Zombie Zeitgeist

Dr Arnold Blumberg is pretty damn cool! Check him out explaining zombies in pop culture studies here as well.

Stalk his zombie side on @doctorofthedead or his Dr Who/Comics side at @arnoldtblumberg

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Postliteracy FTW! with @feddabonn

3dAre makerspaces ushering in a postliteracy era?

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What the hell?

Postliteracy is basically the idea that there will soon come a time when text and writing will no longer be as dominant as they are now, and we will find other means to communicate.

While the technology of writing has been around for ages, even historically literate societies such as the Chinese only had a small percentage of their population actually literate. Mass literacy is a result of the Gutenberg press and movable type, and subsequent European colonisation.

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Why the hell?

Reading and writing are too bloody hard. It takes most people at least 10 years of education to effectively read and write in their first language. Increasingly, 15 years of education is the standard.

ALSO

Reading and writing are specially too hard for people who belong to pre-literate or recently literate cultures. This is pretty much most of the non-European world. While West, East and South Asian civilisations have had scripts for the longest time, even in these civilisations the ability to read and write was often restricted to a privileged few.

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This means that people from these communities are severely disadvantaged with access to information. This is seen in negative health and economic statistics, among others. Examples of this are the comparative well-being of Māori and Pasifika people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Aboriginal peoples in Australia and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India.

A few people think that post-literate ways of communication would be closely related to pre-literate ways of communication. The Pacific islands are full of examples of the use of tattooing, woodwork, speech making, songs and stories as ways to communicate and record culture. So if post-literate strategies are similar to pre-literate strategies, maybe finding what those strategies are will also help communicate import information to people that need it most in the here and now.

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Who the hell?

Mostly old white men, I’m sorry. At least they aren’t rich, I don’t think. Not very anyway.

  • Marshall McLuhan, 1967, The Gutenberg Galaxy : Talks of the tyranny of the text, and how the electronic age would bring its end.
  • Walter J. Ong, 1982, Orality and Literacy: Talks of how orality and literacy are very different cultures, and not variants of each other. Talks of the coming of a ‘secondary orality’ based on electronic technology, that will build on both pre-literate oral cultures as well as literate text based ones.
  • Thomas Pettitt and Lars Sauerberg, 2010ish, Gutenberg Parenthesis and The Future is Medieval: Pettitt and Sauerberg see mass literacy as an anomaly that interrupted the development of oral culture, and our current electronic/internet age as a return to that orality.
  • James C. Scott, 2009, The Art of Not Being Governed: Anarchist historian James Scott looks at upland South East Asia as a history of resistance to and evasion from Empire. The most controversial and least evidenced chapter deals with the idea of post-literacy as a strategy used by groups…deliberately losing their script to avoid empire.
  • Michael Ridley, 2012, Beyond Literacy: Mike looks at a complete abandoning of visual language with improved technology. This is a bit different from Ong’s secondary orality, that would still depend in many ways on literacy.

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Why do I care?

My mother belongs to a small tribal group in north east India called the Mizo, based (mostly) in the state of Mizoram. We were litericised and Christianised by Welsh missionaries in the late 1800s. Like everywhere else, this was a complex mix of welfare and destruction. I grew up watching my Mizo cousins wrestle with modern education and literacy, without the cultural underpinnings that highly educated Indians took for granted. Years later my wife and I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, where I see Māori and Pasifika people struggling with similar issues. Something crystallised, and I have been thinking/reading about postliteracy for a little over two years now.

I am currently studying postliteracy in the context of the Pacific, hoping to find strategies that can be used in the here and now to help societies that were recently made literate. I also hope/expect to specifically study the maker movement as a postliterate strategy, and as a way to engage and communicate with people from oral cultures. Maybe the whole thing is a pipe dream, but it is a good dream if it helps improve the world experience of people from recently literate cultures. We have rich oral cultures, but have been tricked and forced into believing that our cultures are inferior to literate ones. No more.

When not studying, I am a librarian with Auckland Libraries. Yeah, ironic, I know. Reachable on twitter @feddabonn, where I rant and swear a lot.

