Saturday, February 25, 2017


In my hypothesizing about zombies, I have speculated that academia would have first been interested in zombies in the 1960s or '70s. I developed that hypothesis based on these suppositions: 1) During the 1960s and '70s, zombies crossed over from the realm of the magical and supernatural into that of the scientific and materialistic. In other words, they were scientified. In the process, zombies also became politicized, or they were shambling towards politicization. 2) During that same period, zombies went from being individual slaves, subservient to their masters, to becoming uncontrollable and very threatening masses. That development also made zombies subject to scientification and politicization. The masses (also called "the people") have been of interest to leftist theorists since the French Revolution and especially since the time of Karl Marx, a materialist who claimed sympathy with the masses and considered history to be a science. I assume that to be the link between zombies as masses and the scientific/materialistic/political leftist interest in zombies. 3) In the 1960s and '70s, academia became more interested in popular culture, especially in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc., and in the various pop-culture forms of pulp magazines, comic books, mass market paperbacks, etc. That interest could have remained neutral and appreciative. Instead, it became ideological and critical. 4) During that same period, academics became more leftist in orientation, and academia as a whole began applying leftist interpretations to history, popular culture, and just about everything else you can imagine. Academics were (and are) especially interested in critical theory, which I think of as an odd marriage between Marxism and Freudianism. (One result of that marriage is politicized sex.) In fact, the "critical" part of critical theory appears to be directed almost exclusively at: a) capitalism; and b) traditional marriage, the traditional family, traditional sex roles, traditional sexual morality, and, lately, the immutable fact of biological sex. Very little else seems to exist in the imagination of the critical theorist, such as it is.

So here is my hypothesis: Academia became interested in zombies either in the 1960s or '70s. How do I test that hypothesis? Well, one way is to look at a scholarly bibliography of zombies, or what I'll call a zombibliography. Luckily, I found one. It's called "Zombie Studies Bibliography: Scholarly Research on Zombies in Popular Culture," and it has been compiled by Tyll Zybura, British and American Studies, Bielefeld University, Germany. You can find it by clicking here. The version I have is from September 14, 2016, and everything I write here is based on that version. I think Tyll Zybura should be commended for a very fine piece of work. I would like to point out that the tally and chart (below), as well as all opinions and interpretations here are my own. Any errors I have made are also my own.

There are, by my count, 528 papers and books listed in "Zombie Studies Bibliography." The earliest is from 1987. Assuming the bibliography is comprehensive or nearly so, I'm off on my prediction: 1987 is not the 1960s or '70s. But I dug a little deeper, and I found evidence to support my hypothesis, for the earliest paper listed, from 1987, is by Richard H.W. Dillard, an American poet, author, editor, and university professor. Since 1964, Dr. Dillard has taught at Hollins University near Roanoke, Virginia. From 1973 to 1980, he edited The Film Journal, and he has a special interest in film, especially genre films. In 1976, Monarch Press published Dr. Dillard's book Horror Films. I don't have this book, but I have read the back cover blurb. The text of the blurb confirms that in his book, Dr. Dillard discussed Night of the Living Dead, George Romero's seminal zombie movie from 1968. So, assuming Horror Films, written by a university professor and a well-respected member of academia, is a scholarly work, then the earliest known scholarly (vs. popular) discussion of zombies is from 1976. I'm surprised that there is nothing before that, as Night of the Living Dead has obvious political or racial connotations, but we're still early in this game of zombie historiography, or zombography.

So I tallied by year the scholarly papers and books listed in Tyll Zybura's bibliography of zombies in popular culture and then graphed them. Here are my results. They are formatted as an 8-1/2 x 11-inch sheet, hence all the white space:

The last thing a reader of weird tales wants to see is a graph or chart, but there are some interesting points or interpretations to make about this zombograph. First, academia didn't seem to care very much about zombies between 1987 and 2005. That seems to fit with another of my hypotheses that vampires were the favorite pop culture monster until they were displaced by zombies in the late 1990s to early 2000s. (My sister thinks it happened about 2005 or so.) Second, the number of scholarly papers followed a trend, rising steadily from 2006 to 2015, with three exceptions: 1) Either the number for 2008 is high, or the number for 2009 is low relative to the trend. 2) The number for 2011 is exceptionally high. 3) The number for 2014 also doesn't fit the trend, being higher than the year after it. I think I can explain the number for 2011: The Walking Dead premiered on October 31, 2010; academia then took notice of the vast popularity of the show, and the papers they wrote in response were published in the year following the premiere. (An expert on The Walking Dead might be able to explain the large number of zombie papers published in 2014. I would look for developments from 2013 or early 2014 as possible factors in the increase in the number of papers.)

In political terms, the number of zombie papers is a pretty neutral measure. If you want to know about the content of those papers, you have to read them or their abstracts. Lacking that, you can read their titles, which are in the bibliography at hand. Richard H.W. Dillard's paper, "Night of the Living Dead: It's Not Like Just a Wind That's Passing Through," from 1987, is not obviously political by its title. The title of the next paper in chronological order, however, is another story: "Night of the Living Dead: A Horror Film About the Horrors of the Vietnam Era" (by Sumiko Higashi) suggests a political interpretation. The next, from 1992, is entitled "I Shopped with a Zombie" (by Philip Horne), a paper that would seem to be about Dawn of the Dead (1978), a film that has been interpreted in political ways for its satire of consumerism.

