The Return of the Genre

The Return of the Genre
You Are What Eats You

Ray Huling | 3 Jun 2008 08:47
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They're liberating as well. For the pin-up models, undergoing make-up applications for up to six hours is well worth the chance to be gross. Motil did non-zombie photo styling for some time prior to her calendar. The cover-up work endemic to a standard shoot suddenly became an opportunity for creativity. Any flaw that a model perceived in herself, a cause for consternation in industry work, could be turned into an advantage. "Let's rot it off!" Motil would say.

A similar turnabout happened with men's responses to the images: They were aroused, says Motil, but disturbed by their arousal. Not just because of the gore, but because of the idea of the devouring female. Still, she says, "no need to make the feminist statement too obvious."

What the Hell Was All That Back There?
The revival of the zombie genre had something to do with being obvious, however. They are an extremely blunt monster, more like Godzilla as the Bomb than vampires as the AIDS epidemic. We prize zombies for their frankness, rather than any particular symbolism they might convey. Faulds and Motil do not make use of zombies for identical ends. Nor does a zombie kickball game mean the same thing as zombie yoga. (Yes, both of these took place, in Maine and New York, respectively.) The popularity of zombies suggests a desire for starkest clarity, for direct confrontation with an issue - but what's so great about being clear?

On Halloween of 2006, Kim Paffenroth, a professor of religious studies at Iona College, published Gospel of the Living Dead, a Christian interpretation of George Romero's zombie films. Last year, he put out his first novel, Dying to Live, a zombie apocalypse story. For Paffenroth, zombies work as powerful allegories, because no matter how starkly they portray the author's cause, they always provoke moral quandaries.

"Assume that the monsters stand in for a threat that exists in the real world," says Paffenroth. For zombies, that could mean consumerism, avian flu, income disparity, the military-industrial complex or any other source of modern paranoia. In Romero's Land of the Dead, the poor literally eat the rich, but because zombies, rather than giant bugs, represent the poor, it's much more difficult to see them being killed. In a horror film that allegorizes a contemporary controversy, the form the monster takes means everything. "The more you can kill it with impunity," says Paffenroth, "the more you can say, 'I can solve the problem with a gun.'"

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