Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Zombies Are Us, edited by Christopher M. Moreman (3/5)

Whew!  I’m finally done with this bad boy.  The official title is Zombies Are Us:  Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead, but we’ll call it Zombies for simplicity’s sake.  It was a long, hard slog for me, and given the amalgamated reviews on Librarything, I’m not the only one.  As of the writing of this review, Zombies had an average rating of 1.58 out of 5 stars.  Put mildly, the folks out there in interwebs land no-likee.  I would be lying if I said I felt much different.  For the most part, Zombies is not an easy or enjoyable read.  But being the contrary SoB that I am (just ask my wife), I’ve got a slightly different opinion.

The problem, as I see it, lies with the marketing.  It’s a great example of how trying to blatantly cash in on a prevailing cultural fad can blow up in your face like a direct express package from the Unabomber.  Here’s the blurb they gave us for the Librarything Early Reviewers teaser:

On the surface, the zombie seems the polar opposite of the human—they are the living dead; we, in essence, are the dying alive.  But the zombie is also “us.”  Although decaying, it looks like us, dresses like us, and sometimes (if rarely) acts like us.  In this volume, essays by scholars from a range of disciplines examine the zombie as a thematic presence in literature, film, video games, legal language, and philosophy, exploring topics including zombies and the environment, litigation, the afterlife, capitalism, and the erotic.  Through this wide-ranging examination of the zombie phenomenon, the authors seek to discover what the zombie can teach us about being human.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Sure, except for one little point.  See where it says “essays by scholars”?  That’s all well and good, but that’s not an accurate description.  The “more better” phrasing would have been “scholarly essays,” and it might have clued a few more people in to what the book is really about.  You might think I’m splitting hairs here (and I probably am), but there can be a vast difference between essays by scholars and scholarly essays.  A scholar could write an essay that is informative and entertaining, while at the same time being accessible and understandable by most laypeople.  Scholarly work, on the other hand, is often times dry, dense, and filled with esoteric and convoluted phrasing that only serves to make the author feel smarter.  Thus, any reader who couldn’t divine that meaning out of the book description was going to be a wee bit pissed when they opened up their shiny new present and instead found a pile of rotting fish guts.

Not that scholarly work should be considered rotting fish guts (most of the time anyway), but the fact remains that the publishers over-sold the book and promised something they couldn’t deliver.  Me, on the other hand, I’ve had lots of experience reading the obscure ramblings of academic blowhards.  I even thought about becoming just such a blowhard once upon a time.  So even though it took me over two stinkin’ weeks to finish the damn thing, I was still able to glean a modicum of enjoyment from the experience of reading Zombies Are Us.  That’s why I give it a middling rating of three stars.

At this point most people are probably going to wander off to find something else to read, but in the interest of full disclosure (and because I like hearing myself type—not unlike a lot of the aforementioned academic blowhards) I’m going to give a list of the essays included in Zombies Are Us and a sentence or two about them.  Feel free to zone for a while.  I’ll shake you if you fall asleep.

>>“Your Zombie and You:  Identity, Emotion, and the Undead” by Craig Derksen and Darren Hudson Hick – This one was O.K., a pretty decent lead-off.  It’s about the question of identity between the living person and the (un)dead, and whether that identity, or part of it, survives zombification.

>>“Rave from the Grave:  Dark Trance and the Return of the Dead” by Graham St. John – I understand where the author was going with this one—likening rave-goers to zombies in the way that the establishment view them as mindless, strange, and frightening—but the execution was horrible.  When the author wasn’t quoting the sampled movie lines in certain songs, he was trying to prop up his weak theme by inserting as many big words as possible.

>>“Porn of the Dead:  Necrophilia, Feminism, and Gendering the Undead” by Steve Jones– I.. I just…wow.  First time I’ve ever seen someone try to dissect a porn flick and call it literary criticism.  The film in question is zombie porn (and I didn’t know those things even existed), and similar to said film, the essay is pretty bum-fuzzling.