Uhoh! There was a monster in my bed*

Last night I was with Kate Forsyth and Matt Finch at the NSW Writers’ Centre talking about monsters. This post will be a bit of an overlap between what was said then and some extra things I wanted to throw out there for writers and readers of children’s and YA literature on how academia views the novels you write/read, how gaming constructs narrative and more on zombies, because they are awesome.

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Being an Academic

There’s usually a fair gap between academia and the actual artists (Apart from my two lovely panelists!). Artists accuse academics of reading things into their work that they didn’t actually put there, academics will try to locate artists work in the greater sense of social/cultural identity. So I’ll give a quick rundown of some of the more general things academics say about children’s and YA authors in particular.

All writing is ideological. Whether you intend it or not, a lot of scholars see writing as something that reflects, reenacts or rejects society in some way. The way you present what a child is, is ideologically based. As Kate said, our construction of childhood is entirely modern and not at all how past, future, or even other present societies view childhood! As an example, you’ve no doubt seen the rise of the ‘tween’ in the past decade or so. This is not something that goes against our entire history of being. It is something created, but all our categories and definitions are (changing definitions/words in the dictionary are another excellent example, language is a living thing).

In writing a story, scholars say, you are positioning the reader into a particular view. If writing a realist novel (recently, I read Junk by Melvin Burgess, so that can be my example), you don’t really expect the reader to come out of reading it thinking drugs are totally awesome and they should go out and try them now. Not just for ethical, moral and legal reasons, but you use certain words, certain strategies of writing and of course plot to try to align the reader. In fantasy, you may not expect someone to think The Dark Lord is awesome and they should totes go join a gang of evil peeps now! Readers, of course, will take from the work what they will (and you can’t stop that! Everyone brings their own experiences to a text).

What you intend, as much as how you use narrative strategies to position one character as “good” or the hero, and another as bad, is important and from this, an ‘ideal reader’ or ‘subject position’ is created – as far as what I believe and the academics I follow, the authors intentions are not  literally able to be read in the text, it is only through narrative strategies that we ascertain this subject position. What you don’t intend, to the academic, doesn’t matter as much as your story. I used the example last night of how there are quite a few dystopias around the idea (or ideological positioning) of technology as something that is cutting us off from nature. While you may just be intending just to write a good story about a world falling apart, there are criticisms (as you would expect in reviews anyway) that maybe this intensely negative view of technology is actually teaching children to fear the future.

Being a writer, you are given great power. Childhood and adolescence is considered a time when we are forming our idea of what our identity is and where we fit in society. Some academics say that it is even the role of fiction – Children’s literature is for affirming the self and personal power, but YA lit is for inducting the adolescent into society, our structures and institutions. It comes at a time in their lives (assuming the ideal reader – I’m an adult and I read YA!) when their sense of self is malleable and adapting to the new information they are drinking in, and that doesn’t have to come only from non-fiction.

Recommended Reading

  • Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. New York: Longman. 1992.
  • Trites, Roberta S. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa: University of Iowa Press. 2000.
  • McCallum, Robyn. Ideologies of Identity in Adolescent Fiction. New York: Routledge. 1999
  • Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge. 2010.
  • James, Kathryn. Death, Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Adolescent Literature. New York: Routledge. 2009

sekhaBeing a Gamer

I have somewhere about 500 or so books … I think. Haven’t sat down and catalogued them all for a while. But with games, I generally go back to the same two (the others are more seasonal playing), World of Warcraft and The Sims, and they are very different in terms of storytelling.

World of Warcraft is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game with two factions that hate each other – The Alliance (your typical European humanoids, humans, night elves, dwarves, gnomes, werewolves (called worgen)) and the Horde (your traditional villains, orcs, trolls, tauren (which are half-cow, half-human), undead, blood elves and goblins). There is an overarching storyline, following on from the other Warcraft games, where the Orcs invaded Azeroth through a Dark Portal and the humans defended their land, but at one point, the creation of the Portals between worlds actually tore the Orcs homeworld asunder and they were isolated from their people. Each race has their own story of how they came to be (e.g. Blood Elves are elves that got addicted to fel or demonic energies) and there are also quests in the game which contain mini-stories.

