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Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead

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Abstract

Since the early 2000s, zombies have increasingly swarmed the landscape of popular culture, with ever more diverse representations of the undead being imagined. A growing number of zombie narratives have introduced sexual themes, endowing the living dead with their own sexual identity. The unpleasant idea of the sexual zombie is itself provocative, triggering questions about the nature of desire, sex, sexuality, and the politics of our sexual behaviors. However, the notion of zombie sex has been largely unaddressed in scholarship. This collection addresses that unexamined aspect of zombiedom, with essays engaging a variety of media texts, including graphic novels, films, television, pornography, literature, and internet meme culture. The essayists are scholars from a variety of disciplines, including History, Theology, Film Studies, and Gender and Queer Studies. Covering The Walking Dead, Warm Bodies, and Bruce LaBruce's zombie-porn movies, this work investigates the cultural, political and philosophical issues raised by undead sex and zombie sexuality. Table of Contents *Introduction: Zombie Sex (Steve Jones and Shaka McGlotten) *Take, Eat, These Are My Brains: Queer Zombie Jesus (Max Thornton) *Victorian Values: Necrophilia and the Nineteenth Century in Zombie Films (Marcus Harmes) *A Love Worth ­Un-Undying For: Neoliberalism and Queered Sexuality in Warm Bodies (Sasha Cocarla) *For a Good Time Just Scream: Sex Work and Plastic Sexuality in "Dystopicmodern Literature" (Denise N. Cook) *Laid to Rest: Romance, End of the World Sexuality and Apocalyptic Anticipation in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (Emma Vossen) *Queering and Cripping the End of the World: Disability, Sexuality and Race in The Walking Dead (Cathy Hannabach) *Re-Animating the Social Order: Zombies and Queer Failure (Trevor Grizzell) *Gay Zombies: Consuming Masculinity and Community in Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People and L.A. Zombie (Darren ­Elliott-Smith) *"I Eat Brains … or Dick": Sexual Subjectivity and the Hierarchy of the Undead in Hardcore Film (Laura Helen Marks) *Pretty, Dead: Sociosexuality, Rationality and the Transition into ­Zom-Being (Steve Jones)
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Article
The words ‘utopia’ and ‘zombie’ are likely to conjure up strong images in the mind of the reader. The first makes one think of perfection, of happiness, of something new and better; the other, of the monstrous, of death and decay. Despite the fact that these images are arguably the most common, one can question their validity: can it be said that utopias are always perfect, and are the undead always monstrous? In this paper, I aim to explore the concepts relating to both utopias and zombies and the possible connections between the two, including a reading of the undead in light of the ultimate utopia: Paradise. In the light of these analyses, I propose a more positive approach to the figure of the zombie, which will be discussed as a counterpoint to the commonly held views of (religious) utopias. Keywords: utopia, dystopia, Christianity, Revelation, Paradise, Second Coming, zombie, post-zombieA man, dressed in an old, torn and dusty suit, is seen in the distance, staggering between the tombstones as he makes his way towards the two young people, who have come to the cemetery to visit their father’s grave. They notice the man, but make fun of him; to them, the figure is not dangerous. Until he attacks them. Part of the opening sequence of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), it was in this film that audiences were introduced to the now iconic figure of the shambling, flesh-eating undead. Cinemagoers saw the dead come back to life, crawling out of the earth as if it were Judgement Day. These creatures may have looked human, but were unmistakably evil, attacking and feeding on anything they could find. This negative image of the zombie existed in horror media before Romero’s reinvention of the narrative in the shape of the voodoo zombi of Haitian origins, and this vision has persisted ever since. The undead are the monstrous Other and perhaps the ultimate threat to humanity: as their numbers grow, they replace and incorporate humankind as new people are added to the ranks of the zombie. These beings may appear human, but they are dangerous and should be avoided at all cost. It seems indeed easy to apply a reading to this monster that shows them in a negative light and although the number of interpretations of the undead has grown over the years, the concept of the Other, of a being that has lost itself and is only capable of mindless feeding, has persisted. What I aim to offer here are some ideas on different interpretations of the undead, most notably a more positive reading. Film makers and academics alike have almost universally presented the zombie as a monstrous Other, something which should be avoided and killed. Any relation to the perfection of a (religious) utopia would therefore appear impossible, yet it is the potential of the undead to be seen as more than brainless monstrosities that I wish to address here. What I would like to put forward is a more positive approach to the figure of the zombie, ultimately arguing that the undead may be the only way in which humanity can achieve Paradise. In order to facilitate such a discussion, I will start by examining the terminology used. Reference has already been made to images of perfection and monstrosity, respectively, and it will be beneficial to explore the concept of both utopia and the zombie in more detail, before moving on to a discussion of the idea of the perfect undead.
Chapter
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The undead have been evoked in philosophical hypotheses regarding consciousness, but such discussions often come across as abstract academic exercises, inapplicable to personal experience. Movie zombies illuminate these somewhat opaque philosophical debates via storytelling devices – narrative, characterization, dialogue and so forth – which approach experience and consciousness in an instinctively accessible manner. This chapter focuses on a particular strand of the subgenre: transition narratives, in which human protagonists gradually turn into zombies. Transition stories typically centralize social relationships; affiliations and interactions with other beings that give her (human) life meaning. These narratives routinely posit that consciousness and sociosexuality are intertwined aspects of experience that distinguish human from zombie, foregrounding a core romantic coupling and charting its decline as the protagonist transforms into a flesh-eating monster. These notions are explored via an indicative case study: Pretty Dead (2013). The film brings two views on the self – intuitive and empirical – into direct conflict, questioning their compatibility. The protagonist’s sociosexual decline is employed to illustrate that a) there is a troubling disjuncture between rationalist-theoretical conceptions of selfhood and selfhood as it is experienced in the real, social realm, and b) there is a natural bridge between personal, introspective self-knowledge and external social selfhood. By depicting a form of selfhood that defies rationalist logic (zom-being), transitional zombie films not only animate philosophical debates about consciousness, but also challenge their viewers to develop new conceptual (theoretical and imaginative) vocabularies via which to describe and engage with both selfhood and sociosexuality.
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