Unreal Nature

May 25, 2017

Zombies

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… gazing wistfully at the aimless zombies milling about travertine tile and plastic flora like suburban teenagers killing time, waiting for the cavalcade of minivans and expectant parents to pick them up, offering “This was an important place in their lives.”

This is from the essay ‘The City Without Qualities: Allegorical Landscapes and the Revolutionary Undead’ (2008) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

… In his book America Jean Baudrillard describes the American West as a desert containing “cities which are not cities.” Irvine: a new Silicon Valley. Electronic factories with no openings to the outside world, like integrated circuits.

… Whatever the reasons were to move to the suburbs, they no longer matter. In [photographer Robert] Adams’s work, the fantasy of suburban utopia seems to have been severed from its roots. Like a lingering ghost, desire and memory have become separated from the body that once supported them. What Adams recognized was that the suburbs themselves were an apparition, an image and index of a cultural mythology.

[line break added] Despite the endless flow of suburban traffic (as he once lamented, “the cars never stop coming”), Adams continued to produce views devoid of people, as though the place itself precluded their existence. Even after all this time in one of the most rapidly expanding suburbs of the 1970s, Adams still saw only ghosts.

… A similarly morbid fascination with suburban sprawl seems to have inspired George Romero’s second installment of his “Living Dead” trilogy, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Romero chose the newly opened Monroeville Mall in the suburbs of post-industrial Pittsburgh as the films backdrop for his macabre fantasy. When Romero’s characters arrive at the mall, it has been overrun by zombies.

[line break added] But these monsters are not the standard fare of horror films. Romero’s zombies are the perfect citizens for the American vernacular; liberated from history and social constraints, they merely congregate and consume. Like Adams’s tract homes, they seem to develop spontaneously from the landscape, appearing without explanation at the onset of the trilogy, and populating successive scenes in progressively greater numbers.

[line break added] As Elias Canetti reminds us in his magnum opus Crowds and Power (1960), the masses of the dead always outnumber those still living. Similarly, the select few who grace the covers of magazines, billboards, television and movie screens are outnumbered by the unseen who consume these products. In Romero’s case, the undead masses resonate as the invisible working class of the American Rust Belt, the return of a public absented from popular depictions, as homogenous masses that haunt the shopping malls and master plan communities to which they were delivered.

[line break added] It is a basic instinct that draws the zombies there: as one of Romero’s characters surmises when the question “Why do they come here?” is asked, gazing wistfully at the aimless zombies milling about travertine tile and plastic flora like suburban teenagers killing time, waiting for the cavalcade of minivans and expectant parents to pick them up, offering “This was an important place in their lives.”

[line break added] A similar question might arise about what drew the inhabitants of the homes in Adams’s photographs to Colorado; as if to the mythical visions of unspoiled mountains, quaint towns, and prairies found in common postcards that no longer exist: a memory of an image of a place.

-Julie

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