Zombie Wars

Zombies are targeted in advance for the application of uninhibited violence. Their arrival announces a conflict in which all moral considerations are definitively suspended. Since they have no ‘souls’ there is nothing they will not do, and they are expected to do the worst. Reciprocally, they merit exactly zero humanitarian concern. The relationship to the zombie is one in which all sympathy is absolutely annulled (殺殺殺殺殺殺殺).

No surprise, then, that the identification of the zombie has become a critical conflict, waged across the terrain of popular culture. It implicitly describes a free-fire zone, or an anticipated gradient in the social direction of violence. Zombies are either scum or they are drones.

Michael Hampton sketches these alternatives convincingly:

Historically the zombie only started to migrate beyond the confines of Haiti in the period between the Wall Street Crash, and the outbreak of the Second World War, infecting Hollywood in such films as The Magic Island, 1929, White Zombie, 1932 and Revolt of the Zombies, 1936. As a non-European monster, the zombie was used here as a convenient, faceless type of otherness, which though temporarily shorn of its 19th century cannibalistic associations, become a scary stand-in for the dispossessed underclasses of dustbowl America, and a racial threat to civilised white women too. (“Exterminate the brutes.”)

While the horrorological counterpart, as perceived / constructed from the Left …

… has come to figure as a fateful symbol for the mass of subjectiveless techno-humans under capitalism, lumpen, nightmarish non-beings whose otherness has been completely internalised, then smoothed out and returned minus interest as soulless entertainment; not so much undead as hypermediated and alive under severe globalised constraint; couch potatoes sorely afflicted by ‘breathing corpse syndrome’ or ‘partially deceased syndrome’. Hypocrite voyeur do you recognise yourself?

However the war against the zombies is envisaged, the war over the zombies has long been underway. It is inextricable from the question: Does legitimate violence come from the Right, or the Left?

Since this question is historically inextinguishable, it is safe to predict that zombies will not soon disappear from the world of popular nightmare. Almost certainly, we will see far more of them. If you want to get a sense of where the firing-lines are being laid out, you need to take a careful look …

ADDED: Zombi Diaspora digs deeper.

February 19, 2014admin 24 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations , Horror

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24 Responses to this entry

  • Handle Says:

    Why does a horde of zombies still seem so different from a horde of terminators or horde of Scott’s Aliens when in principle they represent the same thing? Perhaps the zombie is post-intelligence whereas the Terminators and Aliens are clever adversaries?

    Also, I sent you an email a while ago, yet no response.


    admin Reply:

    Zombies are (paradoxically?) soulless humans, don’t you think?

    Your email had been directed to my spam box for some reason — retrieved (thanks for the nudge).


    Hurlock Reply:

    Yes, I think intelligence is crucial. Zombies are an existential threat as a form of decadence, regression, back into primitiveness, to uncivilized and unintelligent animal existence while Terminators are an existential threat as a result of human development, and technological progress. “Hubris”. The desire to be in complete control of his own existence and to become a God is realized when mankind succesfuly designs an A.I. And then as a punishment for his hubris, mankind is then destroyed by his own creation. There is more than one way to think about the threat of hostile A.I., but I think the most popular one is that it is the result of human arrogance.
    Zombies are extinction by regress, terminators are extinction by progress.
    Or at least that’s how I view it.

    Aliens, I think, are a whole different subject altogether. I think Lovecraft is helpful here.


    peppermint Reply:

    terminators and aleins don’t have a way to make you into a traitor

    also, zombies are usually too weak to 1v1 a normal human. they attack in groups, or use zombie magic to turn you into a zombie.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 7:38 am Reply | Quote
  • David Says:

    Zombie horror is viral. The viral is ancient life, yet life of another order and perhaps closer to the origin of terrestrial life than any “higher” order creature. The viral resides within and everywhere without, silently mutating and then erupting through us, from us, into us (inside out/outside in).

    The real Terminator would be an engineered (or accidental) virus, not an armored cyborg or anthropomorphic alien, and it would simply turn us against ourselves, rewriting or code. It’s how you lose the War of the Worlds or become a Burroughs junky creep. Does the rise of the zombie track with the emergence of virology?


