The Zombie Appeal, part 2: A Very Marxist Plague.

13 Nov

2. A very Marxist plague.

Chuck Klosterman—pop culture writer extraordinaire—thinks the appeal of zombies is that everyone believes that he/she could survive, even thrive. They’re dumb, (usually) slow, and easily evaded. (Read his very fine take on zombies here.)

Joe Kane, in his book-length history of the Night of the Living Dead, agrees, arguing that this dichotomy was there at the beginning. “[The Zombies] are a combination of the menacing (they want to eat you up) and the pathetic (they’re dead . . . and they’re all messed up).” (Kane, 64)

They’re both half-right. There’s another component. Zombie movies and shows—the good ones—deal in the basics of survival. The characters in The Walking Dead are engaged in a life or death struggle for food, water and shelter. They’ve been stripped of the fineries of the 21st Century. They don’t sit through meetings, shop at the mall, check email or flip through Yelp reviews. They aren’t hindered by fads, social pressures or the burden of not having enough time. They’ve been propelled back into the primeval past. The very things we are disconnected from—the fundamental aspects of living, the search for food and shelter—compose most of the show’s drama. It’s answering a need. It’s a fictional correction to what Marx wrote about, the disconnect between work and survival.

The lead character back in the primeval forest.

As Marx says, “And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. . . . He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another.”

He got it right, goddamn it.

We work outside the areas of our basic survival—in conflict with millions of years of evolution—so that we can afford the things that we must have to survive.[1] This, as hundreds of more credentialed people than me have pointed out, is the explanation for so much of the psychic dissonance of the modern and post-modern age. We are removed from the essence of our toils. We’ve outsourced our survival to big business. We’ve attempted to parse our lives into different modalities, when there’s only one big thing: life, and how to survive it. This disconnect explains the existential malaise that bedevils us in what is, inarguably, the richest era in the history of the world.

The show, on the other hand, is obsessed with simple tasks. Drawing water from a well; picking up antibiotics at the store; cleaning weapons, keeping watch, cooking and cleaning and mending fences. The show has removed the civilizing context that all other modern art relies upon. Gone are the midlife crises that drove so much of our mid-century novelists (Roth, Updike, Bellow, and so on). Gone are the social and economic ambitions that characterize so much of our film and fiction. Gone, even, are the sexual politics that defined so much of our lives in the last forty years.

The worse the human situation gets, the more beautiful the natural world becomes.

The new world has little time for racism, sexism, drug addiction, poverty and the like. There’s no money. There’s no pay. No managers, no investments, no capital, only work and survival. There’s no unemployment, no exploitation, no upper class. There’s no music, no internet, no post office. There’s no grind.

The world itself responds to the catastrophe with serenity. The outskirts of Atlanta are lush with verdant foliage and towering trees. There’s no pollution, no chugging factories, no airplanes, no traffic. In a word, it’s paradise, a pre-Lapsarian state, a place of pure existence.

Hindered only by those pesky zombies.


[1] My buddy Jonathan says this is why so many people are frustrated and miserable.

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