This week’s material
Interview with Steve Jones
Steve Jones – “Porn of the Dead: Necrophilia, Feminism, and Gendering the Undead”
First off, I’d like to apologize for how long this post it. There is a lot of words. There is a lot to be said. I want to start with a story. The other day I was telling my boyfriend about this blog post. As I was explaining the subject, he just kept saying “The zombie isn’t sexual”. I kept saying that I knew, but I wanted to know why. He repeated, “It just isn’t”. I said, “Well that wouldn’t make for a very good blog”. However it made me think just how de-sexualized the zombie was. Just how repulsive it was. Just how labelled it was. And also, just how much no one wanted to talk about it.
Freedom of sexuality has been the fear of many people throughout history. As changing norms influenced a more sexually open society, many people were scared that this sexuality would take over the minds of their young people, defy what was right, and turn their youth into immoral, evil beings. This fear pushed on through the generations, and continues to repress sexuality. In an effort to control it, there were many films created to express these fears and alert the population that they were living dangerously.
In looking at the Gothic Classics, we see an extremely sexualized horror villain. Vampires seduce and then kill. The bite signifies the rape of flesh, and these stories that were meant to scare the viewers into being more careful about sex and less explicit became focused on the sexuality of the vampires. It was a Dracula to Twilight movement that took many decades, but here we are fantasizing about Edward instead of worrying about the danger that Bella faces. We have sexualized the subject that was created to repress our sexuality.
However, the zombie is not a Gothic classic. It is not sexualized. It, in fact, is everything we repulse. This timeline is important to how the zombie was made to be the be-all-and-end-all of sexual repression.
The zombie is not at all sexual. In fact, it is even denied a sex. We know that this zombie is male and this one is female, but it is not relevant to the story. They enjoy all flesh, not just one gender. They drive on primal urge to consume humanity. This description started as more subdued in its origin, but since this changed it has not diverged.
It started with White Zombie the 1930s, a time when sexuality was beginning to be expressed in ways that scared the previous generations of the 1910s and the past. Dracula, like White Zombie, expressed the fear of rape to people everywhere. “Control your sexuality!” It screamed, “Or you could live undead forever”. The zombie said the same things. In White Zombie, the fear was the foreign stealing the wives of Americans and the fear that the wives who expressed independence and sexuality would become prey to sex rings and slavery. However it was not the zombie who was sexualized – it was the voodoo master. Although it was not gory, the zombie still lacked appeal. People were terrified of it because it represented a lack of life and freedom. The message screamed “Don’t express your sexuality! Or you could live undead forever”.
As the vampire quickly rose in popularity, we did not fear them. We thought they were hot. At the same time, our expression of sexuality grew without regard to the movies that were trying to scare the people into repression. Since we could no longer fear most monsters and the message was not being heard, something began to change in the zombie. The zombie regressed from semi-conscious to totally unconscious. It moved from being fresh to a completely rotten corpse. It moved from slave, to wild flesh eating machine. It moved from serving the family to eating the family. The creature became scarier and more repulsive. If we would start to be attracted to monsters, than the zombie would be the one we could not be attracted to.
The script changed as well. The story was not a simple warning about sex. It was a big one. The zombies became beings driven by primal urge of the flesh, uncontrolled by conscious thought, raping all people, regardless of sex, seeking instant gratification, spreading disease and taking over the world until everyone became a monster. A group of hetero-normative ‘human’ folks with weapons create ‘proper’ relationships amongst themselves while violently killing the villains to support a normal society. The zombie became a metaphor for uncontrollable sexuality, something that was feared. The script changed to support the same message – “Don’t express you sexuality, or you could live undead forever”. It expressed over-exaggerated themes of sex,, alternative sex, bisexuality, sexual fluidity, etc., is wrong, and death is the punishment.
Maybe it’s reading too far into it, but we cannot ignore the fact that the zombie has not been sexualized by popular media. It has to be for a reason. Not only does it’s corpse-like body scare us into not wanting to be sexually attracted to it, but it is everything I mentioned above that is supposed to scare us as well. They pump the films full of violence and one-sided heroism to sub in for sex we demand to see. They over-sexualize the humans so we feel more attracted to them, and pump the zombies full of gore so there is no way we could feel attracted without feeling shame.
