Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Culture of Surrender, or Cheeto-Eating Surrender Zombies


The Walking Dead has been one of the great success stories in Geekdom. It's been racking up huge ratings on the AMC Channel (a one-time clearinghouse for Hollywood inventory that was repurposed as the boutique basic cable channel, with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad) and record sales for its comic and trade paperback collections. It's made its creator Robert Kirkman fantastically rich, in an age when the millionaire comics auteur is largely a thing of the past.

The Walking Dead is essentially a serialization of George Romero's first two zombie films, 1968's ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead and its 1980 sequel Dawn of the Dead. Zombies have long been a fixture of pulp entertainment, but were always also-rans in the popcult sweepstakes. Romero's low-budget films were cult classics, but the 'Zombie Apocalypse' theme that he essentially created didn't truly resonate with the mass audience until The Walking Dead brought it all into the mainstream.

It all dovetailed with zombie chic, which has been all the rage in Geekdom, with zombie parties, zombie raves, zombie parades, you name it. Curiously, the horror subculture which birthed the Zombie Apocalypse fetish is pretty much dead in the water; vampires have been 'tweened to death, torture-porn, the post-Ringu remake craze and the mockumentary fad all played out their string, and monsters and slashers and Alien-clones fell victim to changing tastes and the inherent narrative limitations of the form.

So why are zombies so hot these days?

When I was young and alienated I used to have zombie nightmares. Looking back I see it as a kind of egocentric terror, that I was the only thinking human being in a world filled with undead automatons. I remember having these dreams around the time of Reagan's election, an obviously upsetting time for a young punk rocker. But that was a case of projection- kids today want to identify themselves as zombies, at the same time immerse themselves in paranoid fantasies like The Walking Dead.

I was an early fan of the comic, attracted by Tony Moore's art. But I soon grew tired of it, since the power of the zombie apocalypse narrative tends to lose its power as it drags on. I never thought it rose to the level of the original Dawn of the Dead, or even the remake. I've seen bits of the TV series and I'm sure it's all very well-produced and all the rest of it. But like nearly everything else on TV, I found I simply didn't want to suspend my disbelief long enough to watch an entire episode. The zombie myth is a hopeless, defeatist fantasy and I don't need any more of that shit in my life.

And I believe that it's precisely the defeatism that is so appealing to today's beaten down America. As with all apocalyptic fantasy, people who watch it always imagine themselves as one of the plucky survivors, not one of the poor bastards who gets ripped in two before the station break. The popularity of the series shows that there is no vision out there, no concept of the future. Aside from the crippling inequality that is putting all of us who aren't hedge fund pirates under enormous stress, the dominant intellectual fashion these days is a straining towards utter nihilism.

Out of a misguided reaction to the symbiotic relationship between religious fundamentalism and corporate hegemons, it's all the rage for young geeks to run around bigging up "Science" as a substitute religion, even though at its core, true science is simply a form of measuring physical phenomena through a process that reduces everything to its component parts.

Yet, those same hegemons control the application of science in its near-totality, and are using it to help establish broad-spectrum dominance that will be beyond all challenge. The same figures who are waved around like Medieval saints by gullible geeks are in fact all bought-and-sold-and-paid-for whores for the corporate elite. They have no choice at all if they want a living wage, an audience and access to a well-appointed laboratory.

Which is why we shouldn't be surprised when those same vassals run around preaching the Bankster worldview, albeit a politically correct variant thereof. Life is meaningless, the Universe has no purpose and nihilism is the only sensible philosophy. In other words, back to the Existentialist suicide culture that rose with the most recent triumph of the "Rational." That this is the worldview often espoused by sociopaths, tyrants and serial killers seems to escape everyone's notice.

So why should we be surprised by the popularity of the zombie, given that it's an inevitable by-product of the surrender culture being pushed by the Nihilist revival?