That pattern of neutral or only vaguely political titles continued until 2006, the same year in which the number of zombie papers increased from three to seven, or more than 200 percent, and in which the current trend seems to have begun. The prize for the first overtly political zombie title (by my estimation) goes to Annalee Newitz. Actually she wins a twofer for her paper "The Undead: A Haunted Whiteness," which appeared in her own book Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture (Duke University Press, 2006). Here's a blurb from her publisher:
[In Pretend We're Dead] Newitz shows that as literature and film tell it, the story of American capitalism since the late nineteenth century is a tale of body-mangling, soul-crushing horror.
As the security device in Undercover Brother might say, "Leftness confirmed."

Since then, all hell has broken loose. Just look at these words from the titles listed in the zombibliography: homonormativity, proletariat, imperialist hegemony, multiculturalism, intersections, global capitalism, queered sexuality, capitalist futures, masculinities, fascist masculinity, gendered, queer failure, queering, gendering, advanced capitalism, zombie capitalism, queers, the queer monster, queer zombies, cross-cultural appropriations, capitalist monsters, whiteness, monsters of capital, consumerism, zombified capital, postcolonial capital, corporate zombies. I'm no expert on the topic, but it seems to me that this is the vocabulary of the critical theorist, a person whose interests, like I have said, seem to be limited to two main topics: sex--which came from Freud, I think--and capitalism--which obviously came from Marx. In their constricted vision and imagination, critical theorists (and leftists in general) remind me of the stereotypical Puritan, who sees the devil everywhere he looks. Leftism may very well be a permutation of Puritanism. It's certainly a belief system of religious intensity and with millennialist (i.e., Utopian) goals.

None of this is to say that there aren't scholarly papers of interest or usefulness in the zombibliography. There obviously are, and I would like to read some of them. But the titles of these papers indicate a leftward slant to the research and commentary on and the interpretation of zombies since 2006. That academic interest seems to coincide with a greater interest in zombies among regular people, you know, all of those deplorables who watch TV because reading scholarly journals is out of their intellectual range. That could just be an expression of the academic's natural interest in what's going in the wider world. But how much of it is political theorizing attached to the nearest object of popular interest? And not just interest but extraordinary success, including monetary success. (Those rotten capitalists.) It's as if academics, in writing about zombies, have taken an intellectual selfie to pass around among their friends: "Look at me, everyone, standing next to the phenomenon of The Walking Dead! It's rich and famous, so the fact that I'm in close proximity to it makes me rich and famous, too!" Do they think that by associating themselves with the show some of its renown and success will rub off on them? Who knows. But if that's the case, it would be evidence in favor of my hypostulatin' that people in academia write about zombies more to meet their own psychological and emotional needs than as exercises in genuine and unbiased scholarship. (One bit of evidence that the social "sciences" are not sciences at all is that confirmation bias in these fields is not only permitted but practically required.) I'll close by saying that it's too bad I have to call it hypostulatin'.  I would like to call this a hypothesis--i.e., that academics write about zombies mainly to meet their own psychological and emotional needs--but it just doesn't reach the level of a testable hypothesis. Not until we get them all on the analyst's couch, anyway. Where's Freud when you need him?

There's another zombograph on the way, so be ready for it.

Horror Films by R.H.W. Dillard (Monarch Press, 1976), the earliest presumably scholarly work on zombies that I have found to date, and then only in part. It seems to me that there would have been something before Dr. Dillard's book, but this is what we have for now. By the way, Richard H.W. Dillard married one of his students, who became Annie Dillard and who wrote an extraordinary book called Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), which won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Annie Dillard was born in Pittsburgh, a city close to where Night of the Living Dead (1968) was filmed. Her birth name was Meta Ann Doak, which fact makes me wonder if she was related to Hugh Doak Rankin, who drew pictures for Weird Tales.

Text, caption, and chart copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Uses of Zombies

In the previous series on the origins of zombies in America, I asked the question, Why zombies? I provided some possible answers, but I'm not sure that I hit the mark. There may be even deeper meanings than what I proposed.

There is something about zombies that has lodged itself in our imaginations. You could say that zombies have devoured the brains of our entire culture. Academics are especially interested in them. That's probably as it should be, for the power of the zombie story and the prevalence of zombies in our culture make the zombie a legitimate object of academic interest. So zombies serve purposes in our popular culture, but they also serve purposes in academia. My next question is this: Academics are watching us, but who's watching them? If zombie-ology, or zombology, is a study, why don't we have a meta-zombology, a historiography of zombies, or a zombography ? Academics study zombies, but why don't they study their fellow academics who study zombies? They are so ready to examine the rest of us and to look into the putative reasons why we like zombies so much. Why don't they examine themselves or their colleagues and ask the hard questions about the academic interest in zombies?

A long time ago, in Mr. Cisco's sociology class, we read a paper called "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All" by Herbert J. Gans, originally in Social Policy for July/August 1971 (pp. 20-24). The point of the article is that there is utility or positive function in poverty or in the poor. You can agree or disagree with Dr. Gans' thesis. That's not the point. The point is to ask this analogous question: What are the uses of zombies, especially in academia? Why do academics study zombies? What does it do for them? How does believing the things that they believe about zombies satisfy their needs, not only their needs for advancing their careers, seeking tenure, publishing papers, and so forth, but also their psychological needs? What does the study of zombies do for the self-esteem of the academic, for his or her need for recognition and for winning the esteem of his or her peers? How does the study of zombies or the academic's conclusions about zombies signal his or her virtue, political correctness (in both the contemporary sense and the original sense), or moral or intellectual acuity, if not superiority, again, among his or her peers? What opportunities do zombies provide the academic to carry out his or her own conspicuous moral preening before the rest of academia and before a larger society? What does it do towards confirming his or her preconceived notions about the world, human nature, human activity (including political and economic activity), and the meaning of human existence? Academics in the liberal arts tend to be caught up in Marxism and its offshoots, especially critical theory. Their focus is on a relentless criticism of capitalism. But what if we defeat their attempts at misdirection and shine the spotlight on them? What if we examine them under the microscope? Academics may see zombies as stand-ins for the supposed exploited peoples of the world and/or see the human beings in the zombie story as capitalists or fascists. But aren't academics themselves exploiting zombies and the popular interest in zombies? Are they not using both for their own intellectual, moral, economic, and political purposes? Far more significantly, are they not using zombies to satisfy their own psychological or emotional needs, especially for self-esteem? And if they are, what does that say about them?