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 8:44 am Reply | Quote
  • Ex-pat in Oz Says:

    Don’t forget the pod people (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) that supposedly reflected the conformity of the Left/Right (50s were Reds, 80s remake were Reaganites).

    Zombies do seem to be more identifiable w/ an urban population (see WWZ) recently, as opposed to the old haunted plantation settings from the 30s. Is it an unconscious representation of NAMs? I think so.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 9:03 am Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    “Zombies are extinction by regress, terminators are extinction by progress.”

    We got that now.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 11:49 am Reply | Quote
  • Orthodox Says:

    When newest Lord of the Rings trilogy came out, some Leftist saw the orcs and immediately thought of black people, so it was racist. Everyone else saw orcs. Sometimes the clever are clever sillies.

    Zombies used to be slow moving. The horror wasn’t that they were fast or strong, they just overwhelmed with sheer numbers and seemed to come out of nowhere, yet in the original, by the end of the first day the threat is already contained and being eliminated. In the 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake, it ends with: “During the games, the men playfully hang and torture the dead and Barbara says “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.” As I recall the men are clearly rural folk/rednecks.

    Today, zombies represent the anxiety driven by urbanization and population growth, the urban SWPLs secret fear of being swamped by others, of being unsafe in the crowd. The rural areas can eliminate the threat in a single day of organized effort, but the urbanite is in a zombie apocalypse death trap.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 11:58 am Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    “No surprise, then, that the identification of the zombie has become a critical conflict, waged across the terrain of popular culture.”

    There can’t be conflict if there is no doubt. Californians are the zombies.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 1:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Antisthenean Says:

    In his Danse Macabre, Stephen King identifies three central Tarot Cards that are elaborated in the canon of horror fiction.

    The Vampire (Dracula, I Am Legend, Alien): evil is without.

    The Werewolf (Jekyll & Hyde, Psycho): evil is within.

    The Thing (Frankenstein, Lovecraft, many zombie flicks): evil arises from forbidden knowledge.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 1:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • Scharlach Says:

    Does legitimate violence come from the Right, or the Left?

    You can tell a lot about a person by looking at, A) whose violence he excuses or attempts to explain, and B) whose violence he foregrounds as the worst of offenses.

    The murder of rural Boers fall under category “A”. Apartheid falls under category “B.”
    Apartheid falls under category “A.” The murder of rural Boers falls under category “B.”

    The butchery occurring throughout Africa right now staggers the mind—but they’re Africans. And colonialism! So the great enemy of the day is Putin, and the focus is on the (mostly) symbolic “violence” he commits against gays.

    We shouldn’t deny that the violent impulses from the Right and the Left are both legitimate insofar as both impulses emerge from real offenses against real victims. We shouldn’t deny that the anger captured by Fanon is real (not that Fanon, a wealthy college boy, had reason to be angry, but we can at least admit he spoke for the angry masses). What we should do, however, is argue that the violence of the Right is at the service of order and the violence of the Left is mindless rage. Apartheid kept South Africa stable enough to produce a strong economy; what does the murder of rural Boers accomplish? Charlie Bronson gets scumbag muggers off the streets; what does the occupation of streets with signs accomplish (thank God it didn’t accomplish in America what it accomplished in Egypt).

    The Right kills zombies in order to keep things under control. The Left kills zombies because they want to rage against an order that they don’t like.

    All of this fits in nicely with my belief that just about every human thede on earth is guilty of violence at some point in history, and so instead of denying European crimes, we should accept them but then point out that what Europeans did circa 1492 was more of the same old same that had been going on since humans met Neanderthals. This puts us in the position to ask: whose crimes—whose violence—have at least generated something civilized? The violence of the Crow-Creek massacre? The toppling of the Rhodesian whites? Or the Manifest Destiny of westward expansion in the U.S.?

    “It’s the idea only,” Marlowe says in Heart of Darkness, regarding European colonialism. It’s not pretty, but then, the world has never been pretty. At least this violence, the goal of which is order and not anger or chaos, has the potential to civilize the world at last.


    Alex Reply:

    “… historical brutality’s peak …”


    Scharlach Reply:

    I don’t think 28 Days Later was nearly as allegorical as all that.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 2:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Igitur Says:

    Just dropping something that may be of interest to the traditionalist folk (among which I do not count myself). Came up kind of by accident here.