While you play as a Hero (for whatever faction), essentially you don’t have any control over the storyline or influence. While there are numerous options with what you can do each day (crafting, dungeons, exploring, farming, pet battling, playing Player vs Player), you can’t change the storyline. Even if you might agree with the big villain of the expansion (there’s always at least one big villain), you cannot change the outcome and probably, if you raid, you will have to kill them anyway. You can manipulate your own perception of your character, even if you don’t role play specifically, choosing clothes, companion pets (which don’t fight with you in battle, but are more like little pokemon), titles (such as Elder, Noble, Kingslayer, etc).

The Sims on the other hand, is more a sandbox game. You don’t have to do anything, nothing is set in stone and there’s no path to follow. A few pre-made families have their own background story and personalities, but anything that happens is up to you. You can only control one family at a time, and you can guide them to their dreams of becoming a CEO, or build a wall around their pool and forcibly kill them. The Sims doesn’t use English either, it’s an invented language called Simlish, so you can even make up what they are saying.

There’s a lot to love about the Sims because of the freedom in storytelling. You can tell the Sim where to go and what to do, and (forcibly) influence their whole life. The Sims community is extremely inventive as well! They share stories, videos (called machinima), their families, even create self-sims to explore how they want to live their life. You can take Sims from birth to death (and even beyond death, as you can play as ghosts too!), fulfill their dreams or ruin them, and from generation to generation.

There’s nothing to say what the future of storytelling in games are, but there are some games, such as by Telltale (including the Walking Dead game) where it’s more like a choose your own adventure, you are given a world and a character and a situation, and then choices on how you act and what you say – and those decisions influence the story. This is a very particular gameplay slowly on the rise. Could gaming have an impact on how we organise novels and stories in the future?

9199346Being a Zombologist-in-training

There are two types of monsters or villains that I like best – one is the villain that believes they are doing the best thing, for society or themselves or their family; the other is the relentless enemy that you can’t stop or reason with – the zombie!

Between the panelists last night, we agreed that for us, monsters are representative. Freud believed monsters to be a symbol of repression – whether on a societal level or personal level, something that was once familiar and homely, now foreign and Other. For children’s and YA, the slaying of this monster can be hugely empowering on many levels. I rather think that monsters can also be un-embodied entities, such as a whole society. While it can be a horrendous and heartbreaking journey to defeat one enemy, imagine battling all of society for justice – the odds are not in our favour.

That is essentially what zombies are. They are seen to be many things, our fears or anxieties about race (originally when zombies were misappropriated from Haitian lore into Hollywood, it was all about showing the barbarism and danger of blacks, particularly the danger of black men/magic controlling white women), consumerism (of course, Dawn of the Dead!), and more recently, terrorism and economic crisis and refugees. These days, zombies are the conversion of a HUGE chunk of society into mindless beings that only want your flesh or brains (the eating of flesh comes from Romero, the eating of brains from Return of the Living Dead and O’Bannon – it’s not “the original zombie” at all! *insert long-winded rant here*). The history of the monster is the history of the culture itself (just as how childhood is a historical and social construction).

There are other theories of course, that monsters are a psychological universal. Derrida argued that monsters are created by the unrecognisable and the unpredictable; once it is recognised, it’s no longer a monster (perhaps an argument for evil, seducing vampires -> sparkly, vegetarian vampires?). Could go down the path of “it’s the author letting out their own subconscious fears and defeating them”. Multitudes of theories!

But monsters and villains and evil is important, particularly in children’s/YA. I mentioned last night that there is quite a bit of criticism from the academic community that it is expected that children’s/YA lit needs a happy ending, or at the very least, an ambiguous ending (of which some other scholars believes subdues the actual effect of the literature, particularly dystopia where the moral of the story is that we need to act now so we don’t lose our humanity in the future, but you’ll never see a child get the same ending as Winston from 1984). Of course, we can all think of examples where that is not true, where the character does not triumph, dies, or falls into depravity, but a positive or ambiguous outcome is the cultural expectation. For the reader to feel empowered, there usually needs to be a resolution (Kate used the example of someone literally throwing down a book that had no real ending). With ‘traditional’ (Romero) zombies, it’s particularly hard to create a happy ending because everything is just gone. Society is gone, humanity is gone, all that is left is a life spent scavenging and in hiding. A tough play for an author, if you only stick to one view of what a zombie is…

Recommended Reading

  • Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk & Wylie Lenz. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2011.
  • Triumph of the Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic on page and screen. Ed James Lowder. Dallas: Banbella Books, 2011.
  • Zombies are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead. Ed. Christopher M Moreman & Cory James Rushton. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011.
  • Bishop, Kyle W. American Zombie Gothic. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010.
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader Ed. Marina Levina and Diem-My T. Bui. New York: Bloomsbury. 2013.
  • Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Eds. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro. New York: Fordham University Press. 2011.
  • Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy. Eds Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad. Chicago: Open Court Publishing. 2010.

