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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Benefits – DLA, PiP, JSA, UC and other meaningless, purposefully obfuscatory acronyms.

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About five, or so my memory isn’t exactly clear on the subject, my mum had a massive stroke. I was around 15. For a couple of months my mum was taken away to the hospital and I didn’t see her. I didn’t want to see her, and my family barely questioned it. I stayed home, often alone – as my close knit family would visit my mum every night in the Royal, and do things like washing up (things I had hardly ever done before) because I wanted to help. When I finally worked up the courage, and it was a lack of courage that prevented me from going, I saw the woman who had raised on her own paralyzed completely down the right-hand side of her body and unable to coherently speak.

I didn’t see her again until she came out of the hospital. Not properly.

When she did come out though, she had improved. And in the years since she has improved more. Not physically. At all. But mentally. After a year or so she was recognisably my Mum again, although a lot less confident, dependent and docile.

I was raised on benefits, as was my brother. I’m grateful to the state for allowing me to live. My mum received Income Support before her stroke, and receives Disability Living Allowance now. In addition she has the majority of her council tax waived, and is granted Housing Benefit to pay the majority of her rent in the council house I lived in.

In the last couple of months she has received letters from the Departments for Work and Pensions and other government departments telling her that her Council Tax is going up, her Housing Benefit is going down (the bedroom tax, but that discussion is for another day – along the lines of the government think houses are just bricks and mortar but they’re actually homes where my Nan cooked dinner before she died, or so I’m told I was too young), and her DLA is getting overhauled and changed. She doesn’t understand what’s happening, but slowly and clearly laying it out lets it sink in a bit.

So I’ve been reading up alot on this, and I honestly don’t think most people know. So I thought I’d just quickly run through what’s happening.

It is billed as an efficiency drive. Most of the announcements came close around the time that the government was attempting to drive the media message home of a country divided between strivers and scroungers. My mum is not a scrounger. Not now, and not before her stroke. She raised me and my brother on a bare minimum of money (even during the New Labour years) and got them both into good schools, with good grades and into and out of University. My brother is months away from qualifying to be a doctor. After her stroke, she is severely disabled and the most clear ‘unfit to work’ person you’re likely to meet.

All of these quotes are from the government’s own Impact Assessment for the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment to replace the Disability Living Allowance.

Costs of £710m to implement a new benefit and move existing DLA recipients to the new benefit.

These are the costs estimated by the government (so presumably they’re lowballing) of creating the new structure of the new benefit (Personal Independence Payment, PiP from here on) and destroying the infrastructure of the DLA. The costs of training people in the new one, and changing the forms. Simple things like that. Over half a billion.

Net costs to individuals of £2,240m from reduced benefit expenditure over the three year migration period from focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs.

This is the amount the government will recoup from the new benefit system. The savings can only be made by reducing payments, or throwing people off the benefit completely. Now, two billion pounds over three years is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s a lot of money. A lot of money taken away from mostly deserving disabled people, but that’s another matter.

Due to forecast growth in working age DLA expenditure, reducing working age DLA expenditure by 20% in 2015/16 means returning working age DLA spending to 2009/10 levels in real terms.

This is a 20% cut in the amount given to every recipient (essentially) to move the cost of the benefit back to what it was when the Tories came into government. Before the true bite of the financial crisis had hit the real UK economy, and the unnecessary bite of government austerity eroded any hope of growth.

Net reductions in benefit expenditure from focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs will lead to benefits for taxpayers and the exchequer.

This is a euphemism for taking people on benefits. The phrase: “focussing support on disabled people with greatest needs” means throwing those not deemed deserving off. I’m not dismissing benefit fraud, it’s a real problem – but the DLA is probably the least abused, because it is so hard to fake. The benefits for the Exchequer are cash savings, obviously.

If there is a positive employment impact as a result of this policy there would be the benefit of higher economic output and the subsequent gain in revenue from increased taxation. There are also likely to be individual health benefits if more disabled people move into work.

This is total speculation. The idea that those thrown off the benefit will immediately start working (presuming they could, and aren’t being thrown off wrongly and so can’t work – the stories of which everyone knows). So these gains are illusory, they don’t exist – hence the lack of a figure applied to it. The ridiculous aside at the end that putting these vulnerable people back into work forcible will probably benefit their health is best ignored as callous rubbish.