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Voodoo on the Cover of Weird Tales

I have covered zombies on the cover of Weird Tales. Now I'll cover Voodoo and the magic and sorcery of the Caribbean, Central America, and the American South. I have five covers here, but only three are obviously about Voodoo. The first may be related to Voodoo, while the last may not be related at all.

There are still more zombie topics on the way.

Weird Tales, December 1924. Cover story: "Death-Waters" by Frank Belknap Long. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. "Death-Waters" is not explicitly a tale of Voodoo, and there are no zombies, but the black man in the story is, evidently, a kind of sorcerer with power to call forth masses of snakes. The man's power may be related to the concept of Li Grand Zombi, the serpent spirit of Voodoo folklore in Louisiana. By the way, "Death-Waters" takes place in Central America, possibly in Honduras, and not in Africa.

A few weeks ago, a reader commented on this story. I read it so that I might understand better what's going on in the illustration. I can tell you that the story and its characters are complicated. The reader was right: the man in the middle is the least sympathetic character. (He may also be a more subtle racial stereotype than appears: named Byrne, he is stubborn and quick to anger, matching what many people thought--or think--of Irishmen.) The man in the rear is more or less inarticulate. Though loyal, he's kind of a numbskull. The man in front is not what I would call sympathetic exactly (the narrator--the man in the rear--sees or believes that he sees in the black man horrible things). However, he gets into a battle of wills with Byrne and is made to heel. The snakes come to avenge his humiliation. As you can tell, this is not a simple story and definitely not a simple case of racism or racialism against black people.

Weird Tales, August 1925. Cover story: "Black Medicine" by Arthur J. Burks. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch. I haven't read this story yet, but I assume that it's about Haiti and that the figure in front is a Haitian magician or sorcerer. That would suggest that the figure in the rear is a zombie. I hope to read this story soon, so I'll let you know.

Weird Tales, March 1930. Cover story: "Drums of Damballah" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. Damballah is a god of Voodoo and may be synonymous with Li Grande Zombi. (I can't say as I don't know much about Voodoo.) The connection to snakes is evident in the illustration. Speaking of connections, I wonder if there is any etymological connection between Damballah and Allah.

Weird Tales, May 1941. Cover story: "There Are Such Things" by Seabury Quinn [?]. Cover art by Hannes Bok. According to Jaffery and Cook's index of Weird Tales, there is no cover story for this issue, but the illustration and the story named on the cover seem to go together.

Weird Tales, July 1951. Cover story: "Flame Birds of Angala" by E. Everett Evans. Cover art by Charles A. Kennedy. I don't know that this is a story of Voodoo. Published in 1951, it actually seems kind of late for the Voodoo/zombie craze of the 1930s and early '40s. But I'm putting it here until I know something different.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Zombies, Liches, Corpses, and the Undead

So far, February has been Zombie Month at Tellers of Weird Tales. I guess I'll keep it up for a while, beginning with all of the covers of Weird Tales showing zombies, liches, corpses, and the undead, plus a couple of creatures that look like they could be from among the undead. I count more than a dozen of these covers. One thing I noticed in pulling them together is that many of the undead seem to have lost their pupils, like Little Orphan Annie. If the eyes are a window upon the soul, I guess that makes sense. Anyway, the first cover is for a story by Arthur J. Burks, who may be the forgotten father of the zombie in America. I don't know for a fact that the taller of the two figures is a zombie, but once I learned a little something about Burks, the cover made sense: in front appears to be a bokor, houngan, or mambo, and in the rear, a zombie? I plan to read this story soon. When I do, I'll let you know for sure.

Weird Tales, August 1925. Cover story: "Black Medicine" by Arthur J. Burks. Cover art by Andrew Brosnatch.

Weird Tales, April 1930. Cover story: "The Dust of Egypt" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Hugh Rankin. The creature in the middle looks like one of the undead, plus he doesn't have any pupils. You have seen this cover before in the categories of Egypt and of the reaching hand, but I think it has a place here, too.

Weird Tales, January 1931. Cover story "The Lost Lady" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. Another reaching hand, and in the rear, a zomboid creature. Or maybe he's a ghoul.

Weird Tales, August 1932. Cover story: "Bride of the Peacock" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by T. Wyatt Nelson. More than a skeleton, less than alive. In my book, that makes for one of the undead.

Weird Tales, October 1936. Cover story: "Isle of the Undead" by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach. Cover art by J. Allen St. John. There's no doubt about this cover.

Weird Tales, February 1937. Cover story: "The Globe of Memories" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Virgil Finlay.

Weird Tales, October 1937. Cover story: "Tiger Cat" by David H. Keller. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. I don't know that the men in the picture are of the undead, but their eyes are blunked out, as MAD magazine put it in its parody of Pogo, so here they are. Update (Feb. 18, 2017): I have just read this story. You can read it, too, by going to this issue of Weird Tales at the website, here. As it turns out, the men in the story are not undead, and though the woman is defending herself from them, the whole situation is not what you might think. Just read for yourself. I think you'll like the story.

Weird Tales, July 1938. Cover story: "Spawn of Dagon" by Henry Kuttner. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. More missing pupils, plus the short guy in front is pretty green and seems to be past his expiration date.

How did Virgil Finlay see the future so well?