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Conclusion

If there is anything to take from the talk last night, it’s from what Kate said: Darkness is NECESSARY in children’s and YA literature. If you take away that, you take away the power. There’s an importance in retelling too, as Kate said ‘as a creative artist it’s our job to recreate tales, and find new ways to tell stories.’ That’s very true for monsters as well. Monsters adapt and change as society does. They fill a certain void that we need filled (yes, even the romantic ones!). As much as people cried out “Those aren’t zombies!” when Warm Bodies came out, their idea of what a zombie IS is tainted by cultural tradition (as much as we all love Romero, he didn’t invent zombies, he reinvented them!). That’s the power of the author, scriptwriter or storyteller. To tell the story that needs to be told, not what society dictates the monster or villain traditionally is and always should be.

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* ❤ Lady Gaga

 

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Video games as art form

One of my fondest and earliest memories of gaming is Alley Cat (The title screen on this video is shown till about 30 seconds in). Other games I remember early on are Prince of Persia and California Games. This was my childhood, later added to by an Atari 2600 (I’m pretty sure that was the version) and games like Space Quest (which I was never good at) and King’s Quest, and Maths Rescue and Word Rescue, Jill of the Jungle and Jones in the Fast Lane. I love how video games are getting their own exhibitions at museums, and even their own museum (ViGaMus) in Italy!

So one of the things that irritates me is the cry that video games aren’t art. I don’t get that? It’s many art-forms in one, visual design, sound and music, writing and storytelling, even choreography (which of course get progressively better over time. In WoW, you can tell what someone is casting or doing by looking at how their character moves, not just their casting bar.)

As an example: Gaming music is damn brilliant – I still have music from games like Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and Baldur’s Gate, and you cannot deny the quality and beauty of the Lament of the Highbourne from World of Warcraft. Yes, I love Sylvanas. (Hail to the Banshee Queen and victory to the Forsaken!)

It also influences the creation of art: visual art, video and sound editing with Machinima. Story telling (as much as people may say the Sims doesn’t have a story line, that’s the point. You create the story!). Fan music is another, and even fashion design with cosplay. My favourite fan artists who use WoW are Oxhorn and WoWCrendor on Youtube. They are awesomesauce.

I’m wondering if it’s the crass commercialism? I say crass, because there is a lot of talk around art as a purely capitalist gain, and the view of that as ‘not real art’ or ‘selling out’. Art should be made for love and passion, because you are driven to it, not because of money. Does this lessen the quality in some way? Is something wrong with video games because they are made to make money, or make the artists who work on them any different than the starving hermit artist?

I’m not saying that’s the one explanation, or even that it’s true, because I don’t know many non-gamers, or non-artists. I don’t know how they formed the idea that video games are not art or what influences them (another thought: the elitist ideals of high culture, Warhol, Shakespeare etc – although, as a lecturer reminded us the other day, Shakespeare was pop/mass culture of that time! – versus that dirty and lowly “popular” culture? For some reason, this still exists.)


(Disclaimer: Not all gamers are like this XD)

The Resurgence of Zombie Narratives

A zombie episode of ABC’s Radio National Books and Arts Daily program was broadcast on Friday the 22nd of February 2013 with academic Sarah Juliet Lauro (@zombiescholar), the showrunner for the Walking Dead, Glen Mazzara (@GlenMazzara), zombie fanatic Chuck McKenzie (@notionsun) and horror author Robert Hood (@undeadhood). I was very happy to live-tweet the show for them!

Below is the storify, but you can also download the episode here.