    Kornrich, Brines and Leupp (2012) Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage (ungated PDF and money shot chart).

    Apparently, (male-female) couples in “peer marriages”, where the man picks up a larger share of “core housework”, have less sex. Linearly so along the distribution, and in contradistinction with “non-core housework”, which does increase sex frequency.

    This is Darwin talking. Not sure what he’s saying, but this is coming from the voice of Darwin.

    The key weakness in this study is that it uses a relatively old (mid-90s) dataset. But all the relevant variables are statistically significant, the whole thing is very sound. Check it out. It’s of no use to me, but…


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Thanks for that (sacramental) dose of reality.


    Posted on February 19th, 2014 at 9:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • Zombi Diaspora Says:

    Three points worth making here Nick. Firstly the zombies described by Seabrook in The Magic Island (a book, not a film, by the way) were allegedly working for the Haitian American Sugar Corporation whose operations had been threatened by anti-imperialist Haitian rebels (the Cacos) between 1912-17. The US occupation of Haiti began, in part, as response to this threat, and its ideological justification had an explicitly racialist dimension. During the occupation the marines reintroduced forced labour to the country and set about trying to eradicate the scourge of Vodou, which they identified, correctly, as having something to do with the rebels. In response the Cacos mobilized whatever myths they could about of their own supernatural powers (including stories about cannibalism and zombies). Even though Seabrook’s zombies were working for a sugar manufacturer the author failed to see them as a revenant of the horrors of the plantation system under the Code Noir. They were in many ways too ‘modern’, a reminder of the ‘soulless robots’ who inhabited the factory system and metropolis. And he was in Haiti to get his black, primitive rocks off! (Something similar happened with his mate Michel Leiris back in Paris, who took Seabrook’s book with him to Africa in 1931). Both failed to draw the correlation between the master-slave dynamics of human capital within the New World slave economy and the ‘robotic’ and ‘automated’ quality of life within modern industrial capitalism. (This has a lot to do with their primitivist fantasies about race and ‘blackness’, as Susan Zieger has pointed out in this article). Secondly, the first zombie film – White Zombie – does represent zombies as slave-workers in a plantation system but it does so as an aberrant and anachronistic gothic fantasy rather than as a contemporary reality. The zombie figure in this context operates as a way of not representing what the US was doing in Haiti at that time. Importantly the slave-master is depicted as a hypnotist zombie-maker, a figure that is as much a metaphor for the powers of mass spectacle as it is for the powers of industrial capital (in crisis). In this sense the zombie-automaton-somnambulist figure represents a subject condemned to geopolitical and historical oblivion by the combined, forces of political-economy, hypnotism and sorcery. Finally, some of the better recent writing on zombies has made use of the concepts of biopower and necropolitics. These perspectives make inroads into the question you raise about which side of the political spectrum the right to exterminate life comes from. From here race remains a fundamental issue – as do issues of political sovereignty and historical consciousness – but in ways that exceed the Right/Left dualism.


    Mark Warburton Reply:

    Hi John,

    Fan of your work. Missed your talk at GS, but a friend got me the recording. Could you let me know where I could find the Michel Leris review on Magic Island you quoted?



    admin Reply:

    Popular zombie lore has to be plugging into some far less elaborate systems of associations, doesn’t it? In particular, the kind of impulses that take people to a zombie flick — at least superficially (i.e. probably realistically) — seem to share a lot with violent computer games, not least the blissful release of morally-disinhibited slaughter. Is this “biopower and necropolitics”? Quite possibly. I’d need to follow up specific references.


    Zombi Diaspora Reply:

    For sure. I’ve been plotting the step-by-step trajectory of the zombie’s ‘transmigration’ from Haiti to here through different media platforms and in the process I seem to have become something of a zombie pedant. The transition I was referring to above was from sensationalist travel literature about Haiti to cinema in the 1930’s and 40’s, when the zombie first became a metaphor for mass mindlessness and the hypnotic power of the media. You still find the zombie metaphor used this way today, but I think you are pointing to something much more ‘evolved’ than this. The zombies that Seabrook encountered were very different to the one’s that proliferate in contemporary zombie lore. But as you rightly suggested, the ‘soul’ issue was central as it continues to be, if in a new guise. (Vodouists by the way have a dual conception of the soul, the Gros Bone Ange (Big Good Angel) – one’s astral double, something like a ghost – and the Ti Bon Ange (Little Good Angel) – an impersonal element, orientated towards the Good, that re-unites with the universal soul nine days after death. Zombi is the name given to a captured soul that has been imprisoned by a sorcerer either in a cadaver or another kind of vessel).

