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.