Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kill the Rabbit

Voodou potions, hypnotism, viruses, pollution, chemical warfare, and radiation have all been responsible for creating zombies in film. In each of these cases the details of the instigation reflect the filmmaker’s cultural concerns of the moment. Zombies give us an allegory to convey ideas about power struggles. The suggestions in the context of the movie help the viewer to interpret the meaning depending on how obvious the suggestions are or how open the viewer is to understanding them. The broken man, soulless and wandering still consumes and becomes enraged. The zombie is the representation of the most banal characteristics of humanity. Its base instincts are amplified as its humanity is degraded. What applies to one broken man also spreads to all other humans portrayed in the films whether by becoming infected or by being forced into a defensive position. The setting is a broken society of apocalyptic proportion. It seems the likely antithesis to mass production is mass destruction. The strength is portrayed as the weakness. In a republic society of the people and for the people, this type of fantasy is reflecting a massive judgment. The displays of distrust among survivors vary among the films, highlighting antagonisms between classes, genders, the people and law enforcement, military, and corporate power. From the internal struggles within each man or woman to the natural limits of acquired knowledge in the face of scientific discoveries, whether it is the oppressive relationship of a couple or the tyranny of authority the horror of dead men walking and devouring the living confronts the viewer with unconscionable imagery. What may be rationalized in reality is given an artistic rendering in exaggerated unacceptable terms.

Zombies are an allegory for broken humanity because they are so thoroughly devoid of character and driven by simple instincts of hunger. They can hear lunch, but it is only within their ability to attack and consume. In film “a physical defect symbolizes an aspect of character” that is degenerate but portrayed as a metaphor rather than as a literal presentation (Norden 5). The defects of a zombie are lack of reasoning, communication, and motor skills. It is odd and sometimes humorous to see them limping along with their dead faces devoid of interest until something meaty comes along for them to focus their teeth on. In these actions, they are devoid of any human will as it is understood to set mankind apart from the animals. It is a pessimistic critique of those who lack drive and willpower or the horror of a man broken by grief or addiction. For the living, apathy is a hindrance, a drag, actualized as depression, complacency, or utter boredom until they can consume something. Worse, a man who breaks his ethics can refuse grief and live as if he is “already dead” with a latent rage waiting beneath the calm exterior (Shay 53). The zombies are instinctual and sometimes aggressive shells of men that represent those trapped in cycles of negative thought, perhaps by failure to communicate about the issues.

With this in mind, zombies also represent the difficulty of proper citizenship and the danger of the mob when it is without proper skills in critical thinking or valuable information. These “undead masses” get drawn in by charismatic speakers and prove to be dangerous enough to destroy most of everything (Waller 279). At times it is quite easy to battle the dead because of their lack of wit and motor skills, which is part of the humor found in a pathetic zombie threat. As Lev Grossman said, zombies are the “monsters of the people” that display “real American values” with their persistence (61). They keep looking to the next election; yet, many Americans struggle with their own distance from lawmakers and feel as if their voices are not heard. In the movies, the zombies are leaderless, which could be interpreted as a majority with leaders who do not listen to them.

The people create the laws with a desire to morally legislate and complicate every facet of human behavior. This consumes freedom until the weight of all the rules becomes burdensome to individuals and is expressed through apocalyptic settings and survival fantasies. The setting of an apocalyptic catastrophe has become “protocol” in the subgenre (Bishop 20). What might be a sad example of a wasted mind is multiplied by millions. Entire cities or countries are decimated except for the small bands of people trying to survive in their most basic units, which is a great loss of potential from a whole nation. These people are not just lounging on their sofas watching another episode of reality television; they are wandering around cannibalizing any living soul they come across.

The people are infected with something that ruins them, and it spreads quickly and easily. This can be interpreted as the effects of pure propaganda strategies for campaigning to the people unhindered and exacerbated by reporters’ efforts as they simplify things. The pursuit of the people to understand issues while straining under the weight of misinformation and ambiguity leaves an allegorical hollowed out version of what could be, as seen in the torn out buildings and the empty cars along the roads. For Americans who pride themselves on their citizenship the very idea that they are subject to any form of propaganda is enough to provoke a fight. Still, many people are concerned about losing the “American Dream” and have grown pessimistic about the institutions meant to protect it (Sidoti 45+). They have lost faith in the process of lawmaking and resent special interest groups and corporate influence because each time a group succeeds it means more restrictions and tighter control.

