Sunday, October 26, 2014

Zombies, gangsters, and sideshows

I'm finally making good on one of the topics I promised last week, but copped out on when I posted World Series Music--Lorde's 'Royals' vs. They Might be Giants' 'San Francisco'--entertainment leftovers from the past month's Overnight News Digests.*

Before I serve the leftovers from campuses on the campaign trail, I present this appetizer from Cracked, which explains 4 Ways Terrible Zombie Movies Foretell the End of Society so I don't have to.
#4. Zombie Movies Explained the Horrors of Our Society ... Until They Stopped

[Z]ombie stories get me every time...[b]ecause they're a story where our monster plays like a societal problem. Zombies are an insistent and dramatically useful malevolent force you can plan against...[I]f you're facing a corrupted mob of fellow PTA members operating in ways that can be scientifically studied like a sociological phenomenon? Time to grab some guns and potable water, and find out if your personal politics are compatible with the real world.

I can't defend any non-pilot episode of The Walking Dead, but damned if their third season poster tagline doesn't sum up what makes zombie movies worthwhile. Fight the dead, fear the living, and find out what makes society work and what's killing it in the process. George A. Romero formatted the whole genre that way: an implacable zombie epidemic pushes the surviving members of society to face their racism or consumerism or municipal governing corruption, and they either survive by fixing it or die instructively.
#3. We're All Convinced Society Is Screwed
[W]hat's worse than our disagreements (and what's magnifying them) is that we're sure our only problem-fixing apparatus is broken. If Congress doesn't work, and capitalism is robbing us blind, maybe Western, free-ish market democracy doesn't work. But if we re-elect that democracy's leaders every chance we get, and we don't have any better social arrangements in mind, and our favorite new levers of change like Occupy-ing and the Internet and hashtivism don't accomplish anything ... well, shit. Are we really out of ideas?
#2. If We Invented a Way to Save the World, We'd Work It Into the Next Great Zombie Movie
Zombie fiction can work the same way. It's basically science fiction already, just instead of (or in addition to) future technology changing our lives, it has got future biocatastrophe turning us into Earth/space's rough-and-tumble badasses. And biocatastrophe is the perfect sandbox for SF-prototyping new social models.
#1. What's Left of Zombie Movies Casts Us as the Zombies
These days, every one of us is changing the world! As long as a sluggish horde of other people are in lockstep with us...[I]f anything, our undead mob is good at entertaining itself. And maybe it'll start to demand better entertainment from the artists making today's zombie epics.
I couldn't have said this better myself.  Thank you, Cracked, for showing how humor is good at telling the truth, especially these days, when the comedians are sometimes the only ones who dare to do so.

Follow over the jump for entertainment news from campuses on the campaign trail, including more on zombies.

I'm not through with zombies, as the University of Kansas describes how Zombies and Day of the Dead help class explore ideas of death, living dead.
Images of rotting, flesh-eating zombies familiar to fans of "The Walking Dead" are far removed from the Haitian folklore that inspired the term. But the different Hollywood and Haitian versions of zombies are an example of how different cultures interpret ideas of death, dying and the afterlife.

Through cultural concepts such as the Haitian zombie and Mexico's Day of the Dead, Peter Haney, assistant director for the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kansas, explores with students the circulation of ideas about death and death-in-life in the Americas in a course titled “Life, Death and the Living Dead."

“We are interested in how ideas like the zombie and the Day of the Dead move across borders and how they change as they move,” Haney said.

Linked to beliefs brought by African slaves, the Haitian version of the zombie is of a soulless, walking corpse under the control of a voodoo master. It’s a concept, Haney said, that can be viewed as an allegory for slavery.
The very different zombie widely portrayed in popular culture today begins with the 1968 movie “Night of the Living Dead.”  After 1968, a year of crisis and popular upheaval all over the world, zombies in American culture lost their exoticism and no longer followed orders of a master.

“I think we have come to associate zombies so closely with movies inspired by ‘Night of the Living Dead’ that after the '60s, the word zombie for Anglo-Americans lost its connection to Haiti, although there is still a strong current of exotic literature that makes its way into anthropology journals, men’s magazines and other media,” Haney said.
About the only example of a Haitian-style zombie I've seen in recent entertainment was in "Grimm," where there was zombie master who had magically enslaved and transformed a bunch of people.  However, they still behaved like the American-style rampaging mob.

