Our Zombies, Ourselves: Exiting the Foucauldian Universe in George A. Romero's Land of the Dead

By Pulliam, June | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Our Zombies, Ourselves: Exiting the Foucauldian Universe in George A. Romero's Land of the Dead


Pulliam, June, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


IN GEORGE A. ROMERO'S NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD SERIES, HUMANS STRUGGLE in a post-apocalyptic world to set up a functioning social network in an environment where they are no longer at the top of the food chain. In each subsequent film in this series, it seems likely that humans will be driven to extinction by zombies in spite of their supposed superior intelligence and access to technology. Michel Foucault's ideas about discipline, a technology of power that regulates the behavior of individuals, permit us to understand why in Romero's Dead series the odds are against human survival. The individualizing and totalizing effects of discipline have rendered humans incapable of developing class consciousness. As a result, members of the proletariat are doomed to waste their energies in intra-class power struggles. Zombies, however, are free of the effects of discipline. As a result, in Land of the Dead zombies have formed class consciousness, an accomplishment which might eventually give them hegemony over humans.

Land of the Dead (2005) is the fourth film in Romero's Night of the Living Dead oeuvre, which includes Night of the Living Dead (1968); Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Diary of the Dead (2007), a prequel to Night of the Living Dead; and a yet-to-be-named sixth installment in the series which is due to be released at the end of 2009. Land of the Dead has a positive reputation among film critics as an entertaining work that engages in what some view as broad political satire. (1) In Land of the Dead, we see that zombies can learn and work cooperatively much better than humans ever could, perhaps because through death they have been reborn free of the effects of discipline. The zombies' ability to learn and work cooperatively is momentous, with implications for both the living characters in the film and viewers familiar with the genre, since the creature is more typically represented as a being whose mindlessness makes it vastly inferior to humans. (2) These abilities give zombies a distinct advantage in that they are ultimately able to develop the class consciousness that is a precondition for socialist revolution.

My analysis, however, should begin not with a discussion of why zombies can form class consciousness, but instead, with an exploration of why humans can't. This analysis must ask not "how, why and by what right [subjects] can agree to be subjugated, but [...] how actual relations of subjugation manufacture subjects" (Foucault, Society 45).

In Land of the Dead, enough time has passed since the initial zombie apocalypse in Night of the Living Dead to make the constant threat of attack commonplace for the dwindling number of survivors. As a result, humans have begun reforming communities with complex infrastructures and social networks. One such group inhabits a compound in Pittsburg that is barricaded by electrified fences and a river (which zombies supposedly cannot cross) and protected by a militia. The compound's operations are controlled by Kaufman, a wealthy capitalist who uses his fortune to finance the establishment of this new city-state where he has reproduced the same savage inequalities of the old world. Here the wealthy few live in Fiddler's Green, a climate-controlled steel-and-glass condominium tower with fully stocked stores and restaurants, while the rest squat in the slums outside.

Early in the film, it is clear that for privileged inhabitants of the Green, little has changed. Advertisements for condominiums in the Green describe it as a place where "life goes on." This slogan aptly describes the wealthy tower inhabitants--for them, life does go on, much as it did before. Their insular post-apocalypse existences keep them as ignorant of zombies as their pre-apocalypse lives did of the poor. Inside the Green are floor-to-ceiling glass windows that permit the wealthy occupants to view the city below without having to come into contact with any of the slum dwellers. …

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