However, no adjustment is made for additional costs associated with disability. This is because research shows these vary significantly in level and nature, and there is no general agreement on how to measure these costs.

This is after a statement that most recipients of DLA, and now presumably PiP if they haven’t been thrown off, are usually middle income – not very, very poor, and not very, very rich. So…pretty normal people. Not my mum. We’re at the lowest income level. This statement makes clear that the additional costs of being disabled (which are astronomical in case you didn’t know – the NHS does the best it can to help, but it can’t provide everything) crutches, wheelchairs (manual and electric so they can have independence), padding, a specially made bed, specially designed chairs, a special diet (for diabetes) – and these are just the ones, off the top of my head, and from my experience – there must be much more. All of these additional costs are not included at all, so let’s start by shifting the income levels of all of those DLA/PiP claimants right the way down towards the poorer end of the spectrum right away.

It’s clear, and pretty explicit – although you won’t hear it in most media outlets – that the switchover to PiP is not a drive for efficiency, or fairness as it is portrayed by the government; it’s a transparent attempt to reduce the welfare bill, throw people off benefits and cut the money going to those in need. These cuts are very, very painful and this is just a tiny, tiny angle of the welfare reform – let alone the totality of the cuts (which explain the bedroom tax, rent increases and council tax rises I mentioned before which will both push people into poverty – Source) – and this pain is to save just over £2 billion over three years, so £666 million a year.

To put that in perspective the renewal of Trident, Britain’s new nuclear deterrent, will cost the UK government (the statements vary) from £20 billion for the new equipment (excluding maintenance which is much more costly – Source), to  £76 billion (Source) and from a the Deputy Prime Minister himself £100 billion (Source) the new building and refurbishing of big ticket military items like aircraft carriers (including Trident) cost £130 billion. (Source). That’s at the conservative, government estimate ten times what these cuts are saving, and at the probably more accurate figure seventy times!

Tax evasion is another matter entirely. Figures for how much this costs the Uk economy range widely too. From £25 billion (Source), to £30 billion every year (Source), to £70 billion a year (as the Source helpfully points out is the equivalent for 56% of the entire NHS budget a year). So this at the conservative estimate is over ten times the cuts, and at the more likely numbers is thirty five times more expensive to the Exchequer.

[Benefit fraud in its entirety only costs £1 billion for the record – Source]

It’s the hypocrisy that really galls me. If we were all in it together, and we were all suffering to fix a crisis then that would be one thing. But we’re not. In the slightest. If they just enforced the law all of these cuts would be meaningless. The government needs to be spending to fill the absence of demand in the economy, and kickstart it – but even if that weren’t true enforcing our tax laws would negate the need for these deep, deep, painful, devastating cuts on vulnerable people. The broken promises of a failed economic plan have beggared millions and this number will only increase – and my entire generation has been lost to the sands of time.

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In the Flesh. Zombies and Mental Health continued.

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In the Flesh. Zombies and Mental Health continued.

In-The-Flesh-2

As an addendum to my long essay on the zombie myth and mental illness, the brand new (still running) BBC3 series In the Flesh is an interesting new take. It features “zombism” as a curable condition called “Partial Death Syndrome” and the series using the zombie metaphor to discuss issues like sexuality, civil rights and de-humanisation of the enemy that takes place in war (the series features an Afghanistan war veteran very prominently), in a more often than not slightly heavy-handed manner. It’s still very worth a watch. And really good.

Most importantly, and usefully for the discussion I am attempting to start is the central role that mental health plays in the show. The main character killed himself when his friend (it’s heavily implied there is a homosexual love there, perhaps unrequited – it’s not clear yet) left for Afghanistan. His younger sister is coming to terms with the abandonment she felt at his death, and this manifests as a hostility to everyone – her reanimated, healthy brother most of all. The show also depicts zombies who are “rabid”, i.e. not on the heavy drug regimen (mentioned later) as good at heart. There are flashbacks of the zombies as monsters eating flesh, but that’s it. It’s made clear they were driven by the need to consume, and even in a rabid state are shown to be no worse than animals – i.e. they kill to survive, not maliciously. At the heart of it they’re not monsters. In Episode 2 we even see a zombie not on any medication (so what is essentially the traditional zombie from other shows and films) dragging roadkill to a cave where he pulls it up to feed to a little girl who has turned, perhaps his daughter – perhaps not.