Weird Tales, November 1939. Cover story: "Towers of Death" by Henry Kuttner. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. This is a rare cover and one we haven't seen before (if I remember right).

Weird Tales, July 1940. Cover story: "An Adventure of a Professional Corpse" by H. Bedford-Jones. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. This guy wins the prize for the spiffiest corpse so far.

Weird Tales, Canadian edition, November 1943. Cover story: Uncertain. Cover art by an unknown artist. The Canadian edition of Weird Tales had its own look. You would barely know that it was the same magazine as the American edition. And some of the Canadian covers were superior to their American counterparts.

Weird Tales, Canadian edition, March 1944. Cover story: "The Valley of the Assassins" by Edmond Hamilton [?]. Cover art by an unknown artist. More blunked-out eyes. Are these men undead?

Weird Tales, July 1947. Cover story: "Weirdisms: The Vampire" by E. Crosby Michel. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye. This is actually a vampire cover, but Coye's vampire looks more like what we think of as a zombie. Coye tended to draw and paint decrepit people, but I think that with his artist's keen vision, he saw and depicted the true nature of the vampire as an evil and depraved being. People who think of vampires as cute and sexy have forgotten or overlooked that. Why do they have to be reminded that vampires are here to kill us all?

Weird Tales, November 1949. Cover story: "The Underbody" by Allison V. Harding. Cover art by Matt Fox.

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Secret Origin of Zombies-Part Six

A Wrapping for Zombies

From their origins in Africa to their transplantation to the Caribbean to their arrival in American popular culture, zombi(e)s remained supernatural creatures. They were first in print in English in the work of a British Romantic, Robert Southey (1774-1843). (1) They came to America during a period of Gothic and Romantic literature. (2) And they remained within the realm of the Gothic and Romantic into the pulp fiction era of the early to mid twentieth century. Gothicism and Romanticism trade in the supernatural, the magical, the mystical, and the irrational. For as long as zombi(e)s were supernatural and within the realm of the Gothic and Romantic, they were not politicized. Only after zombi(e)s had passed from the realm of the supernatural into that of science and materialism did they become politicized. I have not found any evidence for or example of a politicized supernatural zombie except those made in retrospect.

Zombies as we know them today are not only explained by scientific or materialistic means, they are also characterized by their moving in hordes or masses. The first scientific zombie horde that I know of was in I Am Legend (1954), Richard Matheson's novel about a mass of what he called "vampires" infected with disease. Matheson's vampires are, to be sure, only loosely zombies. They effectively became zombies by way of the inspiration they provided moviemaker George Romero, who identified his creatures as zombies and expanded on the idea that zombies are caused by disease and that they move in mindless masses. That creature, the Matheson-Romero zombie, is the one that haunts the popular culture of today. There are, as far as I know, no longer any mythological, folkloric, supernatural, or magical zombies. The zombie of today has slain all of his competitors. 

Reanimated by disease and acting as one of a mass, the Matheson-Romero zombie is the zombie that has become politicized. My guess is that--Bob Hope's quip in The Ghost Breakers (1940) aside--zombies were not and could not have been politicized until they became scientified. Again, for as long as zombi(e)s were treated in Gothic and Romantic genres, they were not political. The politicization of zombies came only after there was a scientific or materialistic explanation for their existence. This only makes sense, as Gothic and Romantic writers are generally apolitical, or at most, anti-political in their writing. (3) Once zombies were given a scientific explanation, they passed into the realm of science fiction, a genre that leans towards the political.

In their original form, zombi(e)s were solitary creatures or beings that existed on the fringes of the physical world. Even in William Seabrook's version, they were individual slaves made by one man's magic. That's not how we think of zombies today, however. Today zombies are not individuals. They are masses or hordes. They are part or can be seen as part of a social, economic, or political system. That dichotomy--the individual vs. the masses--is essentially a political idea. It gets to the heart of the argument between conservatism, which emphasizes the individual, and progressivism, which emphasizes the masses, or synonymously by its formulation, society or "the system." Here's an illustrative quote attributed to the socialist Che Guevara:

Youth should learn to think and act as a mass. It is criminal to think as individuals! 

The individual zombie is not a political unit. A mass of zombies easily can become one in the right hands. It seems clear to me that, just as zombies were not politicized until they were given a scientific explanation, so they were not politicized until they had become a mass.

There is at least one more reason why zombies have become politicized. In popular culture, the outbreak of a disease that causes zombie-ism always results in a pandemic of zombie-ism. I can't think of a single instance where the infected zombie does not infect other people, nor where one zombie does not become a horde of zombies. This is in contrast to other science-fictional diseases in popular culture. For instance, in The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson (1956), one man is afflicted and one man shrinks. Why not a whole population of shrinking people? Why not a shrinking disease that spreads throughout the world? I can't say except that in a world where some people are shrunken and some aren't there isn't much opportunity for conflict. Anyway, in the case of the Matheson-Romero zombie, there is always an apocalypse. Despite the religious origins of the word, the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic story is a science-fictional genre. I'll say it one more time: science fiction, being about the future, tends to become political.

In getting to the heart of the matter, I think that zombies have become politicized because of academia and its interests. Historically, high culture, including academia, did not treat popular culture, which would have been considered vulgar and unworthy of study. At some point, probably in the 1960s, that changed (although Gilbert Seldes, a respected critic, wrote about American pop culture in The Seven Lively Arts, published in 1924). Only after comic books, science fiction, pulp magazines, and similar subjects became of academic interest did university professors begin looking at zombies. And because academics--especially academics in the liberal arts--tend to be leftist in orientation, zombies have been spun to the left. They may be of special interest to people who subscribe to critical theory. Stephen Olbrys Gencarella appears to be one of that group.

