Category Archives: TV Twittering

Limits of Control – Zombies and the Politics of Control or Lack of it

It seems to me that there is a shift in genre fashion coming, as winter approaches and the nights draw in, we seem to be heading for some new horror. The public may have tired a bit of fantasy, of epic battles fought against legendary backdrops of cgi grandeur. Boys with sharp teeth and lower selves, men who turn into wolves and girls who give themselves to them, even women as random victims of painographic torturers seem to be fading in the public taste. Instead, the undead or even the dead are stalking our screens. Mindless human shapes, stagger through our media craving the flesh of the innocent, blindly grabbing the foolish. Zombies are making a return, reinvented from the strange myths of voodoo and reimagined as a disease. George Romero, Sam Raimi and, of course, Simon Pegg have resurrected zombies throughout the years and it doesn’t take a genius to spot the metaphors. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) wasted no time in putting Pegg on the W6 or some similar Crouch End bus and drive him past the avenues of my own London haunting ground accompanied by ordinary workers zombified by their lives (by the time you’ve pushed a double buggy up the hill past Stationers Park,  with two heavy kids in it I defy anyone not to look like a zombie!)

Andrew Lincoln as Rick in The Walking Dead

What’s different about recent zombies then? Personally I’m not over fond of the gore and decay aspect, and I have always thought that zombies were rather flawed as a weapon. They are not very fast on their feet and they do have to get up close and personal to infect. Danny Boyle’s version in 28 Days/Weeks Later of diseased human beings who become enraged, but pretty speedy, cannibals sort of corrects that flaw, but then they are not technically zombies. The themes are similar though: isolation; infection; cannibalism.

It’s those themes that fascinate; typically the protagonist is isolated often ignorant of the calamity that his befallen the world. The innocent wake, some literally from a coma like John Wyndham’s Bill Masen of the Day of Triffids, in themselves plant zombies. Either that or the innocent find themselves trapped in isolated cabins, managing to barricade themselves in using apparently endless supplies of rough wood that they can use to block windows, although always leaving gaps for light and a decent purchase for leverage for zombie fingers. The standard zombie rule is never stand against a window boarded up or otherwise. This was a convention cleverly reversed in Season 2 of The Walking Dead, a series that even for a sceptical old zombiephob like myself has redeemed, for me, some of the less interesting aspects of the gory massacres that accompany the average zombie herd (as they are termed in the series). The Walking Dead has the conventions represented and subverted, right down to the coma, the diseases, the staggering cannibals, oozing decay and the inarticulate dead and dangerous. That’s all typical stuff, but it is the survivors who are interesting. These are not the panicked victims of the isolated cabins, quick with a hammer nails and well supplied with boards. These survivors are the remainder, the representatives of our society with all its controlling ideology and half buried inhumanity. These zombies pose moral questions about how to survive them: who to rescue;  who to leave behind; who to ally yourself with; who to trust or love, most of all what measures must you take to protect yourself not only from zombies but from and for fellow human beings. Themes of loyalty, betrayal and class infuse the representation of the war with zombies. Society restructures itself, morality is revisited, property, community, the qualities of leadership are examined. The question is raised, should humanity actually try to survive? Like The Road, The Walking Dead gnaws at the question: what should you do if you cannot keep your child safe?

But what is it that attracts us again and again to the theme of the undead, and while zombies do haunt the society of survivors in The Walking Dead, the survivors are not in control, neither did they cause the calamity that has befallen them. Every moment they live they risk being consumed, they are the food of the nameless and the corrupt who can barely be stopped except by mass slaughter to the head, a method that requires intimate contact.  Moreover, as in 28 Days Later, and  Day of the Triffids before it, Rick Grimes, of The Walking Dead was asleep at the time. He wakes to find that while he wasn’t looking the world around has changed.

Zombies exist in the same time and space, but cannot communicate with the humans and, what’s more, they have no interest in communication. They do not wish to convert or indoctrinate, only to consume and use for their perpetuation and the protagonists have been caught napping and can only survive by avoidance. They face a tsunami of social change and there is nothing they can do to reverse it.

Henry A. Giroux, suggests a link between the idea of zombies and the all consuming consumerism of the Republicans and the materialistic politics that supported the system that changed the world of money while we were all in a shopping coma.

Another characteristic of an emerging authoritarianism in the United States is the correlation between the growing atomization of the individual and the rise of a culture of cruelty, a type of zombie politics in which the living dead engage in forms of rapacious behavior that destroy almost every facet of a substantive democratic polity. There is a mode of terror rooted in a neoliberal market-driven society that numbs many people just as it wipes out the creative faculties of imagination, memory, and critical thought.

 Zombie Politics, Democracy, and the Threat of Authoritarianism – Part I

It’s a cheap trick to associate the behaviour of the banks with zombies. Zombies represent all that is cruel and that cruelty is not confined, by any means, to the rich or thoughtless, but that sense of lack of control. That feeling that nothing you do will make it better, that slowly your job, your standard of living, your pension, your future is being consumed, by nameless, faceless ghouls, that seem indestructible who grasp at the fabric of society infecting the jobs market, shopping, society. All the protagonists in The Walking Dead are unable to control their new life, whatever illusion they had has gone, and they stagger from one day to the next, only hoping that they don’t make it worse. They have no more control over the zombies than we do over banks, they are at their limit and all that must give rise to metaphors of new societies, different dystopias and re-imaginings of a recurring monster.