The most salient part of the mythos that Dominic Mitchell has added is the drugs that keep the zombies sane, and human. The affected need to take a daily regimen of powerful drugs that are administered painfully, in the back of the neck – straight into the spine. The scenes remind me very clearly of the early way we treated and dealt with victims of HIV/AIDs, and the rumours that spread about them. The most important bit about the medicine though, is the administration of the drugs. There is a port on the back of the zombies’ necks, presumably put they are cut there by the government scientists treating the affected. This port requires another person to give the drugs. Most often we see parents giving the drugs to their children, or spouses to spouses. It’s intimate and painful. It leaves you wondering about every new “zombie” you see in the show, who is clearly on medication – where do they get their drugs, and most importantly who is giving it to them. You see lonely zombies struggling with their lives, lonely – and you think…how do they cope? And the same question can be said today, in the real world, of the lonely.

The humanity and emotion of In the Flesh is its selling point.It’s very well written, superbly acted and just better than most other drama on British television. Watch iiiiiiiit.

It’s Kevin – Limmy’s Show

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It’s Kevin – Limmy’s Show

It's+Kevin

It’s rare to watch a show and during the opening five minutes realise that what you’re watching will probably always remain ‘cult’ – in case you missed it, ‘cult’ is the modern euphemism for “good, but will never be popular”.

I had that experience while watching It’s KevinI also had it when watching Limmy’s ShowThe similarities don’t end there. Both shows break the fourth wall constantly. Both are fully aware they are television shows. Both engage in surrealism. Both have very small bits set in sparse coloured rooms (mostly white), interspersed between longer sketches.

Let’s clear the deck.

Limmy’s Show is probably the greatest British sketch show of the last twenty years, if not ever. It’s fantastic. Comparing any show to it is unfair, because that show won’t stack up. Even if that show is good – like It’s Kevin is.

It’s great that Kevin Eldon (one of our greatest comic actors) finally has his own show with his voice front and centre of it. It’s great that the BBC is standing behind surreal comedy that is different, instead of the same old crap. I’m really glad that It’s Kevin is airing (and proving unexpectedly popular, or at least Twitter popular – which is very different).

Limmy’s Show feels much different though. Limmy’s Show is very obviously and clearly an auteur’s vision. The show is wholly about Limmy, and the sketches are his voice and only his voice. He writes, directs and even does most of the art production on the show. It is very literally Limmy’s Show.

It’s Kevin though is named aptly. It’s more of a showcase of Eldon’s manifest abilities. He’s a great actor, his propensity for physical comedy is fantastic, and he inhabits characters with gusto. It’s Kevin is sillier than Limmy’s Show. A lot sillier. This is sometimes a good thing. Limmy has a tendency to self-indulge a little bit too much; but more often than not the silliness takes the show out of my belly laugh zone. It’s also a showcase for the talents of others. Limmy is very clearly a lone wolf. His Twitter is a constant stream of jokes and aggression that is more often than not clearly part of his persona as “King of the Trolls”, and his attacks on fellow Scottish comedians (while still probably jokes) are so close to the bone, and played so seriously that it makes me seriously uncomfortable. Limmy is nevertheless championed by his fans, and by the leading lights of comedy – people like Graham Linehan, and Stewart Lee. On the other hand, Kevin Eldon is extremely popular in the comedy fraternity. His softly softly career where he has more often than not allowed himself to be a great second fiddle to the comedian or actor leading the show, which is appreciated by most of those working in the industry. His show features people like Linehan, Daniel Maier, Julia Davis, Adam Buxton, Bill Bailey, Simon Munnery and many more. With a cast and crew list like that, It’s Kevin (while it’s brilliant) should be better. It should be perfect with those names.

I smiled throughout It’s Kevin, and laughed often. When watching Limmy’s Show I have more often than not been crying with laughter. I’ve had to pause episodes in case I miss the next sketch. That’s the major difference, I think. I was watching It’s Kevin and enjoying it – but the tone and leit motifs kept reminding me of Limmy, to the detriment of It’s Kevin. 