The assertion that zombi(e)s were somehow political--i.e., representative of the relationship between the capitalist and the proletariat or between the colonial master and the colonial laborer--as early as 1900 doesn't make much sense to me, and I haven't found any evidence to that effect. Zombi(e)s were at that time still within the realm of the Gothic or Romantic. They were in fact more powerful than human beings and not inferior in status at all. Not many people--maybe no one at all--in academia, politics, or science had any interest in them. Likewise they would not have been of any interest to authors in the schools of Realism or Naturalism. (4) And the people who were interested in them--Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) and George Washington Cable (1844-1925), for example--tended to be from outside the worlds of academia, politics, and science. You might instead call them amateur ethnologists and collectors of folklore. William B. Seabrook (1884-1945) carried on in that way, as did writers and investigators after him, including Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), a folklorist and anthropologist, who traveled to Haiti and investigated its folklore (5). As for short stories and novels that mentioned zombi(e)s before and during the pulp fiction era: all that I have found so far are in the Gothic or Romantic genres of historical romance, fantasy, ghost stories, weird fiction, and so on.

Through my research, I have started to understand that zombies may actually have something to do with a historical force far older and far more powerful in the human imagination than American capitalism, colonialism, or imperialism. (Although I'll concede that zombies probably came to this country during the occupation of Haiti in 1915-1934.) Instead, I think zombies--more specifically the fear of zombie-ism--dates (proximally) from the French colonial period in Haiti and that it represents the simultaneous fears of being enslaved and of being held as a slave without end. Deeper than that, it represents the fear that, because a zombie does not die, the person who is made into a zombie will never escape slavery and will never be released into the afterlife. If that's the case, then the fear of becoming a zombie is not material or political at all but psychological, if not spiritual and existential. If that's the case, too, then zombie-ism predates American capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, circa 1900. It actually comes (proximally) from the period of the French Revolution when leftist revolutionaries in France claimed rights and freedoms for themselves while still trying to hold black Haitians in slavery. If Dr. Gencarella wants to find a historical context for the phenomenon of zombie-ism, he should forget about knee-jerk leftism and begin there. Beyond that, he should look deep into human history and pre-history, for that's where slavery and the fear of becoming enslaved almost certainly began.

* * *

People on the left sympathize and identify with the zombies and/or dislike the human characters in The Walking Dead. That seems clear to me. If they imagine that "[t]he zombie trope" in America originated in a time of capitalism and colonialism or imperialism in America, or if they imagine that the human beings in the show are fascist, do they believe that by sympathizing or identifying with zombies, they also sympathize or identify with some kind of "people's" cause? And what if zombi(e)s are not connected somehow to American capitalism, colonialism, or imperialism, or with fascism, which seems to be the case? If zombies as we know them today entered American popular culture not at the turn of the twentieth century but a generation later, what then? Even if they came from the pulp fiction era, the zombies of 1929 or 1932 or 1943 (when I Walked with a Zombie was released) were not the zombies of today. Between 1929 and 1954 or 1968 or 1978 (when Dawn of the Dead was released) and before the scientific age of zombies, they were isolated human beings reduced to slavery by force of magic. They were without mind or will, and they were subservient to their masters. They were not out-of-control masses of shambling undead seeking to rip people apart, devour their brains, and slaver over their entrails. They certainly weren't brought about by material means, i.e., by the effects of a pathogen or, as in The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), by natural, biological toxins. (6) Finally, they weren't a social, political, or economic unit waiting to be politicized.

The zombies of today are a different kind of creature. The emergence of the politicized zombie or the zombie as a political symbol coincides with the revolutions of the 1960s and '70s, not with the capitalism and colonialism/imperialism of around 1900 or even around 1929. It seems to me that academics are looking past three developments that took place in the 1960s and '70s and projecting the emergence of the politicized zombie into the historical past. The three developments in my mind are these: 1) Academia began to take an interest in popular culture in the 1960s and '70s; 2) Academia, especially the liberal arts, became increasingly leftist in orientation during the same period; and 3) Because of that, they applied leftist interpretations to everything before them, including popular culture. Have they ever considered the possibility that the mark they see is not on history? That it may actually be on the lens through which they view history?

* * *

I think that one of the reasons that so many people on the left dislike the human beings in The Walking Dead is that they see them as a bunch of gun-totin', Trump-votin', Bible-verse-quotin' deplorables. They're bitter clingers who lack college educations and live in horrifying wastelands like Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama. In The Walking Dead, the zombies outnumber the humans. They have won the popular vote. Yet the humans resist the imposition of the zombie imperative to take away everything that is most sacred to them--their individual human identity, their autonomy, their rights, their freedom, their lives. In other words, they resist literal dehumanization and a kind of metaphorical slavery. Zombies want to overwhelm humanity. Humans use guns to kill them and build walls to keep them out. They also live under a hierarchical--and arguably more traditional--social structure and resist the anarchic or nihilistic society of the zombie mob. And they recognize the truth about human existence, that we are in our nature fallen, and that in the absence of civilizing influences, we revert to savagery--that we must revert to savagery if we are to survive. The leftist, rightfully in his mind, may ask: "How dare they?"