Killing Zoe

Caprica

I have a memory which I think is false, because it would have required a babysitter, which we could never get, of seeing a violent but funny film, somewhere in London, possibly free due to the generosity of Time Out, but I think my memory serves me ill and while, no doubt it was recommended by Time Out and shown late and free to those who could get there, I think we must have seen it on TV after the kids had gone to bed. The film was Killing Zoe (Dir. Roger Avary 1993) and it starred a young and intense red head, Eric Stoltz (iPad predicted “stilts” that must annoy him). Anyhow, it was the era of Reservoir Dogs (Dir. Quentin Tarantino) and Killing Zoe was a take on a similar style. Written and directed by Roger Avary the film is set in and involves a bank robbery, a siege and a girl (Julie Delfy), all conducted, in somewhat of a drug induced haze. It was funny and dark and Eric Stilts – sorry Stoltz – was intense and memorable. The film was well thought of by the critics although some felt its dependence on violence was over the top and we shall draw a veil over its financial success so pretty soon Stoltz disappeared. Caprica on AmazonHe reappeared in the famous and funny scene in Pulp Fiction (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1994) that involved a cell phone, a car crash, a gangster’s wife (Uma Thurman) a very big needle and some adrenalin. 2 Days in The Valley wasn’t bad either, but I guess the reason haven’t seen much of him recently is because most of his TV choices have not been run in this country (UK) until Caprica.

Let me say from the outset that, like most of the stuff I watch, Caprica (iPad predicts “Caprice”….awkward) has been cancelled, that almost goes without saying, but it seemed a shame to let it go without a mention. Like its famous predecessor (although, in fictional terms, its successor) Battlestar Galactica, it was thoughtful science fiction. The backstory to the re-imagined world that was Battlestar Galactica, this prequel to the Cylon wars has the customary detail and verisimilitude that we have come to expect from Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, the makers of Battlestar. Whilst it might have been tempting to fling together a few stories to capitalise on the success of the main series, not so with Caprica it was presented as a piece developed with respect for the audience as opposed to an attempt capture their attention for as long as possible before they wise up to a second rate con. Whether it is myth or practice that Hollywood writers and producers develop copious series notes and a variety of back stories that support their characterisations I don’t know, but the stories of Caprica, the ancestors of Adama, the thinking that led to the creation of the Cylons remains detailed and original.

Most of all the decision to suggest that the creation of the Cylons could trace its original genesis to a feud between a teenage girl and her parents was little short of a stroke a genius! Of course a teenage girl might be rash enough to join a cult, to court death without regard to the consequences, of course a teenager might be able to code a program more sophisticated than anything her clever father might do, of course the love that father had for her might drive him to resurrect her in a virtual world and think about how to transfer her to a body later. The teenage daughter’s name is Zoe and whether that is a reference to the film Killing Zoe or to the meaning of the name in Greek ‘life” is a mystery to me, but a great deal about the nature of the Cylons is explained by that device: immaturity, contrariness, but also passion and originality, even sincere religious belief, especially if you understand that their genesis lies in the mind of a teenage girl.

However it was not just the representation of the Cylon back story that was compelling but, as with the original series, the portrayal of characters and relationships that play out against the background of an imagined world almost exactly like our own. The Adamas are a driven family, exiled from their planet, living the balance between honesty and gangsterism, murder and freedom fighting. The brothers, Sam and Joseph, are fiercely loyal to each other in the light of their oppression. Tradition, family and a mafia-like underworld inform the history of the Adamas with Joseph’s son, Willy, presented as an interesting possibility. Eric Morales (Joseph) portrays a desperately bereaved father with visceral verisimilitude and Sasha Roiz plays an assassin with a heart of gold with tact (if that’s possible) including a nice cathartic moment with a Cylon.
Then there’s the Graystones (ipad predicts “gravestone”) with an aristocratic name that echoes perhaps the great lord Greystoke (Tarzan) and with more than a hint of a combination of Steve Jobs’ sex appeal and Bill Gates’ house the family plays out its saga against the backdrop of what appears to be Pugit Sound in an echo of Baltar’s doomed apartment in BSG. It is Paula Malcomson as Amanda Graystone and Stoltz as Daniel Graystone whose performances as a long married couple who suffer the loss of their daughter together that underpin the grammar of relationships against the backdrop of science fiction. The couple copes with the subsequent dissonance that their loss brings to their marriage and offer a thoughtful take on a mature and loving relationship, much as later, in BSG, Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) slowly form a loving and mature relationship. In Caprica, Daniel and Amanda are a couple who know each other intimately, so well in fact, that despite their differences, they are more comfortable with each other than they are with anyone else.

There is more to the series and would have been more that I would happily have indulged, but once again the hungry money machine that is network TV spits out quality in fear of the loss advertising revenue. The second DVD’s out Monday … If you’re new to the whole franchise start there and move on to Battlestar Galactica.

And for those of you hankering for more a new series in between the two Blood and Chrome starring local boy for us Luke Pasquilino as Adama is on its way. I’m guessing more action and less thought will hook the audience but will it be quality?

Also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2010/oct/29/caprica-battlestar