Another thing I noticed is the age of virtually all of Eldon’s collaborators. This stable of alternative, surrealist liberal British performers and writers that came of age really in the 90s is growing older. There were around two or three perfomers in the first two episodes that looked under thirty, and I’m worried. I don’t want this aging group of (fantastic) performers and writers to age and leave a vacuum behind. Cardinal Burns, and Anna and Katy can’t fill the gap on their own and if the space left is filled by people like John Bishop, Michael McIntyre, and for a different reason Russell Howard and Frankie Boyle then I think British comedy will be much, much, much worse off.

I don’t know. I liked It’s Kevin loads. I really like Kevin Eldon. I’m not implying that It’s Kevin is derivative in any way, at all – especially considering Eldon is 53 and has been doing his thing for a lot longer than Limmy. And I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to what I believe is the greatest British comedy show possibly ever, and when it doesn’t stack up, go well then it has failed. It hasn’t failed. It’s Kevin is fantastic and really funny.

Also, I hate the semi-serious contempt for the audience shown by Eldon’s use of grating sounds to play over the credits instead of music. The first episode had a pneumatic drill, and the second had a dog barking. I hated it. Limmy’s Show made me uncomfortable many times, and often purposefully but always with a purpose – or even if just done for kicks, there’s another laugh along in a couple of minutes.

Oh and for similarity:

Enlightened

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Enlightened

Enlightened

Remember when House of Cards was released? It was beautifully filmed, superbly written, well acted by big name stars, had a tonne of money sunk into it (rumours of $100 million, actually probably slightly less), very popular and critically well received. In addition to all that it the entire first series was released in one big dump. All of these factors added up to a slew of blog posts and newspaper articles declaring the death of network television, most directed at HBO. They all plotted the decline of HBO, and the rise of the other networks with shows in the HBO mold being made by other stables, particularly AMC (often by former HBO writers and producers) that are incredibly popular: Mad Men (which was pitched to HBO and rejected), Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead.

The media tumult was unnecessary, and overblown – and it amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars of free publicity for Netflix and House of CardsHouse was good, it was even very good in parts, but it was hardly paradigm changing. The only truly revolutionary thing the series did was the release of all episodes at once (a move I think will genuinely have a long-term impact), and the fact that the amount of money meant that non-network television shows were not in the same field as the networks. An expansion of the field to include others does not necessarily mean decline, just a greater sense of equality. The same could be said of the thousands of articles written on American decline as a whole.

House definitely announced Netflix as a major player. That much can’t be denied.

Here’s where we get to what I wanted to talk about. I’ve just finished binge-watching  Enlightened, during a media spasm over its rumoured (and now definite) cancellation after two series.

The series seemed to me to come to a fairly rounded conclusion. The final episode referenced the pilot a fair amount, and the small amount of loose ends left reflected real life to me – but whatever, that’s all moot now. It’s been cancelled.

Here’s what bugs me. Forgive me if this has been discussed somewhere on the net and I’ve missed it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea has been raised in offices and may even be in practice right now.

Why doesn’t Netflix contact Mike White and Laura Dern (the creative forces behind Enlightened in case you didn’t know) and offer them whatever they want to make the third series?

I’m sure this is fraught with legal difficulties and thinking about that now this would probably kill the idea dead – but if Netflix could manage it then it would a PR coup to rival the House of Cards one. It would be cement the idea that Netflix is now one of the big boys, and they could give White and Dern the freedom to carry on their story as they apparently wanted to.

Maybe if this happened all those articles wouldn’t be so pointless and over-wraught.

I think that…

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I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice…of a generation.

— Hannah Horvath

Popular Culture, the Zombie and Mental Health

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Popular Culture, the Zombie and Mental Health

Note on the text: I’m from Britain, so all of my spellings will be in British English, except where I have quoted from an American website where I have retained the authors’ original spelling.

Don't Open Dead Inside

The zombie, primarily in film and to a lesser extent in literature, is the dominant horror monster of modern Western culture. The interwoven tales of all zombie fiction form a framework of ideas, or a meta-myth that is relies on the audience accepting it and bringing with them an understanding of the rules of the genre. Even people who have never watched a film or read a novel containing zombies understand, in remarkable detail, the basics of what a zombie is and what it does through cultural osmosis.

