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Rachel Blomer

ANTH 300
Lit. Review
10/28/14

To understand the resurrection of the zombie and its significance in popular culture, we
first have to look historically into its origins; specifically in the Haitian culture, and its first
introduction into North American society. The first recorded use of the word in text appears by
the travel writer Moreau de Saint-Mry in 1797 as the slaves' belief in a returned soul, or as he
defines it a "Creole word that means spirit, revenant" (Bishop 2008, 143; McAlister 2012, 459).
By the 20th century, the Haitians began to identify the zombie into a returned body raised from
the grave forced to work as a slave. During the 20th century, Haiti experienced an expanse of
various rulers, coups, and a civil war until the 1915 invasion and occupation by the United States
until 1954 (Bishop 2008, 142; Platts 2013, 549). In Haiti, the meaning of 'zombie' altered to
respond to the colonial period, the boundaries between life and death, repression of freedom, and
the "culture of terror" of plantation life (McAlister 2012, 461). These fears became embedded in
a deeply symbolic structure that is a matter of religious thought for Haitians (McAlister 2012,
457), or voodoo.
With the popularity of William B. Seabrook's travelogue The Magic Island, tales of
voodoo and zombies were introduced into the mass American audience (Bishop 2008, 143; Platts
2013, 549). The fascination with 'exotic' cultures is explored in Brett A. Berliner's novel
Ambivalent Desire, linking the allure of exoticism with escapism. Berliner describes exotic as
being, "constructed as a distant, picturesque, 'other' that evokes feelings, emotions, and ideals in
the self that have been considered lost in the civilizing process." To the North American

audience, the zombie represented an escape of the hectic, modern life. The idea of the noble
savage and the native cultures associated with it, recaptured a simplicity believed to be lost in
western society (Berliner 2002; Bishop 2008, 144). During the military occupation of Haiti, the
first zombie films of the 1930s reflected a more mystified fear of slavery, colonialism, and
xenophobia. Films such as White Zombie (1932), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), I Walked with a
Zombie (1943), and Revenge of the Zombies (1943) were more inclined to exploit rather than
explore the topic (Platts 2013, 549). These early film zombies were fabricated directly from
imperialist systems and are synonymous with a kind of barbaric, racial blackness (McAlister,
472). They reflected the fears of the North American audience during the 1930s and 1940s,
exploiting voodoo and Haitian culture.
Peter Dendle (2001, 4) explains that, The 50s and 60s represent[ed] a strange
transitional time for the screen zombie, as though the concept were ready to move beyond its
stagnant, two-decade old paradigm, but experienced some confusion in exactly which direction
to go. The modern monster had no real identification or literary history connected to it. The
zombie could easily be molded into any artistic thought produced from the nightmarish aspects
of western society. They started to appear in the pages of Entertaining Comic's Vault of Horror,
Crypt of Terror, and Tales from the Crypt where they began to take on the more modern look of
a decaying corpse (Pulliam 2007, 733). On film, the zombie became associated with a cinematic
style known as the "weirdies". These films were offbeat science fiction, or shock films, usually
of marginal financing, fantastic content, and ridiculous title (Doherty 2002, 119). Films such as
Unearthly (1957), Horror of Party Beach (1964), and Orgy of the Dead (1965) replaced fears of
racism, voodoo and colonialism with that of invasion, social homogenization, apocalypse, and
"weirdness" (Platts 2013, 550).

The underground comics and "weirdies" made the transition from the first zombie films
into the modern zombie possible. They paved the way for the landmark film Night of the Living
Dead (1968) by George A. Romero, inaugurating zombies as we know them today (Platts 2013,
550). Dawn of the Dead (1978) set that model into place, and with the third installment Day of
the Dead (1985), Romero's films took on anti-establishment parables about corruption and the
decay of the American way of life (McAlister 2012, 473). Romero's trilogy created a model
through which the zombie could more obviously explore social, political, and cultural
contradictions and injustices in the U.S.. Night of the Living Dead tackled race relations, Dawn
of the Dead was a statement on the consumer culture, and Day of the Dead was an observation
on the military and power structure in the U.S. (Platts 2013, 550; Russell 2006, 47). Despite
worldwide ticket sales and popularity with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, the
zombie remained a low-key monster in mainstream cinema and culture, surviving through the
Resident Evil franchise (Bishop 2009, 22; Dendle 2007, 53).
In the 2000's, the resurrection of the zombie on screen came as a surprise to everyone
(Dendle 2012, 1). Films such as 28 Days Later (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004),and I Am
Legend (2007) developed in popularity expanding to novels such as World War Z: An Oral
History of the Zombie War (2006) by Max Brooks and the parody Pride and Prejudice and
Zombies (2009) by Seth Grahame-Smith, both being adapted onto the screen in 2013 and 2015.
With the popular comic book series The Walking Dead (2003-present) being turned into the
hugely successful television show The Walking Dead (2010-present), and an estimated 5 billion
dollars is added to the world economy per annum (0gg 2011) for anything zombie related; one
has to wonder why the resurgence of popularity for the zombie has come back full force and
stronger than ever before. Of course, the resurrection is of no coincidence.