The sudden invasive infection in America’s “cultural imaginary” of zombie films causes known paths to be torn up and littered with obstructions of destruction (Natoli 73). If neither side of the argument can convince the other with facts, then the paradox collides and the cinematic protagonist finds himself or herself “pathless” (Natoli 77). Rather than addressing environmental problems already created or continuing to discuss the facts and dive deeper into particular issues, there is negativity in defense of particular policies and lifestyles. The disastrous settings and the rampant zombies can also represent the misguided American people who do not want to continue the discussion, but would rather remain in their comfort zone ranting about the media or the politicians indulging a self deprecating attitude, in an “attempt to detach oneself from potentially threatening situations” (Kaplan 100). People do not want to trade their lives for jobs that expose them to carcinogens. There are those who know the capitalist management, nor is the government always responsibly addressing hazardous pollution adequately for its employees or neighbors; yet, they “keep quiet” and “just live” (Cain 40+). Apocalyptic fantasies of running amuck allow viewers a cathartic vicarious romp where they can smash in the heads of all those puppets between them and the puppet master. In many of these movies they do not even approach the corrupt headman; their resolution is survival.

The survivors in the films are placed in a defensive position, forced to fight or run, kill or be devoured. They must struggle for control of their emotions and their environment. In Planet Terror (2007) as the infecting green gas trickles away from the military unit that is both its victim and its instigator, it causes chaos in the hospital. When El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) arrives with recently attacked Cherry (Rose McGowan) without her leg, the police chief questions him with distrust. As their environment descends into utter horror, the chief cuffs him and will not allow him his own gun in complete contrast to his inept deputy who shoots an uninfected patient and eventually the chief himself. There does come a point in the film, directly after the “missing reel” that the chief apologizes to him and tells the others to “give him all the guns” as if he just discovered he was a reputable marksman. Society tends to struggle with a desire to have clear distinctions between those who are to be trusted and those not to be, but it’s not that simple.

Cherry experiences her own internal power struggle by starting out dissatisfied with life, crying on stage as the epitome of the exploited woman. She is negative and has no faith in herself. It takes the pressure of battle to bring her together with Wray and for her to discover her own worth, effectively escaping her cycle of negativity. She loses her leg and covers her head with a sheet, but Wray comes in an says, “So!” thrusts a wooden table leg onto her metal stub and leads her out the door without carrying her. Later she breaks that leg in a would-be rapist’s (Quentin Tarantino) eye, so Wray replaces it with a machine gun so she can lead them away from the quarantine and towards freedom.

In Planet Terror, Dr Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) is clearly trying to get out of an oppressive marriage with Dr William Block (Josh Brolin), who behaves with malicious paranoia. After discovering her messages with her girlfriend, he numbs her hands with her own syringes (anesthetic she has been using to help with the amputations) and locks her in the closet. Her husband displays no empathy as a doctor and gets smeared with the contagious abundant pus by an infected patient. Already a monster, he fights his infection and continues to follow her. Dakota must break free and run away with her numb hands until she can find allies to protect her. This is a horrific metaphor for any woman (or gay person) breaking free from a controlling husband (or tradition) who allegorically ties the hands of the wife with intimidation and isolation while he uses her own words against her.

In Resident Evil (2002), Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakens with amnesia along with her husband Spence (James Purefoy). Rather than being led down a rabbit hole by the white rabbit, she is escorted by a black clad security team of her employer down a tunnel to the Hive where the computer system dubbed the Red Queen has “taken measures” to keep the infection from spreading. When Spence steals the virus and breaks it open, the Red Queen locks down her facility and kills everyone who worked there to protect the outside world. The workers become a danger when the team reboots the system to unlock the facility. Alice and Spence slowly remember their marriage is a cover for their roles as gatekeepers for the Hive, an underground facility of the Umbrella Corporation. Their wedding rings explicitly state, “Property of Umbrella Corp”. Alice’s desire to bring evidence of the illegal research to light comes to her husband Spence’s attention, and he beats her to the punch. Both meant to betray their employer, Alice for truth and Spence for money. They struggle for control of the virus and the antidote as they fight for survival. Unlike the virus in Planet Terror that was its own addictive antidote slowing the process, the Umbrella Corp. was performing a range of tests complete with an antidote that may work if received soon enough. There is lack of communication between specialized sections within the corporation specifically kept unaware of what the other sections were doing with a totalitarian myopic control. This is another allusion to the negative aspects and strength of industrial efficiency and corporate interests overcoming the individual. What makes the corporation strong makes a formidable opponent to those fighting to survive.

Both Planet Terror and Resident Evil have the cause of the zombie infection beginning with military applications, a reflection on the bad science attracted by a highly militarized society. The people are infected to find a cure and those who are not infected are the solution. In Resident Evil; Apocalypse (2004), the scientists experiment on people infected to look for a cure, to gain control over them, and to build ultimate fighting machines. They quarantine the city and shoot anyone who tries to leave showing their level of control and sadistic willingness to create a game out of life. In Extinction (2007), the scientist has a zombie chained down and offers him a phone, a camera, and then shapes to fit into the proper holes. They are thrilled that the zombie is retaining some intelligence until he can’t fit his block in the hole and erupts, breaks free, and tries to eat them. Their zombies are faster and far more focused. The same could be said for modern warfare with focused bombings. This allusion illustrates the concern of the negative consequences of bad intelligence, communications, and potential eruptions from veterans after they have served, especially if they have broken their ideas of what is morally right (Shay 20).