‘Stories are the original virtual reality device; their internal rules spread out into reality around us like a bite-transmitted virus, slowly but inexorably consuming its flesh.’ [1] Many people have used the metaphor for how resilient and inevitable the zombie is for how apparently unstoppably popular the genre is. The cultural dominance of zombies has, in turn, given rise to a burgeoning semi-academia about what zombies, and their popularity, mean.

Zombies have been called ‘the prevailing metaphor of our times’[2], and ‘a social metaphor that refuses to die’[3]. It was so prominent in recent years with the incredibly success of films like Zombieland (2009), television shows like The Walking Dead (2010 – present) and real-life news stories that seemed to eerily parallel those of zombie fiction that the Center (sic) for Disease Control and Prevention issued a controversial report on how to prepare in the event of a zombie apocalypse[4], that was so popular it crashed their website.

It is worth noting that zombies have a peculiar discursive trait that leads them to be discussed as allegories for our time more so than any other modern cultural artefact, and ‘[l]ike all fictional monsters, they are metaphors, and the metaphors can change as a function of current events, of the intended messages, and with the varied audiences.’[5] I would argue that they are especially an especially American myth. A counterculture reworking of an Afro-Caribbean belief divested of its mysticism in most productions that has perhaps dominated the popular consciousness in direct correlation to American hegemony in economic, political and cultural matters. Zombies are texturally and tonally different to older European monsters like the vampire, werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster.

However, I feel that there is a metaphor that has been missed in the pages and pages of virtual ink (and it is mostly virtual) that has been spilt over the zombie mythos. I don’t claim to be anything more than an avid fan, and I’m by no means an expert so if I’ve missed any arguments on this issue then by all means let me know.

George Romero

George Romero, the originator of the modern zombie and creative force behind the earliest and some of the best zombie films ever made, uses his zombie horrors to discuss many things.

Night of the Living Dead (1968), produced at a time when the violent disturbance over the Civil Rights movement, and the turbulent passage of the Civil Rights Act were very fresh in the American and world popular consciousness, uses the idea of the living dead to play with attitudes towards race, being one of the first films to cast a black lead in a plot that was not ostensibly about race, and was acknowledged at the time as ground-breaking. In it we see the straight-laced Harry, in the unenviably tense situation of being holed up in a boarded up country house with many strangers, suddenly start to treat Ben, the black lead, in a manner that at first makes the audience (particularly a modern one) feel uncomfortable, and then progresses into out and out racism. The idea that the veneer of polite society is so thin that a crisis can turn people into seething, angry, selfish bigots was a popular theme of science fiction in the 1960s with its most distilled representation in an episode of The Twilight Zone titled ‘The Shelter’ (1961). Later in Night, the audience sees news reports of uniformly white male gangs armed with shotguns roaming the streets. The same news reports depict a white, Southern Sheriff McClennan talking about how to deal with the dead that have risen; scenes that would have been terribly familiar to the lynch posses that existed in the American South within living memory of the audience watching the film.

A further interpretation of Romero’s (and others’) zombie films is that they are a subtle examination of nuclear fear in America, and the larger Western world, demonstrating the depth of cultural mining that can go into analyses of zombie films. Most prominently in Night, we as an audience, who at the time would be much more familiar with these tropes, observe a group of people thrust together by circumstance in a house whose windows are boarded up windows, hoarding water, and huddled around a radio and briefly a television set listening to and watching government emergency broadcasts on what to do. The correlations with the government guidelines on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack are frighteningly similar.

The follow-up to Night Dawn of the Dead (1978), made in the wake of the first ever strip mall to be built in the world – its own cultural phenomenon that is just as dominant as zombies –has been described as a ‘melodramatic metaphor for recent theoretical disputes over the nature of value of consumerism’[6]. The holed-up survivors treat the barred up shopping mall they find themselves in as a kind of temporary utopia where they can shop, and shop (until they drop?) in what has been called ‘a fantasy of purchase power’[7] with no legal or economic consequences. The 70s was the start of consumer capitalism boom that would grow and grow until things like publics relations and marketing would convert the customer themselves into classified commodities. In Romero’s film the mindless zombies converge on the things they remember, even in death, scenes that permeate the film and hammer home Romero’s point that many of us are already zombies, slave to the excesses of consumer capitalism. When one character asks why so many of the undead have come to the mall, they receive the reply ‘Instinct. Memory. It’s something they used to do. It was an important place in their lives’[8].

