The Changing Face of the Monster

Over some mocha this morning I was thinking (coffee required for brain function). Everyone blames Twilight for dumbing down the vampire. People right out despise Twilight for changing vampires. They’re supposed to be monsters, people cry out in rage, not lovers! As my focus is also on a monster-turned-romantic-interest, Twilight has some sort of weird interest for me. I don’t particularly like it, I think Bella is weak and the writing not great – but there’s a part of me that knows that if I’d read it as a teenager (probably <15; maybe what would be considered a tween now), I would have loved it.vampires

Vampires had already completely saturated mainstream culture before Twilight. They were domesticated by their commodification. Fred Botting discusses this: the vampire is now a familiar and consumable figure. His references for this go much earlier than Twilight, with Dracula as a superhero in 1962 and the amusing Count Duckula, but especially Anne Rice (he doesn’t specifically mention Twilight in this section, although this book was published three years afterwards, but I haven’t finished reading it all yet!). This has created a new site of identification for the vampire.

“Vampires cease to be threats to individual and social identity and curiously give shape to the unformed mass of desires, cravings and appetites called the consumer” (Botting 41)

So the vampire loses its weirdness.  This sort of goes against a lot of monster theory. The vampire is no longer uncanny – something that was once familiar and has since become repressed (Freudian theory). True Otherness is a return of the repressed. Foucault argued “What makes a human monster a monster is not just its exceptionality relative to the species form … the human monster combines the impossible and the forbidden” (Foucault in Levina and Bui, 5). For Derrida, a monster is something that is unknown, abnormal, it frightens because there is no anticipating it. Once it is known, once the monster is seen as a monster, “one begins to domesticate it” (Derrida in Levina and Bui, 6). In Twilight Edward says vampires could have evolved side-by-side with humans – Darwinian evolution rather than supernatural presence.

“The vampire is warmly embraced, included, naturalised, humanised in an appropriative liberal gesture that is scarcely tenable given the vampire’s historical construction as that which is both most proximate and alien to human identity”(Botting 41)

We know what vampires and zombies are now. We know their weaknesses, we know their  strengths. What is left to explore? As Hildebrand-Burke demonstrates in his post on modern horror, we seem to stick to the past view of monsters rather than looking to the future. Why can’t we create new monsters? Why stick to the 19th century imagery of what a vampire is, or the 1970s-80s version of what a zombie is? Fear comes from change, from what is unknown. Nina Auerbach proposes “every age embraces the vampire it needs” (although embrace might be a bit strong. Every age CREATES the vampire it needs?).

Although Twilight and the books I’m looking at are romances or contain romantic elements (romances = romance is the main plot & must have a happy ending. Romantic elements = romance is supplementary to the story), they change the monster and yet are reviled for it. Most modern vampires laugh at the suggestion that a Christian Cross or garlic can stop them. Is this not making the familiar monster unfamiliar again? They are changing the rules of the game and disturbing the knowledge that makes us safe. Why do we even want to restrict this change?zombies

Recommended Reading

  • Where are all the Monster Books? by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • Guide to writing modern horror by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
  • The Limits of Horror by Fred Botting
  • Monster Culture in the 21st Century edited by Marina Levina and Diem My Bui (check the Introduction by the editors, and Domesticating the Monstrous in a Globalizing World chapter by Carolyn Harford)
  • Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger
  • The Living Dead: A study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature by James B Twitchell
  • The Real Twilight: True stories of Modern Day Vampires by Arlene Russo
  • A Taste of True Blood: The Fangbangers Guide edited by Leah Wilson
  • The Changing Vampire of Film and Television: A critical study of the growth of a genre by Tim Kane

*Images from the Sims 3: Supernatural promotional material

The original zombie romance?

There’s almost always a part in zombie stories where someone is bit or infected and one of their loved ones has to face a choice: to watch them turn and become dangerous to the rest of the survivors, or shoot them while still human. This is never an easy task. Maybe this happened off screen, and you see the survivor shaken and not quite sane, shocked by what this war with the undead has made them do, and they question themselves and if live is worth living after what they have done.

There are some short stories I’ve read lately which deal with the bond of lovers or family after death. You might question if they are zombies because they might not be precisely called zombies; maybe just undead, reanimated corpses. This is not romance WITH zombies but love for the human-that-is-now-zombie (although one story by Williamson isn’t on this specific theme of love in the time it’s set).

I do think that we can’t be so direct about what a zombie is or isn’t, because authors are bloody inventive creatures and they will force these creatures we once knew to evolve. There’s been quite a few changes in the short 100ish years of the Americanised fictional zombie, and that’s a damned quick evolution from zombiing individuals to mobs (Vampires used to be hidden singular vamps or in small groups, and now are a whole known race in literature with great numbers).

