Zombies and the White Man's Burden

Russ Pitts | 6 Aug 2007 17:00
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

There's a certain satisfaction to be had from achieving a state of moral outrage. I won't deny having felt it myself; it's a singular pleasure. It's also a complete waste of time.

Moral outrage is the passive-aggressive activism, designed for those with all the passion required to change the world but none of the drive. At its heart, it requires helplessness. We become outraged when we perceive an unacceptable situation beyond our control, and yet we can't accept that there's nothing to be done. The response, then, is to become morally outraged, sign a petition or star a flame war and hope someone somewhere will do something.

This month's target of internet invective is the Resident Evil 5 trailer. This one has been under a lot of scrutiny of late, mainly because, for the first time ever, the antagonists of a videogame are poor black villagers (never mind that they've been zombified, they're still poor black villagers), and the protagonist is white. For some folks, this is unacceptable, and they see no way to do anything about it. Cue: moral outrage.

For starters, let's talk about race. One of the two main reasons this trailer has sparked a bit of ire is we still have a lot of folks (of all colors) in America who feel pretty bad about that whole slavery thing. But the fact is, in spite of lingering social and economic after effects, racial relations have never been better in America, and in spite of the occasional outbreak of moral outrage, the time when anyone felt superior or inferior to anyone else based strictly on skin color is rapidly becoming a distant memory.

That's not to say racism and prejudice don't still exist, but long gone are the days when a white man and a black man weren't expected to drink from the same water fountain. They may not still, but this behavior is no longer regulated by law. So why the moral ambivalence? For some, it's truly a case of regret over past injustices. But for other's it's a misplaced angst over the belief they should feel guilty. Either way, guilt will not solve this problem. Nor will vilifying instances of perceived racism, crying wolf at every passing shadow.

But let's look at whether or not the scenes depicted in the Resident Evil 5 trailer really are racist. After all, a single white man slaughtering hordes of black characters is bound to be indicative of something, isn't it? Not necessarily.

For one thing, Capcom, the game's developer, has made a mint on these zombie games. Were previous Resident Evil games, in which the player was able to slaughter hordes of white zombies, racist against white people? Perhaps, but where was the moral outrage there? In Dead Rising, from the same developer, the zombies were average Americans in a middle class Colorado town. They were mostly white, but there was a black character shooting at them. Was this racist? What about the highly successful Resident Evil 4, in which most of the action took place in a European village, and the zombies were poor Europeans? Was this a harbinger of a renewed aggression toward poor Europeans? I don't think so. Sometimes, a zombie, as they say, is just a zombie.

But let's assume that the poor black villagers in the Resident Evil 5 trailer aren't just zombies. Let's assume for a moment that the juxtaposition of black vs. white was intentional. Let's assume for moment that Capcom wanted players of its latest game to feel something when facing a sea of poor black villagers-turned-zombies down the barrel of a gun. What then?

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