Maybe, too, the leftist's dislike for The Walking Dead comes from its implicit refutation of leftist ideals: That human beings are fundamentally good and that they are corrupted by society (i.e., by civilization); that once traditional (or conservative or reactionary) institutions, including civilization, are overthrown, we will be ushered into a golden age in which our natural selves and relationships will be expressed; that in a state of nature, because of our natural goodness, we will enjoy great happiness and harmony with each other; and that, ultimately, the future will be golden age, a Utopia, and not a nightmarish post-apocalypse. And maybe leftists don't like the idea of an apocalypse at all because of its religious--more specifically, Christian--overtones. As I have written, the Haitian fear of becoming a zombie includes the fear that the zombie-slave is forever denied release into the afterlife and will never be permitted to return to the Haitian's own version of Utopia, Lan GuinĂ©e, the African homeland of his imagination. So maybe there is a religious or theological aspect to zombie-ism, an aspect which the leftist--being a thoroughgoing materialist or atheist--is entirely too squeamish and ill-equipped to consider. (7)

Here's another maybe for us all to think about, me included: Maybe The Walking Dead and the zombie story in general are just stories.

(1) Significantly, Southey's use of the word was in his recounting of a slave revolt in South America.
(2) As an illustration, "The Unknown Painter" first appeared in American newspapers in 1838, the same year in which "Ligeia" by Edgar Allan Poe was published. "Ligeia" is of course a tale of a bodily revenant. Some people consider it a zombie story. Although he wrote proto-science fiction, Poe was essentially an author of Gothic and Romantic works. Weird Tales, which published some of the first zombi(e) stories of the pulp era, was cast in Poe's mold. H.P. Lovecraft, the leading author for Weird Tales, was a great admirer of Poe. He, too, is said to have authored zombie stories, especially in his series on Herbert West, Reanimator. I would say that if zombie and revenant or the undead are synonyms, then maybe. Otherwise, Poe and Lovecraft wrote about two of the oldest fears we have: of death and of the return of the dead. It's worth noting that both Poe and Lovecraft used scientific or quasi-scientific methods to raise or fix life in their deadmen: mesmerism in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (1845) and injections of a serum in the Herbert West series.
(3) Romanticism and Gothicism, as reactions against the Age of Reason and the French Revolution, are especially in opposition to progressive, leftist, and rationalist ideas.
(4) Theodore Dreiser, a Naturalist author, is supposed to have snubbed William Seabrook, though not because of his subject matter but because of his personality and reputation. That's interesting in that Seabrook was essentially a Fortean, though maybe not formally. Dreiser, too, was a Fortean. He was also one of Charles Fort's best friends, if not his only friend.
(5) She was, by the way, a conservative Republican. There are stories that Harriet Tubman was a Republican, too. That may or may not make much sense, as even as a free woman she would not have been able to vote or hold public office. In any case, Harriet packed a pistol to defend herself and others from the depredations of the slaveholder and slave-hunter. So if you want to close a circle of: human beings as prey to masses of vampires (Matheson) to human beings as prey to masses of zombies (Romero) to the phenomenon of the supernatural zombie-slave based on a memory of real-world slavery (Seabrook) to real-world slave rebellions or revolutions to end slavery (the Haitian Revolution and the American Civil War) to enslaved human beings as prey to masses of slaveholding vampires, then look to Seth Grahame-Smith's novel (more accurately, gothic romance) Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter from 2010.
(6) In The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), zombies were given an alternative scientific explanation: they are caused by the use of natural, biological toxins of the pufferfish and of Datura, commonly called jimsonweed or thornapple. I have written about jimsonweed and its connection to weird fiction before (link here). I didn't mention in that article the part jimsonweed plays in the 1979 horror movie NightwingAnyway, it's not that far to go from Herbert West's serum to a cocktail of toxins as in The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Speaking of cocktails, there is a cocktail called the Zombie. It was invented in 1934 by Donn Beach, also the inventor of the postwar tiki craze. The Zombie has several ingredients, one of which is rum, which was one side of the triangular slave trade and the drink enjoyed by the rebelling zombie-slaves in "Salt Is Not for Slaves."
(7) Remember the question put to the people of the Caribbean: What is a zombi(e)? The rational Westerner was incapable of comprehending the answer because the answer is not rational. The leftist, materialist, or atheist academic of today is even more ill-equipped to understand the nature and meaning of zombi(e)s. He asks the question of himself and can come up only with a materialist explanation, more narrowly, an explanation tainted by Marxism and its relentless criticism of capitalism. In other words, to the critical theorist, zombies must have something to do with capitalism, especially American capitalism, because everything has something to do with capitalism. Here's a question to consider on the other side: What is an academic? Too often, the answer seems to be that he is an obtuse navel-gazer, a person with his mind full of theories and empty of imagination.

Poe's Ligeia in an illustration by British artist Byam Shaw (1872-1919), who died of Spanish Influenza in 1919, that pivotal year in the history of the twentieth century and of the pre-history of Weird Tales.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Secret Origin of Zombies-Part Five

Why Zombies?

I can't say that I have answered the question of when zombies as we know them today came into American popular culture, but it seems like the Internet has it right: it was in the period 1929-1932 (actually 1928-1932). One alternative to that conclusion is that there were zombi(e)s in pulp magazines before 1928, specifically in the period 1910 or 1915 to 1927. If there were, I think Weird Tales in the years 1923 to 1927 is the place to begin looking. Unfortunately, I don't have any issues of Weird Tales from the 1920s, nor do I have reprints of most of the potential zombi(e) stories. (1) I would add that if zombies came from Haiti in the 1920s, and if they represent anything in the real world, then they almost certainly represent slavery--not that the slaves themselves are zombies but that zombie-ism represents the institution of slavery and--to Haitians--the fear of being enslaved. I think that's an important distinction to make.

Everything about which I have written in this series raises other questions: Why zombies? Why are zombies so popular? Why do they seem to have some meaning deeper than that of mere monsters? Why are they so widely studied and interpreted, especially by academics? Why have they become politicized? And why do discussions of zombies raise the hackles of so many people?

