It is Valentine’s week – apparently that’s a thing now – a time of saccharine sweetness, hollow gestures, and empty consumerism in place of romance. In-keeping with the seasonal spirit, then, I want to talk to you today about hearts that long ceased to beat; about a festering horde of blank-faced ghouls, hungering to sink their teeth into human flesh. No, not the populace of shag-app Tinder. Today I am talking about actual zombies.
The undead have always possessed a special place in my own heart – sating more than a simple blood-lust in my own cinematic tastes. Zombies often shamble above and beyond the call of duty, creeping and clawing their way into socio-political territory rarely visited by the supernatural silver-screen. They often act as crude agents of social commentary – and sometimes even of justice. The reanimated corpses who so often fill our post-apocalyptic screens aren’t really a thing to be ‘feared’ by us as such; they are a cultural representation of us. Zombies are the fictional embodiment of the dominant section of society’s fear of a mobilisation of the filthy, impoverished masses.
As Robert Kirkman’s famous comic series (and subsequent televisual smash hit) so often reiterates, “We are the walking dead.”
That is why, year on year, more people across the UK and America get involved in their local zombie walks. Something about a phenomenon spreading the increasingly popular idea of ‘Eat the Rich’ just seems to chime well with people in the increasingly fracturous world of capitalist exploitation. In the face of economic segregation, as well as intersecting systems of gender and race-based oppression, contempt for the status quo seems to have gone viral. Waves of unrest have swept across borders and continents, and for the first time in a generation, it seems the minority elites who govern us have a good reason to cower from the swathes of humanity now baying for their downfall.
Zombies have become a kind of cultural short-hand for that potential upheaval; and that provides an extraordinary opportunity to radicals. As millions of people take such unlikely characters into their hearts, they potentially take on-board the ideas embodied by them too.
However, it is a two-way street, the figure of the zombie being a super-popular (and therefore profitable) distilled essence of the exploited also presents an excellent opportunity for the reinforcement of establishment views as well. This makes recent cultural developments at the BBC – if not particularly surprising – all the more disturbing. In that context, the commissioning by public tabloid TV station BBC 3 of the new ‘reality show’ I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse comes as a particular smack in the face after the prolonged and traumatic axing of cult hit In the Flesh last month.
They were immigrants, the unemployed, and the ignored; the murdered and dispossessed ‘statistics’ who so often fall by the wayside in dominant discourse.
In the Flesh built valiantly on the bubbling discontent growing in society amongst marginalised and oppressed groups. It went to pains to show a group once conceived of as a ‘monstrous other’ as thinking, feeling human beings. The ‘Partially Deceased Sufferers’ were sentient life-forms wrongfully denied the respect that should be their right, by governments looking for scapegoats, corporations looking for cheap labour, and the forces of reaction attempting to rise to power.
Most explicitly, Kieran Walker embodied the systematic bullying of LGBT+ citizens, but the ‘rotters’ of In the Flesh also came to embody victims of gender inequality, classism, and racism.They were immigrants, the unemployed, and the ignored; the murdered and dispossessed ‘statistics’ who so often fall by the wayside in dominant discourse.
I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse on the other hand is billed as ‘an apocalyptic adventure’ where eight contestants will be trapped together ‘in a shopping mall, surrounded by the walking dead.’
“It’s a question of teamwork,” a BBC 3 press-release went on, “as the more of them that stay alive the easier it is to thrive in a zombie-eat-human world. The Army is on its way, but how many of the contestants will have what it takes to survive a zombie apocalypse?” So, the premise of a show funded by the cut of In the Flesh is for contestants to cower in terror from figures representing the oppressed. Mind you don’t fall behind your group as you flee from ravenous blacks! Careful you don’t get caught by those Muslims, they’re thoughtless savages! Watch out, don’t get bitten by one of those gays, or you might turn!
It is important in times such as these that radicals point out the ideology at play. This is Austerity Britain, where the BBC can happily ignore an anti-cuts protest of half a million people in order to placate their governmental puppeteers. Of course it occurs as common sense to those in control of the purse-strings there to buy into the programming that portrays popular ‘risings’ are to be feared and avoided, whilst marginalising programming that contradicts that narrative. That’s how the Beeb keep their not-so-independent funders happy – and they’ve been doing it for so long it has become second nature to them.
We must not buy into this demonisation of the demonic though.
There is, justifiably, a campaign to re-resurrect In the Flesh with a 38,000 strong petition to be signed here (and I implore you to do so). However, on top of this base campaign, we need to acknowledge the ideological significance of the zombie in general, in order to better understand ourselves, our struggles, and the way dominant ideology permeates every inch of our world, so that we might move to challenge it. The time has come to stick up for our ragged and decomposing brethren then. It is important that, in the spirit of the season of love, we appreciate our rigor mortis-ridden cultural equivalents, and to argue that rather than buying into them as a fearful other, we should acknowledge them as our own political reflection.
We should not be helping elites build fences, we should be outside with the slavering mob, tearing them down. And really, isn’t that what Valentine’s is all about?