>>“Modern Zombie Makers:  Enacting the Ancient Impulse to Control and Possess Another” by Suzanne Goodney Lea – This was probably one of the most entertaining in the whole bunch.  The author used the examples of a pair of well-known serial killers to make the case that such killers dominate others much like the voodoo zombie makers did.

>>“Corporate Zombies and the Perils of Zombie Litigation:  the Walking Dead in American Judicial Writing” by Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan – If anything, this one gets the award for “most surprising” read.  It sounds really awful, but the authors did a good job turning what could have been a very dry subject into something readable.

>>“The Living Word Among the Living Dead:  Hunting for Zombies in the Pages of the Bible” by Michael J. Gilmour – The title is pretty self-explanatory.  Good idea, but it overreaches by about a mile.  Methinks the author was trying to fill up his word quota and had to use weaker evidence to make the cut.

>>“Religion, Blasphemy, and Tradition in the Films of Lucio Fulci” by James Reitter – It was basically one big plot regurgitation of the films of Lucio Fulci, a founding father of the slasher/splatter punk genre of horror films.  All it really did was convince me that I never want to see a Lucio Fulci film.

>>“The Mutated Spirit:  The Hollywood Zombie as Psychopomp” by Keira McKenzie – A psychopomp is evidently an individual who bridges the gap between the living and the dead, like a witch doctor of psychic medium… yeah, it’s pretty lame.

>>“Dharma of the Living Dead:  A Buddhist Meditation on the Zombie” by Christopher M. Moreman”  - Points go to this one for being readable.  Points are subtracted because it takes the author ¾ of the essay to get to the freakin’ point.  Overall it’s a wash.

>>“Digital Dead:  Translating the Visceral and Satirical Elements of George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to Videogames” by Gareth Schott – There were other pieces of evidence, but the main point was that the videogame Dead Rising was an homage to Dawn of the Dead.  Both involve survivors in a mall full of (or surrounded by) zombies.  Kind of a “duh” topic, but it was still a good read.

>>“How the Zombie Changed Videogames” by Matthew J. Weiss – The author argues that the original Resident Evil changed videogames by creating the Survival Horror genre.  There were some other good points as well, but in the end it really just made me want to play RE again.

>>“Undead Is the New Green:  Zombies and Political Ecology” by Greg Pollock – After reading this essay, I can honestly say that I have no idea what it is about.  Really.

>>“Plans are Pointless; Staying Alive Is as Good as It Gets:  Zombie Sociology and the Politics of Survival: by Sara Sutler-Cohen – The author dissects three films—Fido, Zombies Anonymous, and American Zombie—as a way of illustrating how zombie films depict the survival of the humanity past the bounds of death.  It was really one of the stronger essays of the collection, and a good one to end on.

So yeah—I’m sticking by my three star rating.  If you think you can handle some dry academic writing, be my guest and give Zombies Are Us a try.  If not, save yourself some trouble and don’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

35 comments:

  1. WOW! At first when you said you were reading this I was all "I want that too!"

    Then when you mentioned you were struggling with it I was like "Uh... maybe not."

    Then I read this and now I'm all "I HAVE to read this!"

    I think having read this review and knowing full well what I would be getting into, I would approach this reading in a much more ironic fashion and probably enjoy the hell out of it, if for no other reason than laughing at stuffy academics deconstructing the zombie.

    (Actually, I really just want to read Porn of the Dead. Who thinks of this stuff!?!?!)

    Oh, and you absolutely DO want to see Zombi by Lucio Fulci if for no other reason than Zombie vs. Shark.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like you were on a roller coaster ride there for a little while. Good luck in your own reading of this thing!

      And yeah, the Zombie vs. Shark scene did sound pretty intriguing. The rest of it, though, just seemed like it made no sense whatsoever. ;)

      Thanks for reading, man. I was looking forward to seeing what you had to say.

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