Defeatism is fool-proof. You can't control a positive outcome, but you can ensure a negative one simply by giving up and surrendering. Thus the ego is protected. Once the Skeptics feel they've done away with the paranormal (or dreamed up enough plausible denial to keep the Geeks on the plantation) and the Atheists feel they've destroyed Christianity (or until the Fundamentalists begin a serious pushback), the next step is destroying any kind or Science or technology that promises a different future than the Stalinist gulag state that the A+ crowd so desperately strains towards. It's already happening, with the Peak Oil crowd and the crypto-Luddites in obscure academic posts who are unilaterally deciding the limits of science, trying to harsh the mellow of Starfleet Academy applicants everywhere.

Just as the skeptics and debunkers were seen as passe and old-fashioned by the Nu Atheists, so to will the atheists be seen by the inevitable rise of the Nihilist, the terminus of the culture of defeat. Central to the Nihilist worldview is that all human endeavor is pointless. And soon the Nu Atheist movement will be controlled by the same elements that took over the New Left in the 70s, which will inevitably to the same internecine warfare that is the true passion of the Nihilist. That process has started in earnest already.

While these people sit around and destroy each other, don't expect the Right to sit idle and watch. As we've seen in Greece and Hungary, the Right often has a habit of taking electoral defeat as permission to move ever further to extremes. Although ever-optimistic liberals in America still believe the Republicans will come to their senses and fall in line with Obama's (read:Wall Street's) agenda, already we are seeing a movement to a new kind of ethnic nationalism, one that will dispense with the niceties of the Bush Era. How will the PZ Myers' and Bill Maher's respond once the debating ends and fists and bullets start flying? Whose side do they think the cops will take?

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe The Walking Dead isn't sci-fi. Maybe it's some kind of allegory for America's inevitable future under the false dichotomies that dominate political conversation, the pissing matches between elites carried over from the dorms of Choate and Andover. If those who don't subscribe to the Punch and Judy show don't start speaking up, it may yet come to pass.



14 comments:

tenebroust said...

I had a zombie dream that I recounted on the SS Facebook page I believe. One of the most powerful dreams I ever had. I believe in looking at it with more hindsight that it was exactly what you describe here a reaction in my subconscious to the brain dead masses. I have an idea for maybe having some impact. Storm the supposed progressive media outlets with immense criticism without end on their failure to call out Obama and stand up for progressive causes in the face of Obama. The supposed left is tractable to public opinion, whereas the right often completely ignore it.

Raj said...

Hey Chris,

A seriously awesome post that is also timely as hell. I think beneath this culture of surrender is the implicit notion, or program, that to not surrender has no ego benefits in such a shallow,surface-obsessed world.

I mean to say, the notion that "Hey, if you resit you'll only be able to stop a handful of people from falling of the edge of the world, at best. So why the fuck even bother? You're already addicted to gross stimulation, spectacle and a blurred pleasure/pain pornographic sexuality. It's only a cheeky hop and a skip to embrace your own apocalypse."

Well, fuck that and everything that looks like that. This isn't a game, and there's no reset button. Every stupid thing we allow into our dumpster-minds is gonna have consequences, and some of those consequences are gonna be real damn serious. Whatever happened to heroism, to a warrior spirit in this very uncivil civil war?

Thank God for people like you, Chris. Thank the fuckin' stars, mate. As you can probably tell, all this non-resistance really stokes my ire. But I also know there are many people out there like yourself who are clear-sighted, brave and in this war of imagination for the long haul. Power and glory to the Solar Satellite!

Peace

Laurence said...

Christopher,

Seems that you need to send this post to this discussion

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/11/the-walking-dead-philosophers.html

Be well

Laurence

Anonymous said...

Great post. It seems like this one was inspired out of your latest interview with Mike.

Zombie Apocalypses are probably unconsciously appealing because they destroy all the stressful and nonsensical and overwhelming structures in the world; and its a restructuring back to the basics thing if the survivors, well survive.