  1. RT @RNBooksAndArts: Tomorrow’s show with @zombiescholar, @glenmazzara, @undeadhood and more presented by Zombie Cathcart http://pic.twitter.com/i8boiRrGuQ
  2. Today on @RNBooksAndArts 10am – the rise of the #zombie in pop culture, high art and political protests. ow.ly/hVPhp
  3. Welcome to the year of the zombie! But what has started this re-emergence in their popularity? #abcrn
  4. The original zombie was a pathetic being, & @zombiescholar research is into how it transformed into the monster of today #abcrn
  5. @zombiescholar says a theory of recent popularity is related to the dis-empowerment of people through the weak economy #abcrn
  6. @zombiescholar – The zombie is a convenient myth as to how we face the evils of humanity, without being so blunt about it #abcrn
  7. @zombiescholar – The zombie is a monster we can really put any form of social anxiety on top of, fear of economy, terrorism, war, etc #abcrn
  8. Zombies are always about slavery even our slavery to consume says @zombiescholar
  9. There’s a rebelliousness in zombies, the myth having coming from Haitian revolution. Not just slavery, but defiance of power #abcrn
  10. There is deeper meaning in cultural works than people usually give it credit for, and this works for zombies #abcrn
  11. Zombies entered movies because they weren’t copyrighted says @zombiescholar
  12. Micael with @glennmazzara, exec producer of The Walking Dead http://pic.twitter.com/rNjPWbwYrB
  13. Up now with @glenmazzara on #abcrn – showrunner for The Walking Dead (executive producer, head writer, working with directors, edits, etc)
  14. @glenmazzara is a promoter of the showrunner model. It’s about consistency of story and character growth #abcrn
  15. The Walking Dead is about the choices people make when there’s no one to rely on (govt, army etc) and how they survive #abcrn
  16. We’ve lost faith in big institutions. The Walking Dead taps into the idea that we don’t feel we can rely on them #abcrn
  17. @glenmazzara was always a horror fan: there’s something simple about zombies with less mythology than other monsters #abcrn
  18. The Walking Dead zombies are modeled on Romero’s zombies and try to stay true to the rules he created. #abcrn
  19. From Day Land of the Dead, the zombies are adapting, Glen says The Walking Dead zombies won’t quite go that way #abcrn
  20. The rage virus (28 Days Later) isn’t a real zombie, according to their rules. People love fast zombies, but TWD maintain slow zoms #abcrn
  21. The directors change for each episode, so containing the story and style is most important with an ongoing series #abcrn
  22. @RNBooksAndArts referring to The Omega Man – the book, I Am Legend, was actually great inspiration for Romero’s works #abcrn
  23. Best zombie books (Chuck): Mira Grant’s Feed series, Zone One by Colson Whitehead, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies #abcrn
  24. What’s your favourite zombie book? I rather love Generation Dead by Daniel Waters and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion #abcrn
  25. Cross-genre books are the go now-a-days for zombies – zomliterary, zomromance, zomerotica… #abcrn
  26. Rob Hood: zombies don’t really have the mythological background that vampires do. #abcrn
  27. Rob writes both children’s fiction and zombies that are much more for adult readers #abcrn
  28. There are actually a few zombie books for children. I do want to read ‘That’s not your mommy anymore’ #abcrn
  29. Rob: End of the world scenarios are very popular at the moment, dealing with no social structure and dealing with other people #abcrn
  30. Is the zombie still the American myth? Rob: Italy loves zombies! Technically, walking dead have existed for a long time in tales #abcrn
  31. And that’s it for zombies at #abcrn ! Stay safe and keep up the cardio!
  32. There’s a range of Australian writers who meddle with zombies, check out some of them here: nyssaharkness.wordpress.com… (incl Chuck & Rob)
  33. Margaret Atwood’s serial zombies are here wattpad.com/story/2426517-t… She’s on Monday’s show

1960s-1970s ads and articles

I was looking through my partner’s great aunts cookbook, finding loads of old recipes that I’m going to digitise, but also found tonnes of newspaper clippings, which as well as the recipes she was obviously keeping, there are a lot of awesome old ads and articles! I’ve scanned and posted the best ones. A lot have the dates and sources cut off, but it was from Sydney, Australia and most seem to be around the 1970 mark +/- 5 years.