Thursday, September 9

Zombies: Exposing America

Arnold Blumberg is not only an instructor at the University of Baltimore, he is also a fan of zombie stories, so when the university mentioned the addition of a popular culture minor, he took the opportunity to teach a Media Genres about zombies.

Image from Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Blumberg's class is designed to help students analyze American mass media to see what it says about its culture. He "attributes the enduring popularity of zombies to a deep resonance of our culture" (Deconinck) by showing students sixteen zombie movies accompanied by reading.

Blumberg's coursework points out how the portrayal of zombies in our culture has changed over time in accordance to our nation's cultural norms and fundamental fears.

"They [zombies] have always been a reflection of where we are as a country," Blumberg said. "What we're fearing, what we're hoping for, and by taking a look at that, you can learn a lot about who we are as a people" (Deconinck).

When I first heard about Blumberg's zombie course, I did not have any idea what could make it academically acceptable. However, after reading the article on, I realized that zombies in American culture actually do reflect events that pertain to certain time periods such as the concept of nuclear/foreign attacks (reflecting the 1960's and present day) and unstoppable diseases/viruses (like the AIDS epidemic).

George A. Romero, film director and screenwriter known for revolutionizing zombie films, exploited American society  in numerous ways through his movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Land of the Dead (2005).

Night of the Living Dead mirrored the Vietnam War and racism in the United States. Stills at the end of the film closely resembled photojournalism during the Vietnam War, which had greatly impacted American society at the time. The cause of the zombie outbreak in the film was due to radiation from outer space, which played on the fear at the time of the vast and ultimately unknown universe.

I found the most profound symbolism in Night of the Living Dead to be Romero's use of an African-American to play the leading role; it was out of the ordinary for films of the era. When the character was shot and killed, it echoed Martin Luther King's assassination that year, "mocking the pointless destruction of people in a struggle for democracy" (Sn0W1310). When the lead was killed, it was because he had been mistaken for a zombie, reflecting how Americans did not check to see that they were solely killing the enemy in the Vietnam War, resulting in the murders of innocent civilians.

Land of the Dead reflected American foreign policy, government, and civil rights issues. Zombies in the film were used for entertainment and souvenirs and extorted for all they were worth by the rich and living, just like how America treats other countries and situations like the war in Iraq. The character, Kaufman, represents George W. Bush in the way he controls society through citizens' fears and offering protection in exchange for their freedom and money. The matter of gay rights is also portrayed in a scene where two lesbians are being intimate, and then a zombie breaks through a wall and takes one away, showing how gay and lesbian rights are a pressing matter in American society.

The fact that zombie films can expose American society so much yet so subtly is amazing. Blumberg's course has attracted a lot of buzz due to its uniqueness, but he hopes that students do not take it lightly; I do not blame him. A class such as his could teach someone a lot more than they expect to learn through an interesting and fun topic. I would definitely take the course if it were offered at WCSU.

    What is your favorite zombie movie?

Works Cited
Deconinck, Tony. "College Course Preps Pupils for Zombie Apocalypse."
       Weird News. AOL Inc., 9 Sept. 2010, Web. 9 Sept. 2010.

Sn0W1310. "The Exploitation of Societies Fears and Concerns in Romero's
       Zombie Movies." Horror. Cinemaroll, 30 June 2009,
      Web. 9 Sept. 2010.

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