‘Both are potentially life-threatening, single-minded herds who shamble around with glassy-eyed stares (this is due to undeath for the zomvies and probably lack of sleep for the shopping masses), pressing their faces against glass doors and traveling around hands forward clamoring for sustenance (brains) and/or those sweet, sweet deals… It’s not at all difficult to see the shambling hordes of undead as a metaphor for open-mouthed shoppers wandering through the halls of the temple of capitalism.’[9]

Dawn has also been interpreted as an analysis of how society interacts with science, of particular relevance to climate change today. In the opening scene a news broadcast shows an interview with a scientific expert ending with the presenter answering whether they believe that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living with ‘I’m not sure what to believe doctor. All we get is what you people tell us’, to which the scientist implores ‘What will it take to make you people see?’. This frank exposure of the media, and therefore the average person’s relationship to scientific expertise, which seems very wrongheaded and stupid in this context is further examined and expanded on in Romero’s later films.[10] In a world gripped in the throes of a nuclear standoff facilitated largely by scientific advances during the Second World War, it is not hard to sympathise with the average person who felt that scientists were not at all concerned with the ramifications of their work; a theme that is in evidence clearly in popular works like Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963).

Later, in Day of the Dead (1985), Romero moves his discussions on to things like the military-industrial complex, scientific detachment from society and the idea that the ends justifies the means. Ideas reinforced by the much later originator of a new wave of zombie films 28 Days Later (2002), a film which would also explore in-depth the feral nature of man when the constraints of society are removed.

Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg, writer, star and one of the main creative forces behind (in my opinion) the greatest zombie film of all time Shaun of the Dead (2004), a comedy which achieves the majority of its laughs from the acknowledgement that the audience understand tropes of zombie films, has articulated one of the most famous (and obvious) metaphors in a great article published in the Guardian defending the idea of slow moving zombies. In ‘The Quick and the Dead’, published in 2008, Pegg articulates why he believes that the zombie myth is so pervasive in Western culture, the reason being that they represent death.

’As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.’[11]

Pegg’s thesis is perfectly defensible, and I’d say accurate. It’s well argued, and tacitly accepted by most people without even giving it much thought. The undeniably most popular and critically acclaimed portrayal of the zombie mythos at the moment The Walking Dead (2010 – present) reinforces Pegg’s theory in many ways, not least of which is the fact (SPOILER) ‘the Walking Dead’ of the title refers to the human protagonists not the zombies; as in Robert Kirkman’s universe the virus has infected everyone alive. You can die of natural means (not even being bitten) and still return as one of the living dead. This universe has the crushing inevitability of death front of centre of its narrative.

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) (1974) a criminally underappreciated film from the rich European zombie tradition from Jorge Grau, a Spanish director who filmed in Britain with a predominantly Italian cast and crew, shows that the resonance of these films stretch outside of the Anglo-Saxon tradition; and also demonstrates just how all-encompassing the zombie myth grew to be so quickly. This movie explores the previously well-trodden idea of institutional incompetence in the face of crisis, a theme that can be plotted in virtually every zombie film (after all if the government could deal with the problem, the film would end quickly and be pretty boring). It also explicitly plays with ideas of death and love like so many other films, but it achieves this in a particularly well-acted and well-written tale.

Charlie Brooker

Charlie Brooker, the writer discussed in Pegg’s article, has used zombies in many of his projects; explicitly in Dead Set (2008), and more implicitly in a fantastic recent episode of Black Mirror ‘White Bear’ (2013). Brooker’s unique take on the idea of the zombie rests on what seems to be his idée fixe when writing science fiction – the detachment of modern culture engenders and our obsession with electronic devices.