Is it a sign of a generation that doesn't know how to handle the bombardment of information, belief systems?

I went back and reread Aeolus Kephas end of the world fantasy, from the sync book 2,which is a Zombie Apocalypse, due to "ultimate showdown between the ego & id".

How about a curtain call Kephas?

Justuss2012 said...

not pullin any punches.

i hadn't thought about walkin dead or the politics like that but i def got the sense that this is a cold war. Some spies are gon be jumpin out of windows and fallin out the sky.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/man-fell-from-sky-heathrow_n_2270250.html

W.L. Parsons said...

I don't if I agree with the whole 'culture of surrender' tag. The thing that always appealed to me about zombie fiction are the measures the characters use to survive while facing insurmountable odds. Maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Are today's teens all that off target in seeing themselves as zombies?

They are, after all, well trained components of consumer culture.

They appear even more adept than their parents at gobbling up everything, consequences be damned.

If you doubt it, head off to a mall.
It isn't grandpa & grandma driving the consumer machine, its the teens & the tweens & their ilk.

While I've always loved Romero's take on zombies, primarily because Romero understood that all good horror has a subtext that gives it depth, The Walking Dead has only been a source of much amusement for me.

When it first started my 15 year old son & I would rip it to shreds.

But after a while, it seemed like such a self parody that any joke seemed a bit pointless.

As this season hurtled towards Day Of The Dead Mad Max At Thunderdome territory, we've abandoned it all together.

Although we do occasionally chuckle at how his classmates hang on every episode as if it wasn't badly written crapola.

I put it all down to a generation of Twilight reading illiterates who wouldn't know good horror if it bit them on their tender bits.

Sadly, while there's still much stellar horror being written, Laird Barron comes to mind as does Mark Samuels & Thomas Ligotti & John Langan, it seems that none of it makes it to a TV or movie screen.

W.L. Parsons said...

I find it ironic that one would argue what they consider to be great art, to never make it to TV or the big screen. Yet when it does, they complain about it's popularity and it's now "mainstream" status.

Tim R said...

Zombies also represent extra dimensional entities that take root in our reality. They end up here on earth and are interpreted in many ways, usually referred to as demons or devils by Gnostics. Many people who are born with "gifts" are often harassed by these entities because they like to test their will and resolve. Ultimately the aim of these entities is control. Control of an individual allows them to stay rooted here. Those without the skills to protect themselves often end up self destructing, often inflicting collateral damage.

Spoilers:
In the Walking Dead, the character of Dale represented the last vestige of humanity and empathy, so naturally he was killed off in a very brutal way. A sort of Fuck You to all those who didn't want to submit to the Nihilistic defeatist culture that the show perpetuates. I stopped watching the show at that point because I knew which direction the show would ultimately decide to take.

Shelby Del Rey said...

A new nihilism? I believe it's already here in the form of antinatalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinatalism) and the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (http://www.vhemt.org/), or as I like to call them, "The Holy VHEM." I've seen people on both the far left and right espouse these ideas, which are literally defeatist about all human endeavor. We're parasites. Nature is better off without us. What could be a better solution than a zombie apocalypse?

Thee Lazycat said...

Def- I think a big part of the appeal is that Rorke's Drift/Malta 1579/Helm's Deep winning out against hopless odds

Erich Kuersten said...

I strongly dislike this show, being a huge fan of Romero's original trilogy, and even the Fulci ripoffs. What Walking Dead does is simply drain the humor and satire from the concept and add lots of over the top dramatic hand-wringing, tearful goodbyes, salt of the earth stereotypes, and comic book slow more gore and pass it off as original. The creator of this show/comic has no doubt made a fortune off of ideas copped from Romero... and Romero's probably stone broke. It makes me sick

Flossy said...

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.....and the next step is zombie world. When you're dead you can become the undead and experience a kind of freedom as well as revenge, albeit a smelly one.

FlosSilly yours,

17,s coming soon!

Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome post....good work.