Zombies and Indians | The American Conservative

28 Jul

I don’t watch much TV (and that might be an understatement), but it’s hard not to be aware of the current zombie-mania afflicting those who do. And it isn’t only the TV-addicts. Book lovers have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, provided that they are not Jane Austen purists. Still, I was surprised to hear a woman at church say a friend of hers didn’t want to talk about Christianity because “there might be a zombie apocalypse.”

Any movies involving folklore usually slaughter the folklore, and zombie movies are no exception. We have come a long way from West African zombie stories, in which a sorcerer was the real culprit, raising dead bodies for his own personal use. The cultural significance of the zombie obsession? Well…I’m guessing that it’s related to the dystopian obsession, some eschatology obsessions, and also the obsessions of certain political junkies. We live in an uncertain world. Some people try to avoid discussing the uncertainties, but other people delve into them or transform them by other means. Thus, zombies.

But does the fact that many of us like reading or watching zombie-related material signify something more than simply uncertainty? I’m not sure. Noah Millman, in his article “Zombies and Indians,” argues that it does. I’m not sure that I’m completely convinced by his arguments (and I disagree with his comparing current treatment of zombies to Tolkien’s treatment of Orcs). But Millman’s main assertion holds. If we want to criticize the dehumanization of the Indians in old Westerns…well…the zombies are more dehumanized. For obvious reasons, certainly–but do zombies books and films reflect a preference to view enemies as inhuman?

I can’t answer that question, but it certainly is one to ponder. If the answer is yes, then we really aren’t morally better than our ancestors. For some of us, that is no surprise. For others, there might be some serious thinking to do.


Posted by on July 28, 2013 in Science Fiction


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3 responses to “Zombies and Indians | The American Conservative

  1. tolde by the weye

    July 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    I think the recent explosion in zombie popularity has mainly to do with restoring balance in the world of monsters and the current revival of 80’s popular culture.

    Between Twilight and True Blood, vampires became just too popular – even werewolves received more than their due share of the spotlight… It’s the zombies’ turn now and as we revive 80’s fashion – we recall Michael Jackson’s music video “Thriller” which prominently features zombies. It is easily one of the most well known music videos from the 80’s.

    … when I was living in rural West Africa some guys would show up to the village and bring a tv with a gas generator to show movies – usually nigerian clones of indian soap opera musicals, but sometimes kung fu movies and horror flicks… kind of reminded me of the cinema from Boy and His Dog, actually…

    anyway, one night we were watching Blade and village men would yell, “Zombie!” each time Blade hacked and slashed his way through a horde of vampires. It was only a borrowed english word they incorporated into their local language, but the word just had a ring to it that “vampire” simply didn’t have.

  2. A. Carroll Crowe

    July 29, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Interesting perspective. Putting Twilight and The Walking Dead together hadn’t occurred to me, probably because vampires have gotten a more “feminine” characterization, while zombies are perceived as more “masculine.” I guess said teenage girls are turned off by the decomposition….

  3. asinusspinasmasticans

    August 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    The answer for me came in “Shaun Of The Dead”, when the protagonist mistook a living Briton for a zombie, being unable to distinguish any difference.


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