I'll start with what I think is the most basic question: What might zombies represent? (An echo of the question--What is a zombie?--posed to so many Caribbean people from the 1800s into the 1900s.) The simplest explanation seems to be that zombies represent the fear of death, perhaps also the fear of the unknown, the unexplained, and whatever it is that lurks beyond the edge of the firelight. These are elemental fears. In the end, maybe all of them are apprehensions of a single mystery, that of life, death, our purpose on earth, and our place in the universe. 

On the next level, the fear of zombies may represent the fear that the dead are restless and that they will come back. That fear places zombies in the same category as ghosts, vampires, and ambulatory mummies, revenants all. It is an atavistic fear and a fear of the supernatural: I Am LegendNight of the Living DeadWorld War Z, and The Walking Dead, despite their science-fictional veneer, are fantasies that tap into ancient fears. That may help to explain their power and popularity.

The idea that the dead will come back resonates. Christianity is based on a defeat of death: Jesus Christ came back to rescue us from death, and His promise is that He will come back yet again. Pagans, too, believe in the coming-back of the dead. The pyramids and tombs of Egypt are storehouses for their return to life in some form. Even atheists must imagine a coming-back or some kind of survival beyond death. The mummified remains of their masters--Lenin and Mao--attest to the hope that they have not died. As for the people who lived under them: theirs is the selfsame fear. Religion . . . atheism . . . communism . . . politics is beginning to rear its head.

Zombies were once caused by magic. We don't have to fear magic anymore because the supernatural has been defeated by science. However, science can also cause zombies, and the fear of them today coincides with a fear of contagion, disease, plague, and pandemic. Those, too, are ancient--and reasonable--fears, and they are alive in us despite our advanced medicine. As for the political angle: science as a replacement for the supernatural can become a political idea. However, I don't think it's enough to tip the discussion of zombies into the realm of politics. I think it takes something more than that. I think it takes seeing zombies not as spirits, monsters, revenants, or people stricken with some hypothetical disease. Instead, I think it takes seeing them, the human beings who oppose them, and their collective milieu as real people in the real world of today. Now we're getting closer to the politicized zombie.

A pandemic is of course a disaster. A large enough pandemic threatens a collapse of civilization. A fear of zombies may represent a fear of the great masses of people who would be on the loose if civilization were to collapse or in the event of a global disaster or apocalypse. (A post-apocalyptic world is a positive fantasy for some and something to fear for others.) This may be the political heart of the matter, for in the event of an apocalypse, some few people will have, while great masses of people will have not, a situation approximating how some people see the real world of today. If some people have, then they can be interpreted as the so-called winners in the lottery of life. They are the few. They are the slaveholders, capitalists, fascists, first-worlders, and one-percenters, in short, the oppressors. And if some people have not, then they are the slaves, the proletariat, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the deprived, and the forgotten. More to the point, they are the many. (2)

An apocalyptic future is a political idea, too, because in the current age every future is a political idea. That's because people of certain political persuasions see the future as theirs. Here I think is their thinking: History is a science. Therefore the future is predictable, and not just predictable but foreordained. It is an extension of history and will prove a simple unwinding of history (once the opposition is removed). Because history is necessarily a history of progress, the future will be a culmination of the pageant of historical progress. It will be a grand and glorious Utopia (again, once the opposition is removed). And because of all that, the future belongs exclusively to those who believe in history. (3, 4) An apocalyptic future--especially a future in which only a few people have anything and the masses are somehow deprived--is an affront to people who believe in history and progress and who make exclusive claims to the future. It's also, of course, an affront to those who believe in material equality. That's another way that the zombie story can be--and has become--politicized, I think.

The zombie apocalypse may represent a fear of or resistance to oppression or to a loss of freedom. Leftists fear the oppression of a ruling economic class or of what they call "fascists." (We're seeing a lot of that right now.) And because leftists tend to see "freedom" as "freedom from," then material want (or envy)--the fact that one person has something and other people don't--stokes in them not fear so much as outrage. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to fear the oppression of political tyranny, whatever form that might take. They especially fear it in the form of a mob or of governments that come to power because of mobs (as in the French Revolution) or mass movements (as in the Russian Revolution). Mobs and mass movements are destroyers. Before the world can be remade and thrust into the glorious future, it--meaning civilization, its traditions, and its institutions--must be destroyed. Because conservatives see "freedom" as "freedom to," they fear mobs, the majority, and mass movements because of the offenses against order, tradition, natural rights, etc., those forces represent. Once again, these fears--from both sides of the spectrum--are represented in the zombie story, thus making it more readily politicized.

Finally, the fear of zombies may represent the fear of a loss of humanity. If you're a human being alive after the zombie apocalypse, you actually have three fears of this kind. First, obviously, is the fear of death. Second is the fear that you will become a zombie. That's a fear worse than the fear of death, because you will still live, yet you will be a mindless and soulless monster. (5) Third, you fear that the conditions of your existence will ultimately dehumanize you: that you might still be a person with a mind and a soul, and at the same time an amoral monster, just so you might live. (My sister, who loves The Walking Dead, tells me that the title of the show can actually be interpreted as referring to the human beings in the story.) Fears of dehumanization and of recruitment into a mass of men are fears that easily become political. In fact, political movements of the most monstrous kind--especially mass movements--seek those two things: to recruit everyone they can into their movement and to dehumanize and ultimately destroy everyone who resists. The institution of slavery is similar: it dehumanizes the enslaved people and always seeks more slaves.

I don't have to tell you: There is much to fear when it comes to zombies.

To be continued . . .