Anywhoos, here’s the stories (I haven’t finished the whole compendium yet, so might add more later):

Was it a dream? by Guy de Maupassant (1910)

The Cairnwell Horror by Chet Williamson (1990)

Later by Michael Marshall Smith (1993)

Human cruelty

One of the clearest themes in horror, and other genres besides, is pointing out human cruelty. The desire to stay alive in a zombie apocalypse leads some people to sacrifice others so they can live (usually rich and rude jerks we don’t care about living anyway). One of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes is The Shelter, where people do ask ‘Why should your family live while mine dies?’

In Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, Leah Murray refers to Thomas Hobbes claim that life in a “state of nature”, without government or authority, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” . Murray extends this to the zombie apocalypse, looking at Romero’s Dead series. In thinking about recent battlegrounds, you could go further and apply this to jerks on the inernet – with anonymity and seeming no authority or law, people are free to call you whatever negative terms they can think of (although I do think ‘baddie’ is a stupid term).

Hiding away food, weapons, information is fairly common – especially outside of horror. But there are other examples of human cruelty that is not against each other. Cruelty against weak/helpless zombies is common, usually red necks picking them off, blowing them up, stringing them up and using them as target practise. Admittedly, this could just be a reflection of what could be our cruelty to each other if we had anarchy.

There’s nothing in the world I love like a person who likes and is kind to animals, especially my cat. There are quite a few heroes in the zombpocalypse who still look after animals and share meager stores with them (non-zombiepocalypses too!). Human cruelty is seen in so many ways and with varying levels of severity. Some see horse jumping as cruelty. Dog fights are definitely cruel. I forget where it’s from, whether academic or fiction, but I remember a saying that our civilisations worth is based upon how we treat our smallest, our weakest.

But mum, he’s just undead!

“The next step in evolution of this highly specially subgenre will likely literalise the metaphor, presenting narratives in which the zombies tell their own stories, acting as true protagainsts and even heroes”

~ Kyle William Bishop, American Zombie Gothic

Why can’t we love the undead? So many friends push aside the idea of a zombie lover completely (you guys can’t judge me! You read about vampire sex!)

As discussed before, zombie romance is more romance. Sex never enters the equation. It’s about a relationship of souls (personalities), a coming together of two people.

But still zombies aren’t good enough! The rotting is either done away with completely or can be avoided with medication. The eating of people or brains is the same. So where is the problem? They are undead humans, as are vampires.

With rational thought, being capable of emotions, moral agency and free will, why are the undead any less suitable as mates? They can’t procreate and have different lifespans, and perhaps different nutritional needs, but so can human lovers. (Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy  Should Vampires be held Accountable for their Bloodthirsty Behaviour – John Draeger) Some undead choose to vegetarian and will not eat humans, just as some humans choice to not eat meat or meat byproducts.  (Z,V & P – The Blood connection between Vampires and Vegetarians by Wayne Yuen)

So, they might have a disease, parasite, genetic mutation or be cursed by magic. Why do we accept a Trill then (a humanoid that is capable of hosting an inner snakey-alien that shares its lives)? Or a Bajoran’s nose? They are different from humans physically too. (Can you tell I just rewatched Deep Space Nine?)

The lovely Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Frankly, people stereotype zombies. And if you think its too far from cultural zombie lore, look at Day of the Dead. Bub could recognise death and exhibited signs of sorrow. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead looked after his zombie community. There was even a cute couple holding hands, strolling about the apocalyptic scene, who were zombies.

 

As far back as forever there are stories of love between humans and the unknown, gods , fairies, monsters etc. This evolution of the zombie is no lesser than those stories. At a time, werewolves might never have appealed or vampires not been sexy (but Alexander Skarsgard is always sexy!), it is time and literary evolution and imagination that allow us to perceive injustice to these creatures.

 

Don’t prejudice your daughter’s next boyfriend just because he’s a zombie. He’ll treat her right!

 

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Recommended Reading
Non-Fiction
American Zombie Gothic by Kyle William Bishop
Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, edited by Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad
Fiction
Including love with zombies, zombie like beings or humans infected with zombie plague
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
Warm Bodies by Issaac Marion
Generation Dead (series) by Daniel Waters
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (series) by Carrie Ryan
Die for Me by Amy Plum
I Kissed a Zombie and I liked by by Adam Selzer
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (series) by Seth Graeme-Smith and Steve Hockensmith and Jane Austen (first book is Jane Austen’s with Seth’s additions, the prequel and sequel are by Steve)

ZomRom is misunderstood

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about zombie romance, particularly with the upcoming movie of the brilliant Warm Bodies. People read the synopsis and think they know all the depths of a zombie romance. But there are elements of classic zombie texts in zombie romance too, and compared to vampires, zombies make way better boyfriends!