    There was a very important phase-shift/mutation of the zombie in the late 80’s/early 90’s that coincided with the advent of the first zombie computer games. This was also the time that Haiti became implicated in stories about the origin and diffusion of HIV/AIDS (referred to by some as ‘The Zombie Curse’). Post 90’s the zombie becomes a viral-replicant-type entity, something ‘undead’ or ‘death-like’ in our DNA that correlated with ‘a-life’, something that proliferates through blood and machines. (And as you know this formulation fits very well with the Freudian death-drive thesis). It’s diffusion through gaming platforms from then on certainly changes the zombie’s popularly perceived ontology and it has very much shorn it of many of those earlier associations. And so I agree that current zombie lore isn’t necessarily plugging into these associated histories (adding the caveat that an essential function of the contemporary zombie-meme may be to neutralize or eradicate historical consciousness).

    One could argue, given its historical origins, that necropolitics and biopower are in the zombie’s very DNA.
    And, interestingly, if we switch the convergent virus/DNA/immortal replicator rails in the 90’s and track back through the current consensus about the origin of AIDS/HIV we end up back in the biopolitical quagmire of the Congo (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5450391). I know, it’s a stretch, and I’m seriously unsure where all this ends up. But it puts an interesting spin on games like this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAohn_n0hyg.

    (Following this thread, Episode 3 of Adam Curtis’s ‘All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace’ – ‘The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey’ – is very interesting in terms of the relation between computer games, AIDS, Africa and ‘a-life’ zombies. To summarize it tells the story of the evolutionary biologist William Hamilton who thought that HIV was caused by polio vaccines, prepared in chimpanzee tissue cultures and administered to Africans between 1957 and 1960. He travelled to the Congo in 2000 in an attempt to prove his theory. Curtis draws interesting analogies between the minerals that militias in the Congo were waging war to control at that time (principally coltan, an essential element in the manufacture of digital devices like PlayStation 2 for which ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Silent Hill’, two of the first zombie-kill games, were made) and the “selfish gene” theories of Dawkins. He also shows how in the 1930‘s allogenic European myths about the racial superiority of Tutsi over Hutu peoples, supplemented by eugenic pseudo-science (Curtis) and imperial bio-politics (me), led to inter-tribal genocide after the withdrawal of Belgian rule from Rwanda in 1960. In 1967 a war broke out in the Congo between white mercenaries, supported by the major mining conglomerates, and President Mobuto’s Congolese army. (There’s a great Dian Fossey part of the story too, but I’ll leave that for your viewing pleasure).

    But, you’re right, this is a very different take on the necropolitics of zombies than the reality/pleasure experienced in their virtual obliteration.


    Posted on February 20th, 2014 at 5:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Atos and the Zombie Wars | Zombi Diaspora Says:

    […] is a slightly extended version of my response to Nick Land’s Zombie Wars post at Outside In. It coincides somewhat circuitously with the image I oversaw today in a British […]

    Posted on February 20th, 2014 at 11:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • Zombi Diaspora Says:

    Hi Mark, The review was in ‘Documents 4’ (1929). A facsimile can be found here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k32951f/f445.image.langEN. I have a translation which I’m happy to share.


    Mark Warburton Reply:

    Oh great. Yeah, my French isn’t the best. Could you send the translation to cyder534@hotmail.com? Cheers!


    Posted on February 21st, 2014 at 9:57 am Reply | Quote
  • Uriel Alexis Says:

    so, as a time-capsule: zombies have faded (just like vampires before them). current monsters are frogs (and potentially drone frogs, which makes us come back to zombies)


    Posted on September 26th, 2016 at 1:07 pm Reply | Quote
  • Guerras Zumbi – Outlandish Says:

    […] Original. […]

    Posted on March 29th, 2017 at 11:49 pm Reply | Quote

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