In Dead Set, a zombie outbreak occurs during an eviction night of the reality television show Big Brother. In a very of-the-time, but still biting, satire of celebrity culture Brooker co-opts the fast zombie trope from Danny Boyle and has the contestant desperate for fame find themselves trapped and inevitably killed by their lust for the limelight personified in these gangs of flesh-eating monsters (the paparazzi anyone?). Similarly, his episode of his acclaimed science fiction series Black Mirror ‘White Bear’ uses a very in-direct and clever use of the zombie myth. In this episode a woman wakes with amnesia in a world where everybody watches her from a slight distance soundlessly, many of them staring down their phone cameras recording her, seemingly transfixed. They don’t respond when she challenges or calls to them. This semi-zombie could perhaps be a way of using the zombie metaphor to reference Brooker’s idea that internet culture has atomised society, and made us all passive observers of news and events (an event reinforced by Brooker’s other role as a comic satirist of the news).

Mental Health

After that semi-brief discussion of the ideas that zombie films can stir up, and even more will be listed briefly later, I want to bring us around to my thought of what the films could mean.

If you have any experience of depression yourself, or are close to someone who has then you will instantly recognise the ideas that I am about to try to convey here. Take most zombie films. The survivors holed up in wherever they have decided to base themselves (usually a structure important to society) are isolated, scared and lonely. They are usually separated from their families and friends and even in the few cases where they find them again the experiences they have been through ensure they remain, at least partially, estranged. The rest of the world is arrayed against them, looking for any slip up or mistake so they can capitalise and attack the survivors. They are constantly worried that the monsters will get them; it’s present in the back of their minds the entire time. They may feel like they’re safe, like they’ve escaped but the zombies will always break down walls and get inside their security. It’s inevitable. It’s crushingly inevitable. They may be able to stave them off for months, even years, at a time, but there exists the sneaking suspicion that the walls will tumble down, or worse be ripped apart, and the monsters will get back in.

All of these descriptions could very easily be interpretations of what it feels like to be clinically depressed, and even recovering from clinical depression. The sensations of numbness and of your brain being the root cause of all the illness also go hand in hand with the metaphor of a zombie. In addition, the feeling of your body being infected with a foreign body that is controlling your actions and making your condition degenerate is a very powerful one and one that draws a direct parallel to the idea of a zombie.

Spending your days walking around with your mind fixed on other things, barely having the energy to get out of bed, always being tired – yet never being able to sleep, wanting nothing more than to switch off your brain and stop the thoughts cascading in and swirling around, these feelings have been described as feeling “zombified”, or “feeling like a zombie” by many sufferers. A simple Google search for “zombie” + “depression” yields 5,950,000 results, the vast majority of the top results being posts on forums asking whether people recognise what these sufferers mean when they say they feel “like a zombie”, or asking whether anti-depressants “turn you into a zombie”. The cultural and metaphorical short-hand that these people are using is clear, but the fact that the word “zombie” is the short-hand is telling, and not just as proof that the zombie phenomenon dominates popular Western culture.

Conclusion

None of this is to assert that this is a definite interpretation of what zombies mean to us in the West, or to say that my interpretation is more valid than any other. I also accept that most zombie films are made to scare the audience first and foremost, and zombies are used because they are so prominent in the popular consciousness and so suited to practice of a modern horror film. I simply hope to add a new avenue for analysis of zombie tales with this essay.

I believe that viewing zombies as a metaphor for depression is a new way to understand the stories, and a fruitful one for further discussion. I think one of the underpinning ideas reinforcing my view that this is a viable interpretation of zombie films is one of the most iconic scenes from The Walking Dead, in both its graphic novel and televisual forms, of a barricaded door in the hospital where Rick first wakes up before we ever see one of the monsters. The door convulses as it is pushed from behind by what appears to be a huge mass of the living dead, with moans. However, daubed across the door, presumably by the survivors who had trapped the living dead inside, is a phrase that sticks with the viewer/reader: DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE.

Hopefully I have explained (what most of you admittedly probably already knew) that the depth and breadth of interpretations that can be made into the zombie filmic myth. They can be seen as discussions of race, gender, nuclear fear, consumerism, capitalism, debt, economics, war, class, age, drug culture, individualism, violence, the military-industrial complex, and above all society, as well as many more themes. All are valid, and all equally valuable. I intended to add to this discourse and broaden the discussion of what the films could mean.