Similar to Cherry’s success over the militarized quarantine due to her automatic weapon augmented leg, Alice becomes superhuman and only escapes the all-seeing eye in the sky surveillance system because of her will-power over their brain implant. In complete contrast to the militarized Umbrella Corp that treats people like cattle in a corral or a soldier as a replaceable unit, Alice is a caring compassionate person who appears both small and vulnerable when she awakens in their lab naked and strapped to machines. By the end of Extinction Alice becomes the “champion of the White Queen” just as Tim Burton’s Alice does (Aikens 31). She is ready to continue the fight against the Umbrella Corp that can replace leaders as soon as they are conquered. If Tim Burton turned Alice from a wonderer into a warrior that would conform to a man’s world of “capitalism and military force” then Paul W. S. Anderson molded Alice to fight for freedom against the behemoth power of corporate manipulation and authority (Aikens 31).

A common task of the zombie survivor is to kill someone they know who has turned into a zombie. In Resident Evil Alice kills her husband after he makes it clear he is in charge as he takes the virus and offers for her to come with him to reap the rewards of big money. Everyone in the hive is dead, most of their team is gone, and Spence gestures at Max (Eric Mabius) who had sent his sister into the hive as a mole to expose the truth about the corporation. He asks Alice, “Do you think people like him are really going to change anything? Nothing ever changes”. He views the world in a negative light, and she stands strong against him to the end holding hope for Rain (Michele Rodriguez), the witty loyal woman at arms that had been bitten and was changing. She waits until Rain is trying to eat them before shooting her in the face. Having to end someone who becomes an enemy is a monstrous reflection of intense isolation. The warrior must struggle with her own feelings and it forces the viewer to reflect on the struggle in an emotional way.

As zombie movies reach a peak of popularity, so does the country’s anxieties over personal freedoms being devoured. This is portrayed in a scene towards the end of Extinction when the infected Carlos (Oded Fehr) sacrifices himself by blowing himself up in a truck to clear a path for Alice into the facility. Smiling, he lights up the last cigarette, and the zombies all gather around the window to devour him. Fighting for freedom requires a balance between personal happiness and responsibility to others, an ever present struggle because there are people lined up with ideas for rules of what is right to impose on others’ efforts to pursue their own happiness. The zombies represent both the efforts of the majority to rule and the effects of the few on the majority through infection. There are those who would exploit the fears of others without compassion as an antagonist, but freedom and liberty whither under fear. In each of these movies the heroine can be interpreted as the personification of freedom, versions of Lady Liberty. The worker, the doctor, and the protector all have to struggle to survive through scenery of mass destruction as they battle the dead multitude. The abundance of negativity has to be overcome by making connections with compassion.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Under the Nail