However, like the over-sexualization of the Gothic vampire, we started to ask questions about the zombie. We started to wonder what their sexuality was. We started to dive into different cultural discussions. Zombie porn cropped up in the corners of the pornographic world. There are sites dedicated to Zombie pin-ups. There are fan pages dedicated to the sexiest zombies. There are movies like Deadgirl, that explore what happens when torture-porn meets zombie and sexuality. Why did this happen? Why did we change the script? Perhaps society got bored of watching the same testosterone-fuelled movie and needed a refresher. The zombie has gone in every other direction, but the other directions repressed the question that we would soon dig up. Why doesn’t the zombie have sex? The conversation wasn’t happening…and it made the story fresh. We seem to have latched on, and it’s a discussing we could learn a lot from
Sexual Repression and The Zombie
Sexual repression is hard to explain. If we treat something like it is shameful, you will have people who follow the rules. You will also have people who become damaged from what they believe is shameful and what they believe is right, and their inability to escape. You also have those that rebel from the repression. Some of these lines blur. We have been made to feel shame for our sexuality, yet we see it on our screens, in our access to pornography, and in our books (50 shades of grey, I’m talking to you). However, it isn’t opening up a dialogue. We aren’t watching these things and then talking to our families about them. Sex always lacks a public discussion; therefore no one can know what where to draw a limit, where your freedom of sexuality passes over lines into human rights. Porn can’t tell you. Movies can’t tell you. 50 shades of grey certainly cannot.
I can imagine a world where there are positive sex stories about zombies, ones that we are not made to feel shame for. I can imagine a world where there are only positive porn films, but it is a repression of sexuality that quieted porn, that made it into something that lived in the shadows and created shadows. Although it is not all bad, it is where zombie porn lives, in erotic and also horrifying ways. It is where, after uncovering a zombie girl, the boys in Deadgirl did not go to the authorities. They kept her chained up and kept her as a sex slave in some real-life torture-porn fantasy. She wasn’t alive, so they did not feel shame for it. There is no one to talk about this, no dialogue to speak of why those boys were wrong or right. We only have a double edged sword, with one side screaming ’Don’t express you sexuality, or you could live undead forever’, and the other with unlimited access to sex of all kinds and shapes.
However there is one entity addressing it, however just to keep us on a leash. It gives us what we have begun to explore so we stop looking. As these stories of a sexualized zombie come up and we start to watch them, new books are written that put rules on it. Warm Bodies says falling in love with a zombie is okay, as long as they become human. Breather’s says to a race of humans that zombie love should not be allowed, so just kill them. I Am Legend cut the love between two zombies out of the film, to dehumanize them further. Normativity is still emphasized. Being majority is still emphasized. Being straight, disease-free, and one race is still emphasized. They are just giving us what we started wanting. A hot zombie. They are just giving it to us in the ‘right’ way, and then not talking about it. They ignore the other issues and the other questions, keeping us at bay with a pretty story about zombie love. This is the right way.
The sexuality of the zombie is confusing in many ways. No one can really say how it is supposed to be represented. This confuses us further, in the same way that since no one is talking about sex in-depth, we remain unsure about how we should act in respect to zombies. The boys in Deadgirl saw this, the people who watch zombie porn see this, our school systems see this when they teach sex-ed. We just don’t know. The fact is, sex is not supposed to be just one way. We are being repressed when we are told this, but since no one is explaining the other ways it can be, our interpretation is open. That doesn’t mean it will end up in very nice places either.
If we really want to look at the zombie sexuality, we can see it in two ways. How we were meant to see it – disease spreading, primal instinct based, dangerously reproducing rapists who battle against the right way. Or we can see it in a positive light. The zombie can be seen as a people that have been so pushed over the edge of repression that they rebel. Zombies can be seen as a sexual revolution, of people expressing the way they want to and treading on normativity and ‘the right way’. There is no right way to live, and the zombies know this. They are people okay with the many shades of sexuality. They have no worry about priorities or social norms or self-consciousness. They do what they want, when they want.
Here is the thing about zombies; once all the humans are gone and normativity has been abolished, the zombies live in peace. They are out in the open with no inhibitions. They do not kill or rape each other. They live until they die, with respect for each other. At that point, the zombie is free.
Us, on the other hand, are generations of zombies in the figurative sense, droning on and on into what we are told is ‘right’, feeling shame for our actions, being pushed back for asking questions, being pushed to the brink, performing horrendous acts, being pushed into psychological disorders, fighting against what we think is wrong, repressing love from anything that is different. I question that, if we keep being held back, will we just become a mindless horde? Or will we be pushed to the brink and shove normativity over the edge?
Until next week,
Next week – The final blog: Zombies in society