 

Brilliant artist Matt Busch recreated some of the best movie posters into zombie posters with his Hollywood is Dead series. Click on the picture for his website.

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Vampires are undead too

If anyone mentions necrophilia with zombies only, remind them that vampires are corpses too. Sex is not an essential part of a romance story, and if you really want to think about it, how do vampires get aroused when they have no blood to … stiffen. These zombie romances are young adult books, not erotica (although I’m sure there is some out there!). They are about first kisses and dates to the movies, not horny and sex-obsessed (which most vampires seem to be – True Blood, I kissed a zombie and I liked it.)

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Zombies – the gentle lover

Vampires are dominating creatures in any text, they usually have super human strength, mind reading or controlling abilities and other powers that put them at a distinct advantage over humans. Vampires take advantage of this in many texts, or even use human-like manipulation and psychological warfare, constantly reminding the humans how useless they are, how small, how insignificant, how defenceless against the vampires.

Zombies in romance texts are much more gentle. They are not forceful, never mash their mouths against a woman against her will. They are seen are weak one on one, only powerful in hordes, and it could be this that makes them softer. They are content with basic touches, of hands, hair, hugs.

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Humans, best served warm

There’s a few ways that zombie romances get around the whole cannibalism thing. Some zombies just exist as corpses, not requiring any food. Some use medication to control their urges. Some just have self-control. Authors do come up with interesting ways to control their zombies.  There are ways of controlling vampires too, but as they are dominating creatures, they usually find ways around the control. In most texts, without food, the vampire will perish or enter a type of coma. Even in zombie-as-enemy texts, zombies don’t need food. They crave to consume, but can last a long time without food.

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Conciousness is essential

Zombie romance is not the only texts that include zombies with self awareness. Many zombie-as-enemy texts have self-conciousness as well, even in Romero’s work, so it doesn’t go against the lore of the zombie (if there is really any lore, Romero is the definition). Self-awareness is important in their journey. While vampires can choose to become vampires, zombies are always the victim.

 

Happy Zom-pocalypse!

I had an awesome birthday party with friends and family at the archery range (Australia has a lot of gun laws, and bows are quieter) and then watched the extended (and original) Dawn of the Dead.

Allison and I got a bullseye at the same time!

And of course, I got a lot of zombie related presents! Or book vouchers, which I turned into zombie related presents. So even if reading about my birthday is boring, here’s a list of the books I’ve gotten.

Kyle William Bishop has written a huge amount of intelligent and insightful zombie articles, and this book is one I’ve been dying to get for ages. He is very well referenced in a lot of other articles and theses. This book goes through the entire evolution of the zombie from it’s start in voodoo, and of course, throughout the Romero era. In particular, I’ve been looking forward to a chapter called ‘Humanizing the Living Dead’.

Fred Botting is a staple of any gothic or horror related article or thesis. He wrote the hugely referenced book The Gothic in 1996, but I chose this one as it was published in 2010 and relates to horror and science fiction with looks into cyberspace, posthuman machines and inhuman technology. I might end up getting The Gothic as well, but this one was on sale.

Considering the influences of vampires on zombie lore (e.g. the use of bite = infection/change, and famously, I am Legend was a huge influence on Romero and is often confused for a zombie novel), this looks awesome. Reading academic reviews of it, it isn’t the most in-depth or detailed, particularly for those who are highly read in the subjects already, but considering I’m just starting out my research, it will be useful.

A non-zombie book! *le gasp* I’m hoping that this book will be helpful in establishing cultural and societal anxieties, and how humanity adapted. This will also be related to another thesis idea I have (with science fiction texts) and hope to explore in a masters or doctors thesis. I do absolutely love (and am very amused at) how much the sex industry contributes to technology.

Now for fiction! Dust looks fascinating, as it’s one of the few books which looks at zombies from the zombies point of view (also seen in Warm Bodies, or Life as a White Trash Zombie). This looks at life as a posthuman, and while humans are scared of zombies, what is it that can scare the monster? One of the biggest problems with zombies is that they are really hard to make into sympathetic characters (but it can be done!), so I’m looking forward to seeing how Turner deals with this.

This just looks fantastic to me. Society has devolved back to Victorian customs (love the clothing!) and while there are evil zombies, there are SAS-like squads of good zombies. One thing that drives me nuts about fantasy is that so many reviewers relate every fantasy back to Tolkien (even if they’ve never read Tolkien … ><), and what makes me start foaming at the mouth about zom-rom is that people who don’t know better just say it’s a rip off of Twilight. I’ve already ranted about this before, but in looking at reviews of this book, I saw the same thing again. That’s more a problem with the whole Cult of the Amateur. For me, I can’t wait to read this!