Martin Luther King Jr wrote a profound letter from Birmingham jail that could be intrinsically applied to curb violence in our personal lives; because often it is the ultimate act of competition, confusion, and fear, whether it is random or organized. We have to analyze ourselves and our problems to find the conflict’s details along with how to best cope with our situations. I would like to believe in men as he did when he said, “none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analyses that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes”. Violence runs in cycles, or you could say men run in circles of violence. Power is granted, and men continuously grant themselves the power to commit violence, especially for the sake of survival. The problem is that it usually goes far beyond essential survival.
As someone who has experienced domestic violence, I have seen the confusion build and the violence erupt. I have been taught that this stems from our lack of self-worth. What we lack in some areas, we try to make up for in force. So it seems the less worth man has for self, the less he has for others. Reflectively, the low worth we place on others reduces our own, creates confusion, and an inner turmoil of chaos that needs re-organization of perceptions for competent communication and effective collaboration. At this point of descending a downward spiral of fear, we lash out for something that will be effective. We grant ourselves an illusion of superiority with power and force to wield. People can be so driven by the simple need for power and grant themselves permission to have power over others until it is common for violence to be acceptable.
There is now a contradiction of acceptability for violence that rests on circumstances. Society lacks a good example of acceptable and unacceptable violence. The most acceptable violence is that which is essential to survival. If someone is being attacked, then it is generally permissible to forgive the person who defended himself. Yet, our government whether police or military is showing society a bad example. Our military has been used for decades now to go to foreign lands and “protect our interests”. This is allowable forcible competition. People understand this and do not hold fighting men in high regard anymore, and men come back feeling used and misled by perpetuating force and injustice. I have heard them compared to mercenaries. It is interesting to note that gangs who shoot up homes are usually protecting their interests on a smaller scale of allies and business, but they are considered criminals. What is allowable for one group is deemed illegal for another group. What we learn about ourselves in individual circumstances should apply on the larger scale of society as well.
There are conflicts and confusion even in well educated people who try to address issues, especially when we have contradictory ideologies, but saddest of all is purely relentless power-driven dominators who simply act on their own whims simply for their sick pleasure and intoxication of power. It is the existence of people like this that require us to defend ourselves so that we can protect ourselves from the imbalance of tyranny. We should not be allowing our fighting men and women to be used for mere competition, for reasons beyond essential survival. It is mentally damaging and spiritually degrading. As King said we are all, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny”. The ill effects of war ripple through this fabric and touch us all, bringing down fathers, families, and lives. It will weaken us until we can no longer react to threats with a superb quality.
The times have changed so much, that our ancient warrior class probably would not even recognize the new one. In ancient days, the men gathered to play games of strength and prove themselves. These would be the same men who were going out to defend the glen from raiders from their neighboring kingdom. Now, the games are hype and entertainment. It may give them a way to express their desire to compete, but it gives an example of power and force for no reason at all except for vanity and pride. It is hollow compared to men who gather to protect their families. Somehow I doubt that those who are fighting for an audience are training for honorable defense. We do not even allow dogs to fight legally for an audience. People get disgusted by that, but dogs were bred for protection against wolves and bears. They say that the dogs have no choice, but deny the dogs their instinctual protective drive to fight. It is a crime to choose to fight outside the ring; yet, it is allowable within the ring. It becomes cold and calculated; an exploitation of men’s inherent protective drive. The same people who call out exploitation of women in a strip joint might be fans of the ring-fighters without seeing the parallel.
I think the worst part of violence is the dishonest game of conflict under a guise of betterment. I did not experience violence as bad as others have. It was the overpowering force and threat that was meant to make me feel inferior that was tyranny. So when I see violence in entertainment, I want to see the tyrant overthrown, the liberation of people, and the strength of protection. I get offended by the illusions and the games. I think our military should be at home training and helping the people here, waiting for that essential-to-survival fight. I cannot help but be sad for the young boys who wish to test themselves by fighting and end up in jail instead, where ironically they end up fighting for their lives. I have met men who joined the military just so they could go kill people. Even in war there is protocol and punishment for breaking the law. Sending them over there, arming them, and expecting minimal eruptions is like a game. It is like a woman who knows her husband will beat her, yet flaunting infidelity in his face. It is a challenge and an act of superiority.
Some people that turn towards violence are following their natural instincts of competition and/or protection. After someone gets into trouble with the law for violence, then they get educated through counseling. I sat in with an anger management group once and discovered that these people are experiencing a continuous invalidation of their approaches and feelings. Some of them do not even admit to anger so they do not get reprimanded. To simply say that anger or violence is never allowable is incomprehensible to many people. It is part of our nature. King also points to history and notes that there is an underlying threat that people will become violent “if his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways”. If people are continuously fed an illusion of inferiority based on their personality and choices then they will strike out.
These offenders may learn better coping skills and channels for competition if they could have a better support system. We need to be prepared for adversity and antagonism from others by practicing a calm mind for reasonable debate. I think the best way to do that is to start practicing debate and competent communication skills with each other as children. It is not enough to tell everyone they are special without discovering their personal qualities. People need to explore their minds and find better ways to collaborate and channel energy. Many people may believe that communication skills are part of our parents’ responsibilities, and they are right; however, this violent society is our heritage. The only way to break the cycle is to take a new approach and allow intellectual studies of interpersonal communication to be cultivated in our youth so they can grow into the lives of everyone. The use of statistics can be a powerful thing, especially to tear down stereotypes and analyze our differences. We have to challenge ourselves to be flexible with our perceptions of each other and our own motivations. We often do not realize the incompetence of being defensive or acting superior. There are many social workers overworked for this very reason.
As I analyze my own personal experiences with violence and power, I am interested in how the guidance for individuals can be applied to groups. I can only hope that an assessment of our beliefs and actions can lead us to solving conflicts without violence and intimidation. While espousing the tenet of equality among all men, it is still an acceptable form of competition to force ideas on people which is hypocritically perpetuating illusions of superiority and inferiority. The cycles of violence will continue with eruptions of those who feel repressed. Conflicts are an inevitable part of human existence that needs energy and attention, but we should have a clear view of who our enemy is. Like Martin Luther King Jr’s struggles against the idea of racism; we should confront the idea of violence by discussing it and challenge the attitudes and beliefs that stubbornly hold onto the privilege of granting power to force the looming illusions of superiority.