One thing that we can all accept, even if you disregard my analysis, is that ‘zombies specifically speak to our time’[12].

Note on the bibliography, where applicable I have included the name of the creative force behind the film in the entry in the few cases where this does not tally with the directing role.


[1] Story for beginners, reproduced at http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/006628.html#006628, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[2] 5 Reason the Zombie Apocalypse is the Prevailing Metaphor for our Times, reproduced at http://www.activistpost.com/2012/05/5-reasons-zombie-apocalypse-is.html, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[3] Zombies as metaphor, reproduced at http://www.ifc.com/fix/2011/11/zombies-metaphor, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[4] Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, reproduced at http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[6] ‘Zombies, Malls, and the Consumerism Debate: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, reproduced at http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/harper.htm, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[7] Zombies, Malls, and the Consumerism Debate: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, reproduced at http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/harper.htm, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[8] Consumerism and Social Unrest – George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, reproduced at http://dan-stein.xomba.com/consumerism_and_social_unrest_hoberman_and_rosenbaum%E2%80%99s_%E2%80%9Cgeorge_romero_and_return_repressed%E2%80%9D_their_bo, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[9] The Critique of Consumerism in George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978, reproduced at http://www.themaninthemoviehat.com/what-you-should-be-watching-george-romeros-dawn-of-the-dead-1978/, accessed on 20th March 2013.

[11] S. Pegg, ‘The Quick and the Dead’, Guardian, 4th November 2008.

[12] Zombies as metaphor, reproduced at http://www.ifc.com/fix/2011/11/zombies-metaphor, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Note on the bibliography, where applicable I have included the name of the creative force behind the film in the entry in the few cases where this does not tally with the directing role.

 

Bibliography

5 Reasons the Zombie Apocalypse is the Prevailing Metaphor for Our Times, reproduced at http://www.activistpost.com/2012/05/5-reasons-zombie-apocalypse-is.html, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Boyle, D., 28 Days Later, 2002.

Brooker, C., Dead Set, 2008.

Brooker, C., ‘White Bear’, Black Mirror, 2013.

Consumerism and Social Unrest – George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”, reproduced at http://dan-stein.xomba.com/consumerism_and_social_unrest_hoberman_and_rosenbaum%E2%80%99s_%E2%80%9Cgeorge_romero_and_return_repressed%E2%80%9D_their_bo, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Fleischer, R., Zombieland, 2009.

Google search for “depression” + “zombie, https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1FDUM_enGB483GB483&ion=1&ie=UTF-8#hl=en&rlz=1C1FDUM_enGB483GB483&sclient=psy-ab&q=depression%20zombie&oq=&gs_l=&pbx=1&fp=6405f5db73465c07&ion=1&bav=on.2,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43828540,d.d2k&biw=741&bih=683, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Grau, J., The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), 1974.

Kirkman, R., Mazzara, G. & Darabont, F., The Walking Dead, 2010-present.

Pegg, S., ‘The Quick and the Dead’, Guardian, 4th November 2008.

Pegg, S. & Wright, E., Shaun of the Dead, 2004.

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, reproduced at http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Romero, G., Dawn of the Dead

Romero, G., Day of the Dead

Romero, G., Night of the Living Dead

Schlozman, S., ‘Zombies are NOT real’, reproduced at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/grand-rounds/201206/zombies-are-not-real

, accessed on 20th March 2013.

The Critique of Consumerism in George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978, reproduced at http://www.themaninthemoviehat.com/what-you-should-be-watching-george-romeros-dawn-of-the-dead-1978/, accessed on 20th March 2013.

What Zombie Films Can Teach Us About Climate Change, reproduced at http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/what_zombie_films_can_teach_us_about_climate_change?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter, accessed on 23rd March 2013.

Zombie as metaphor, reproduced at http://www.ifc.com/fix/2011/11/zombies-metaphor, accessed on 20th March 2013.

‘Zombies, Malls, and the Consumerism Debate: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, reproduced at http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/harper.htm, accessed on 20th March 2013.

Phew…

Posted on

Finally, the time has come for me to post my essay.

I hope it’s useful to people, or interesting in any way.