Some occasional links to Outside In, here a few entries on zombies (all from


11 October 2014

Michael Totten covers an impressive amount of ground in his overview of contemporary zombie culture. It might be called the Dark Anthropocene: An emerging world spooked by the thickening dread that everybody else on the planet is a latent zombie threat. Beneath a thin, rapidly-shredding skin of civility, your increasingly incomprehensible neighbors are mindless cannibals, awaiting a trigger. Dysfunctional Nation States offer no credible protection, but they’ve hung around long enough to ensure that you’ve been drastically disarmed of basic survival competences. Some residual amygdala-pulse is telling you to start thinking-through how you’ll cope when it all finally caves in.

No surprise to anyone that Outside in sees this, quite straightforwardly, as democratic introspection. It only takes people to start feasting directly in the same way they vote, and we’re Zacked. The entire culture is saying — and by now practically screaming — that this is the way socio-political modernity ends.


29 August 2014


Zombies lower the tone, in innumerable ways. Socio-biological decay is their natural element, carrying life towards a zero-degree affectivity, without neutralizing a now-repulsive animation. They exist to be slaughtered — in retaliation — which in turn furthers their descent through the pulp-Darwinism of entertainment media, to the depths of senselessness where victory is all-but-assured. As the world comes apart into dynamic slime, popular horror is increasingly infested with zombies.

When envisaged as a military antagonist at the global scale, Max Brooks calls ‘them’ Zack(amongst other things). If ‘Charlie’ abbreviates ‘Victor Charlie’ as a casual jargon noun for the Viet Cong, how is ‘Zack’ derived? Brooks offers no specific answer. It seems at least plausible that ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is the term that undergoes compression. In any case, ‘Zack’ is name with a future, providing a concise collective — or dense — noun for a monstrous syndrome that looms beyond the historical horizon.

‘Zack’, like ‘Charlie’, is the enemy, nicknamed with an informality designed for stress reduction. The intensity of the tag is associated with its ambivalence, as an affectionate moniker that liberates or legitimates unrestricted killing. ‘Zack’ sounds like ‘he’ could be our buddy, so we can unleash violence upon ‘him’ without qualm or inhibition. However odd this psychological formula may sound, it is one that Brooks inherits, rather than invents.

Charlie is already an abstraction from ethical familiarity, but nothing like Zack. Where we end, Zack begins, recruiting our corpses into undead swarms. Our calamities are ‘his’ ammunition, because Zack is sheer weaponry, the first true instantiation of total war, perfectly incarnating antagonism to human survival. Zack is nothing but the enemy, ‘who’ — entirely devoid of non-belligerent purpose or interests — cannot be terrorized, intimidated, or deterred. Scare Zack? One has no less chance of scaring a cold virus. So things always return to the same basic conclusion: Zack has to be killed, as nothing has before (even though — or especially because — it is already dead).

Brooks is a zombie neo-traditionalist. His re-animated undead shuffle (slowly). They propagate by cannibalistic contagion. Only head-wounds terminate them. But zombies are not the monsters. Zack is the monster. It is the syndrome — the convergent wave — that realizes the phenomenon, as a matter of spreading swarms, or irreducible populations.


Tactically, Zack’s strength is number, overwhelming resistance, and replenishing itself from the casualties it inflicts. Strategically, it prevails through system shock, patterned as epidemic, and registered not as the ‘individual’ humanoid ghoul, but as an emergent, global outbreak. There is no prospect of rational or ‘dispassionately’ effective counter-action until it is understood that Zack is no mere ghoulish horde but a singular planetary trauma. Zack is total stress.

Brooks insists upon the realism of his methods:

The zombies may be fake, but I wanted everything else in “World War Z” to be real. Just like with “The Zombie Survival Guide,” I wanted the story to be rooted in hard facts. That’s why I researched the real geopolitics of the world in the early 21st century, the military science, the macroeconomics and the cultural quirks of each country I was writing about. As creative as I think I am, I also know that I can’t invent anything as interesting (or scary) as the real planet we live on. As a history nerd, I also wanted to ground the book in our species’ life story. Nothing in “World War Z” was made up, it all really happened: Yonkers was Isandlwana; the Chinese cover-up was SARS. There’s nothing zombies can do to us that we haven’t already done to each other.

Take the world, exactly as it is, and postulate a radical stressor as historical destination. Engineer, with all possible precision, a speculative collision with utter disaster — a total world war that is also a plague, a precipice of bio-social degeneration, and a universal psychotic episode — that’s Zack. Understandably,  people will be reluctant to describe this method asultimate realism. Nevertheless, as things messily unwind, we’re going to hear much more about it.


19 February 2014

Zombies are targeted in advance for the application of uninhibited violence. Their arrival announces a conflict in which all moral considerations are definitively suspended. Since they have no ‘souls’ there is nothing they will not do, and they are expected to do the worst. Reciprocally, they merit exactly zero humanitarian concern. The relationship to the zombie is one in which all sympathy is absolutely annulled (殺殺殺殺殺殺殺).

No surprise, then, that the identification of the zombie has become a critical conflict, waged across the terrain of popular culture. It implicitly describes a free-fire zone, or an anticipated gradient in the social direction of violence. Zombies are either scum or they are drones.

Michael Hampton sketches these alternatives convincingly:

Historically the zombie only started to migrate beyond the confines of Haiti in the period between the Wall Street Crash, and the outbreak of the Second World War, infecting Hollywood in such films as The Magic Island, 1929, White Zombie, 1932 and Revolt of the Zombies, 1936. As a non-European monster, the zombie was used here as a convenient, faceless type of otherness, which though temporarily shorn of its 19th century cannibalistic associations, become a scary stand-in for the dispossessed underclasses of dustbowl America, and a racial threat to civilised white women too. (“Exterminate the brutes.”)

While the horrorological counterpart, as perceived / constructed from the Left …

… has come to figure as a fateful symbol for the mass of subjectiveless techno-humans under capitalism, lumpen, nightmarish non-beings whose otherness has been completely internalised, then smoothed out and returned minus interest as soulless entertainment; not so much undead as hypermediated and alive under severe globalised constraint; couch potatoes sorely afflicted by ‘breathing corpse syndrome’ or ‘partially deceased syndrome’. Hypocrite voyeur do you recognise yourself?

However the war against the zombies is envisaged, the war over the zombies has long been underway. It is inextricable from the question: Does legitimate violence come from the Right, or the Left?

Since this question is historically inextinguishable, it is safe to predict that zombies will not soon disappear from the world of popular nightmare. Almost certainly, we will see far more of them. If you want to get a sense of where the firing-lines are being laid out, you need to take a careful look …