(1) I have nothing by Arthur J. Burks, who might prove to be the father of zombies in America. I have read "Jumbee" by Henry S. Whitehead (1926), though. At most, that story might be called a proto-zombie story. It's interesting to note that it was published in the same year that H.P. Lovecraft wrote "The Call of Cthulhu."
(2) I sense that one of the reasons why people on the left end of the spectrum (Population A) don't like the human beings in The Walking Dead (Population B) is that Population A believe that they, Population A, are being cast or characterized as zombies against their will. I can't blame them for being upset about that. I wouldn't want to be cast as a zombie, either. Maybe Population A's discomfort comes from a sense that there is an imbalance of power at work: That Population B, standing in for the creators of the show, perhaps also for the population at large, have the power to cast Population A in that role and there isn't anything that Population A can do about it. It's like when you're a kid playing a pretend game: the older kids get to be whoever they want to be, and they force the younger kids to be the less likable or interesting characters.
So Population A is upset about all of this, hence things like Sean T. Collins' article "The Shameful Fascism of The Walking Dead," posted about halfway between election day and inauguration day. He makes some interesting points about the marketing of Donald Trump to viewers of The Walking Dead. That's evidence. That's what I like to see. But then his argument loses its focus and his article ends up being about gender roles or some other thing. I know he was upset about how things turned out. I have friends who feel that way, too, and I have sympathy for them. I don't like it that they feel so sad or depressed. I would like to offer them some comfort by saying, "It will be okay." I know also that Mr. Collins and people like him see that their little Obamatopia is coming to an end after they were told that it would go on forever. They are upset and angry, and many of them throw fits, as we have seen since inauguration day. They also call names, as Mr. Collins does, not realizing that the word fascist is old. Old and worn out. They have used that word so often for so many things that it doesn't mean anything anymore. My advice: find better words, sharpen your arguments, and act like adults.
(3) One of my favorite moments in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965] is when Richard Burton laughs derisively at Claire Bloom, a communist, for her belief in "history."
(4) How many times have we heard that so-and-so is "on the wrong side of history"? How is there a "wrong side of history"? How does anyone know what is "the right side" and what is "the wrong side"? What kind of arrogance does that take to say that anyone at all knows the direction history will take or what its inevitable result will be? And what is the implication, that history will reach an end point? That, as in the book We, there will be no more revolutions? That human society will reach stasis? If so, isn't stasis ultimately conservative, if not reactionary? Isn't it actually beyond conservative or reactionary? Who then is the true revolutionary in human history? Isn't it the person who believes in freedom over stasis?
(5) This seems to be the fear of the Haitian people, who have zombies in their folklore. For Haitians, added to the fear of becoming a zombie is the fear that they will remain zombies and that they will never be released into the afterlife. They will instead be chained to their bodies-in-slavery forever. One of the ways to be released from zombie-slavery is for the zombie-slave to eat salt. Once he eats salt, he remembers that he is dead and returns to his grave.
In reference to that and the caption of the image below: If you want to find a direct link between zombies and the Haitian Revolution, read "Salt Is Not for Slaves" by G.W. Hutter, a pseudonym of Garnett Weston (1894-1948), who wrote the screenplay for White Zombie (1932). (Hutter's/Weston's story was originally in Ghost Stories for August 1931, making it one of the first zombie--zombie with an -e--stories in the pulps.) Admittedly, Hutter/Weston was a twentieth-century writer and presumably white. His story may not have been taken from life. But it has power, I think, and truth in it. It still lives eighty-five years after its first publication.
In her book The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death (2015), author Sarah J. Lauro interprets the outcome of "Salt Is Not for Slaves" as a perceived failure of the Haitian Revolution and ties it to the American occupation of 1915-1934. Fair enough. I think you can interpret the story in a different way, namely as a kind of Garden of Eden story in which the zombie-slaves are forbidden salt (equivalent to the knowledge of good and evil), and that when they rebel and partake of it, they become aware of their situation and are freed from their condition of servitude. The irony here is that, unlike Adam and Eve, they are released from earthly toil and returned to Paradise. 

A zombie horde ripping apart a human being? No, a mob of revolutionaries in an illustration from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859). If you're looking for coincidence and associations in the history of zombi(e)s, why not look at the French Revolution and its Haitian counterpart? Zombies as we know them today seem to have come from Haitian folklore. Between 1791 and 1803, Haitian slaves revolted against their French colonial masters. But wasn't the French Revolution in place by 1791 or so? Wasn't feudalism abolished in 1789? Was there not a Declaration of the Rights of Man in that same year? Was not the king deposed, then executed in 1793? If so, why were Haitian slaves not freed? Why did the French revolutionaries and after them Napoleon try to suppress the Haitian Revolution and keep black people in slavery? Why did the French, good leftists that they were, try to keep Haitians as metaphorical zombies? If the Haitian fear of becoming a zombie or of being kept as a zombie is a fear of slavery, isn't it then a fear of either a leftist/statist regime or the fear of ancient and feudal institutions of servitude? If you're going to lay zombies at the feet of a political idea or a political party in America, just whose feet are they? Would they not be those of the leftist/statist party or the party of slavery? Are those parties in America not the same party? And which party is that?

As a thin piece of anecdotal evidence: There were violent and destructive protests at UC Berkeley earlier this month. They were carried out by a leftist mob in a successful attempt to suppress free (and dissenting) speech. Among the mob was a man who said: "The cops shot me with pepper balls," adding, "It hurt." (Now there's a guy with a college education.) The people in the mob hid their identities, using instead pseudonyms--noms de protest, I guess. This man called himself Zombie.

You can read the story, "UC Berkeley Cancels Right-Wing Provocateur’s Talk Amid Violent Protest" by Michael Bodley and Nanette Asimov, dated February 2, 2017, on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, here. While you're there, take an especially long, hard look at the chicken-s--t headline that suggests that the protest was somehow caused by a "right-wing provocateur" and not by a leftwing mob and their ideology of intolerance, hatred, violence, and suppression of dissent.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley