event the existence of a norm or centre in all things was taken for granted: thus ‘man’, as the Renaissance slogan had it, was the measure of all other things in the universe: white Western norms of dress, behaviour, architecture, intellectual outlook, and so on, provided a firm centre against which deviations, aberrations, variations could be detected and identified as ‘Other’ and marginal. In the twentieth century, however, these centres were destroyed or eroded; sometimes this was caused by historical events–such as the way the First World War destroyed the illusion of steady material progress.”
A zombie plague would cause precisely this shift in the centre which Barry has written about. As mentioned above, an essential part of a shift of the centre is that “prior to this event the existence of a norm or centre in all things was taken for granted” (Barry 66). A zombie epidemic would destroy the notion that the only two options are life and death and there is no “living dead” middle ground. It would also change the notion that man is the dominant species.
Throughout history, there has also been a shift in the centre of the zombie universe itself. It used to be that zombies were creatures that would rise from there graves, would walk very stiffly and slowly (usually dragging one foot and with arms stretched out in front of them), and unable to speak, except for maybe groaning the word “brains.” However, things have changed. The zombies in the film Dawn of the Dead are drastically different. There is no reason given as to what has caused them to become zombies, and these zombies most certainly do not drag their feet, they are able to chase their victims an a very quick pace. So while zombies would drastically change our centre, they themselves have had a shift. They now do not need a reason to turn into zombies, they are able to move faster, and in some instances, they are even able to dance.
After the zombie epidemic, “in the resulting universe there are no absolutes or fixed points, so that the universe we live in is ‘decentred’ or inherently relativistic….the consequences of this new decentred universe are impossible to predict, but we must endeavour not to be among ‘those who … turn their eyes away in the face of the as yet unnameable which is proclaiming itself'” (Barry 67) Our world as we know it would be absolutely turned upside-down. The centre would have shifted and it will be impossible to know where it now lays.
There are also aspects of Jameson which can be applied in this situation. One of Jameson’s big ideas is that of nostalgia. On page 1967 he writes, “If there is any realism left here, it is a ‘realism’ which springs from the shock of grasping that confinement and of realizing that, for whatever reasons, we seem condemned to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about the past, which itself remains forever out of reach.” In Jameson’s view, we are unable to obtain our past, however we are always attempting. So too is the case with zombies. Returning to Dawn of the Dead, all of the main characters have locked themselves in a mall. And for no apparent reason, literally thousands of zombies flock to and congregate outside of this mall. Zombies are forever doome to walk the earth as the living dead, however, they still make an attempt at regaining the past. This is what the mall represents, somewhere in the zombie’s mind there is the memory that the mall is the place to go. And acting on that notion is the only thing the zombie has to connect him to the past.
Dawn of the Dead is also a nostalgia film, Jameson uses Star Wars as his example. The film we are using was made in 2004. However, this is a remake of an older version of the film which was made in 1978. Like Star Wars was popular because it created a nostalgic desire for the old Buck Rogers television show among an older audience while at the same time appealing to a younger audience, The newer version of Dawn of the Dead did the same thing. It held an appeal to all those who had seen the original and liked it, and also was appealing to a younger generation who had not seen the original zombie film.
Also in 2004, there was another zombie related film which fits into Jameson’s ideas. That film was Shaun of the Dead. Like Dawn of the Dead, this film follows what happens in the event of a zombie epidemic. However, Shaun of the Dead is done in a more light-hearted and comical way. That raises the question as to whether it is parody or pastiche. Shaun of the Dead has all the elements of the zombie invasion film. However, it is handled in a very different way, with comedy. Shaun of the Dead is a classic example of parody, given Jameson’s definition, “Now parody capitalizes on the uniqueness of these styles and seizes on their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities to produce an imitation which mocks the original” (1963). Shaun of the Dead takes those things that are specific to almost every zombie film and makes light of it. The film could be thought of as pastiche, as Jameson writes, “Pastiche is blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor” (1963). Since Shaun of the Dead is meant to be humorous, it cannot be a pastiche.