The rest of the article covers The Day of the Dead, which looks like something I should return to later.  I haven't written much about that part of my trip three years ago, instead focusing on eating bugs and encountering interesting reading.  It might be time to talk about a holiday that is equal parts Halloween and Mardi Gras, with uniquely Mexican elements composing the rest.

The University of Kansas has more to say about entertainment in Researcher studies a century's worth of gangsters in film, TV, which isn't post-apocalyptic, but does bear on something I mentioned in Crime and injustice among the Oscar nominees, criminality is part of who we are as Americans.
From Rico of “Little Caesar" to Nucky Thompson of “Boardwalk Empire," a University of Kansas scholar has studied Americans’ fascination with gangsters in film and television.

The gangster genre allows audiences to experience an inversion of the American Dream, said Ron Wilson, a lecturer in the Department of Film & Media Studies.

“It’s an American success story, but it’s not part of the Puritan ethic of perseverance and working hard. The gangster circumvents that by illegitimate means,” Wilson said. “But the whole crime doesn’t pay metanarrative still applies. You don’t expect the gangster to become completely successful. We expect some kind of retribution for his activities.”

In December, Columbia University Press will publish Wilson’s book “The Gangster Film: Fatal Success in American Cinema.” Wilson’s book covers nearly a century’s worth of gangster films from “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” a 1912 silent film that was the first of its kind, to Martin Scorsese’s classic “Goodfellas.”

Along with the inversion of the American success story, Wilson claims that Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque is appropriate to the analysis of the gangster in American culture. Often, gangsters live in a “topsy-turvy world,” Wilson said. The genre features imagery of overconsumption, such as the wedding banquet scene at the start of “The Godfather” and sites of debauchery, such as the nightclub Bada Bing in the “Sopranos.” The Prohibition Era, the setting for many classic gangster films, epitomizes a time of misrule and indulgence.

“You have these tropes that identify the gangster as a transgressor, which we can vicariously experience without becoming a gangster ourselves,” Wilson said. 

Among the gangsters that Wilson has studied closely is Nucky Thompson of “Boardwalk Empire,” which is set in Atlantic City during Prohibition. Nucky is based on real-life political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. The critically acclaimed HBO show is in its fifth and final season and will end Oct. 26.
That's today.  Farewell, Nucky Thompson and Prohibition-Era Atlantic City!

Next, an article from Illinois State University that ties into themes of the grotesque as well as a show I've mentioned before, American Horror Story, which this season takes place in a sideshow: New exhibit, talk explore circus sideshows.
From bearded ladies to conjoined twins, a new exhibit at Illinois State University’s Milner Library explores the spectacle of the circus sideshow, and the need of the “normal” to observe.

The new exhibit, One Of Us: Sideshows, Freaks and the Unexplained, runs from Monday, Oct. 27, to Friday, Dec. 12, in Milner Library’s Special Collections on the sixth floor.

To highlight the exhibit, Illinois State doctoral student Kate Browne – who studies disabled women’s life writing, circuses and sideshows – will give a talk titled What You Can Tell by Looking: Disability, Language, and the Power of Description at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, on the sixth floor of Milner Library. Though from our youth we are taught not to stare at those who are different, Browne will explore how not acknowledging bodily difference prevents adequate language practices to describe bodies.

The One Of Us exhibit, assembled by librarian Alexis Wolstein, looks at the long history of biological rarities and oddities that have commonly been thought of as “freaks of nature,” and the desire of the so-called “normal” audience to stare in awe at bodily differences.
I have more entertainment leftovers, but I'll keep them in the freezers to heat up and serve on another Sunday.  In the meantime, enjoy tonight's finale of "Boardwalk Empire," along with shows more on topic for this blog such as "The Walking Dead," "Resurrection," and even "Once Upon A Time."  I know my wife and I will!

*Gamergate deserves mention, but I'm having trouble putting something coherent together.  The Gamergaters remind me of the douchebags I described in Recycled comments about the men's rights movement.  I didn't like them the first time I ran into them and I like them even less now.  As for college bands doing zombie marching band shows, that's one that I'll save when I feel like mailing a post in.  It's easy, fun, and popular.

No comments:

Post a Comment