Zombies and the State


Horror Film as Neocon Fantasy


by Ryan McMaken

Recently
by Ryan McMaken: Pat
Buchanan on National Unity



World
War Z
(2013), Directed by Marc Forster

In his book
on popular culture, The
End of Victory Culture
, Tom Englehardt identifies a narrative
employed in film he dubs the annihilation narrative. In films
where this narrative is employed, hordes of hostile savages lay
siege to a fortress inhabited by a virtuous population of defenders,
generally portrayed by white people. The set-up might also take
the form of a traveling band of innocents who are constantly in
danger of an ambush from hostile mobs of brown-skinned savages.
As Englehardt notes, this narrative of besieged freedom fighters
versus the dusky hordes has been

…[f]eatured
in thousands of movies, [and] its prototype was certainly the
band of Indians, whooping and circling the wagon train, but
“they” could be Arabs charging the North African fort
(Beau
Geste
), Chinese rushing the foreign legations (55
Days at Peking
), Mexicans rushing the Alamo (The
Alamo
), Japanese banzai-ing American foxholes (Bataan),
or Chinese human-waving American lines (Retreat,
Hell!
).

Obviously,
in 2013 it would be politically incorrect to portray white conquerors
mowing down non-whites (although that’s still sometimes okay to
do with Muslims), so we turn to the undead as a stand-in for the
unwashed hordes who threatened us in the days of yore.

Zombies are
convenient, of course, because they are not necessarily specific
to any particular race or culture, and modern viewing audiences
don’t regard the human bodies being mowed down as truly human.

And yet extremely
similar political messages can be transmitted by employing a zombie
apocalypse plot as with an old fashioned tale of white victory
over savage natives. The heroes today, however, are no longer
necessarily white people, but are nevertheless agents of what
white people traditionally represented in 20th century
film, namely, order, civilization, safety, and enlightened rule;
and these things were in turn provided by the nation-state and
its army of military and scientific experts.

World
War Z
excels in spades at employing these old models of the
annihilation genre, and its overall message can be summed up thusly:
we are threatened on all sized by hideous hordes of invaders,
and if it weren’t for the government, we’d all be dead.

The movie
opens with a series of images of disasters, famines, mob violence,
disease epidemics and similar imagery. The overall effect of this
is to convince the viewer that things are spinning out of control,
and we are left wondering what can impose order.

Shortly thereafter,
through the eyes of Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) we learn that Philadelphia
(where Lane and his family reside) is being overrun by apparently
zombified humans.

With the
help of the U.S. Navy and Gerry’s friends at the U.N., he is able
to escape to an American aircraft carrier where we learn that
Gerry is a former U.N. investigator and that he must now take
up his old responsibilities to learn the origins of the zombie
disease in hopes of stopping it.

Gerry is
flown to South Korea, a suspected place of origin of the disease,
where he is protected by Navy SEALS and where he learns from a
rogue CIA agent that he may learn more if he takes his search
to Israel, where the Israeli state is effectively fighting off
the zombie invasion thanks to its garrison state.

Gerry also
learns that North Korea is perhaps the one society that has effectively
contained the zombie disease by knocking out the teeth of all
23 million of its inhabitants in a matter of days. Apparently,
zombies that cannot bite you cannot infect you.

Gerry travels
to Israel where he finds Jerusalem surviving the apocalypse thanks
to all the walls it has built to contain the Palestinians. The
images of safe and free non-zombies protected on all sides by
fortress-like walls from a crushing mob of savage zombies, reminds
the viewer that the garrison state has many advantages. Indeed,
the more segregated and controlled a society is, the better.

However,
lacking the hard-core totalitarianism of the North Koreans, even
Israel eventually succumbs to the hordes, although not without
a valiant and courageous fight put up by the highly-competent
Israeli regime.

With the
help of the U.N., the U.S., Navy, The W.H.O., and a tough-as-nails
female Israeli soldier, Gerry is eventually able to devise a solution
that will finally allow the survivors to fight the zombies on
relatively equal terms.

In the final
scenes, thanks to government airlifts and interventions, ordinary
people are able to avail themselves of this government-provided
cure and perhaps overcome the invaders.

It is somewhat
difficult to overstate how profoundly authoritarian and statist
is World War Z, and the film employs many of the Cold War-era
narrative elements that instructed viewers to trust and rely on
government experts and military might while regarding the general
population as nothing but a faceless, helpless mob.

Thus, we
see in World War Z some similarities with 1950s UFO films
in which government scientists and military personnel are our
last great hope, all wound up together with war movies or the
same era portraying Japanese, communist, and Arab invaders crushing
in upon outposts of (usually American) civilization.

At the same
time, the film, while employing zombies as a plot device, is essentially
a movie about a disease pandemic like Outbreak
(1995) and The
Andromeda Strain
(1971) and as such, the heroes in World
War Z
are the official state forces who seek to contain the
disease in the face of a clueless or panicking populace.

It should
be noted, by the way, that zombie films need not employ these
narratives. Numerous zombie films and television shows, such as
Night
of the Living Dead
(1968) and The Walking Dead
(2010- ) imply instead that survival is assured by localized resistance
or small bands of survivors who rebuild society in the new world.
In such cases, the central government is often nothing more than
a far-off and irrelevant memory.

In World
War Z
, however, the sheer aggression and numerical advantage
of the zombies makes it pretty clear that total destruction of
the human race will be at hand without the efforts of Gerry and
his friends in high places.

Copyright
© 2013 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or
in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Republished with permission from: Lew Rockwell