The culture of poverty and zombies

Foto: Sargasso achtergrond wereldbol

zombieSince apparently, the culture of poverty argument (AKA: let’s blame the poor for their poverty based on their “culture”, meaning, they’re lazy, promiscuous, violent and lack self-control in temper, food and sex), I think The Real Doctor Phil has a point when he analyzes the zombie movie genre as reflection of bourgeois fear of the working class (”classes laborieuses… classes dangereuses!”):

“Despite burying the Soviet Union and having things their own way for 30 years (at least in Britain and the US), the end of history has proven to be a period as uncertain as any other. Far from ushering in a von Hayekian utopia, capitalism has been rocked to its foundations by a financial crisis few of its apologists saw coming. Keynes has been dug up and reanimated to get things going again, but at the same time the spectre of Marx has been disturbed and has taken to haunting their imaginations. On the one hand there’s the geopolitical challenge represented by the Chinese (communists!). And on the other the declining salience of mainstream political parties, the retrenchment of irreverence, and the uncertainty around the character popular opposition to the cuts will eventually assume make the dangerous classes … well … dangerous again.

Zombies as a horror staple are the result of some unfathomable biological or supernatural crisis that cannot be reversed. They are mindless. They are faceless. They are ugly. And they want to invade your home and feast on your flesh. If this does not work as an allegory for bourgeois attitudes to and fears of the working class, I don’t know what does.


But at the same time zombies offer an opportunity for asserting superiority, mastery, contempt, and individuality against the mass. Zombies are slow and stupid. Humans are quick and intelligent. Zombies are limited by their reach. Humans can use all manner of weapons. Provided they are not swarming in great numbers, humans run rings around them – lopping off a limb here, beheading another there, removing their teeth, chaining them up, what fun can be had! And all without a troubled conscience too.”

Which, of course, is highly reminiscent of the extensive torture visited upon non-White people by US / UK forces and their allies during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. After all, zombies are a physically distinct bunch: not white (grey-ish and decomposing), grotesque looking and moving. They have the characteristics of the stereotyped poor: immediate gratification, mindless drive for bodily satisfaction (Braaaaiiins), shiftlessness and dumbness. Dehumanized in such a way, they can be killed in large numbers without concern.

As Phil notes, the surviving humans are the neoliberal individuals, surviving on their skills and wits. Unlike the zombies, the survivor plans ahead, waits for the right time to take care of his business and exercises restraint and cautions.

But there is another dimension to this. As Phil notes, zombies are created by catastrophes. The zombie genre is related to the disaster genre. And the disaster genre is heavily gendered. Think 2012, or The Day After Tomorrow, or the Tom Cruise version of The War of The Worlds, The Road, Mirrors. In all of these movies, the main character is a man who has lost his patriarchal status of leader. Look at Cruise or Cusack at the beginning of the film: their speech patterns and body language is defeated. They get humiliated by their ex-wives, outclassed by the men they have married and their children do not respect them.

But when disaster strikes, social norms collapse and this is their opportunity to reassert their patriarchal status by saving their wives and children. The new husbands conveniently die so they can reclaim their wives. Men can be real men once society lets them (by collapsing).

It is the society where women have options (to dump men and pick others) that has put them down. Once the feminized civilization has collapsed, then, these men reclaim their uncontested place. And every gender category regains its rightful place, women submitted to men’s leadership.

Zombies are non-gendered, they are an amorphous mass, with no order, no leadership, just a mindless, valueless bunch, driven by biological urges. Invariably, in the group of survivors, one or more men will take the lead (after some grumbling and male competition), by some feminine assistance. Militarized order and disciplined hierarchy will win the day.

So, white, de-classed straight men get to reclaim their patriarchal privilege once “unnatural” and illegitimate social norms that emasculated them (and led to collective disaster) have been eliminated. The responsible father and husband then steps in to restore the “natural” order, based on the patriarchal family, willing to sacrifice himself for his family. Zombies (and panicking crowds) are the opposite of all that.

The enemy then is no longer, as Phil noted, the zombie-as-communist but the zombie-as-irresponsible poor (you know, the ones who to took out mortgages they couldn’t afford because they did not plan ahead and went with their impulse).

Global Sociology Blog, SocProf (@socprof)

Reacties (7)

#1 KJ

Ja, dit soort redeneringen zetten we zelf ook graag op toen we nog op de kunstacademie zaten. En een lol dat we hadden ! Een beetje jammer alleen dat erop schieten zo weinig zin heeft, met al die gaten die er al in zitten.

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#2 Tjerk

Two taps to the head and it is dead.

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#3 Arduenn

Met andere woorden: het wordt tijd dat Angelina Jolie eens de hoofdrol speelt in een zombiefilm?

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#4 Martijn ter Haar

I think The Real Doctor Phil has a point when he analyzes the zombie movie genre as reflection of bourgeois fear of the working class

Duh. Especially Romero’s Land of the Dead drives this point home with a sledge hammer.

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#5 Henk Daalder Windparken Wiki

De zombie als medewerker in een groot bureaucratisch bedrijf dat aandeelhouders waarde ver voorop stelt.

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#6 knelistonie

@1 Kunstacademie ? Kom kom, dit is pure Theoretische Westerse Sociologie. Of misschien wel Politieke Sociologie. En anders wel Filosofische Sociologie van het Westen. #leerstoelwoordenbrij

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#7 MaxM

Bla bla, hands of the zombie, wanker.

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