For the contemporary North American viewer, living through and viewing the aftereffects
of terrorism, hurricane Katrina, the War on Terror, and the recent Israeli military attacks on Gaza,
it is easy to imagine our world as the zombie apocalyptic landscape depicted. Robert Wuthnow
argues, "if cultural products do not articulate closely enough with their social settings, they are
likely to be recognized as 'irrelevant, unrealistic, artificial, and overly abstract, or worse, their
producers will be unlikely to receive the support necessary to carry on their work." (Platts 2013,
547; Wuthnow 1989, 3). Understanding the film history of the zombie, its fictional composition
is basically determined by the extant social horrors during its time of production (Muntean and
Payne 2009, 240), and the way in which the audience views or perceives the material given
through their own experiences. Zombie cinema represents a stylized reaction to cultural
consciousness and particularly to social and political injustices (Bishop 2009, 18). They address
the fears that are plaguing our consciousness, that an undoing of social order is inevitable; that
these post-modern monsters are a self-fulfilling prophecy of modernity (Kearney 2003, 97).
George A. Romero comments that the symbol of the zombie represents "a global change of some
kind. And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this" (Morrissette 2014,
1).
Depictions of the zombie in popular culture all create a common, flexible, creature in
which to rouse our fascination with the idea of the apocalypse. Concerns about natural and
manmade disasters, crime, violence, conflicts, and wars are prevalent in our everyday lives.
Zombies are a powerful metaphor through which to explore and deconstruct these concerns, and
constitute an existential threat to state, creating an environment in which war is virtually
inevitable (Morrissette 2014, 2). Relating the post-apocalyptic landscape to that of war, I can't
help but make the connections between World War II and the zombie apocalypse. In many

zombie films, zombification usually starts with a spread of infection from a bite, a scratch, etc,
that begins the death of human civilization. Individually these zombies aren't much of a threat,
but as a collective hoard, are extremely dangerous. The spread of Nazism throughout Germany
started slowly. At first it was a radical, small, political party led by Adolf Hitler blaming
communists and Jews for the unemployment, inflation, poverty, and economic downfall that
plagued Germany after World War I. A failed attempt at a political takeover in southern
Germany left Hitler in prison for a year, where he wrote his famous and very popular political
autobiography Mein Kampf (1925). After his release from prison, and many years of his fiery
speeches rousing the disadvantaged public, the Nazi party came to power in 1933 after a severe
economic depression and widespread unemployment (History.com 2009). Hitler's influence over
the troubled German state and his attempt to take over the world, can be compared to that of the
spread of the zombie infection. Slowly but surely working its way through the populace,
infecting them not with a zombie disease but with an epidemic of anti-Semitism, hatred, death,
and war.
Under Nazi rule, Hitler began to create a 'new Germany', in which he banned all other
political parties, and established concentration camps, later evolving into death camps, used to
send human beings unfit for this 'new Germany'. The Nuremburg Laws were created to
categorize who was seen as being worthy of life, who was essentially a human and/or sub-human.
This group of "others" that did not fit these laws included Jews, artists, intellectuals, Gypsies, the
physically and mentally handicapped, as well as homosexuals (History.com 2009). Zombie films
often bring up this idea of the "other"; the zombies are seen as such because of their fundamental
lack of humanity (Bishop 2008, 145). The Nazi's lack of humanity, and the racialized ways in

they consumed other humans has allowed the connection between them and zombies not only
possible, but heavily apparent.
The horrors of the Holocaust and World War II were worse than any nightmare or horror
movie that could be concocted. After 50 years of remission, anti-Semitism is once again on the
rise. According to a U.S. census in 2004 to 2005, Jews were victimized by hate crimes
proportionately more so than any other racial or ethnic group in America (Cohen, Lee, Harbor,
Bhasin 2014, 290). The rise of anti-Semitism has especially been prevalent in Europe. In France,
eight synagogues have been attacked with mobs, some reaching up to 400 people strong. Crowds
have chanted "death to Jews" and "slit Jews throats". In Germany, synagogues and Jewish
businesses have been destroyed by home-made bombs. One synagogue in particular is the
Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal, previously destroyed on Kristallnacht; eerily echoing the
night of attacks that began the 'Final Solution' and the Holocaust almost 80 years ago. Dieter
Graumann, the president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, has reported that incidents are
the "worst times since the Nazi era" (Henley 2014).
Across Europe and in the Americas, the conflict in Gaza has been breathing new life into
some of the very old, and very ugly, demons. These violent attacks and hateful slurs have taken
on a greater expression of a much deeper and more widespread anti-Semitism than ever before.
In early September 2014, Jewish leaders converged on the State Department to discuss rising
anti-Semitism across the globe. John Kerry, Secretary of State, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of
State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski, and Special Envoy to Monitor
and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman led discussions, and expressed the rise of anti-Semitism
as a "deep concern" to the Obama administration (Jewish Daily Forward 2014). The antiIsraelism stemming from the conflict with Hamas in Gaza, has taken on anti-Semitic

characteristics, resulting in Jews being identified and targeted. Kerry indicated that there needs to
be a "strategy of coming together not only here, but with European governments and Jewish
communities [there] to deal with [the issue of anti-Semitism] on a high level" (Jpost 2014).
Hostility towards Israel has manifested itself through anti-Semitism and violent antiSemitic acts towards Jews. Some scholars see anti-Semitism as a method in which it may serve
to create a tangible target upon which non-Jews project their own fears, especially fears that arise
during times of social disruption (Cohen, Lee, Harbor, Bhasin 2014, 290). This connection also
has a deep correspondence with social transition and change. According to Cohen, Aronson, and
Steele (2000), one model for understanding the psychology of anti-Semitism is due to tolerance
for others opinions, especially those that challenge one's own deeply help personal values, are
tied to people's own feelings of certainty and worth. In addition, when people feel less secure,
they become less tolerant of those whose views, perspectives, or beliefs are different from their
own because it potentially threatens deeply held beliefs about superiority of one's own group.
(Cohen, Lee, Harbor, Bhasin 2014, 292). During times of social transition and change, people
begin to project their fears onto people different from themselves, serving a purpose similar to
the horror films depicting the zombie apocalypse.

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