Zombies + Lacan = ?

Someone recently shouted, “let’s go kill some Nazi zombies!” I learned yesterday that “let’s go kill some Nazi zombies” is not the raving of some drugged up lunatic, but a simple invitation to play some Nazi-zombie-filled video game.

What does this say about the way I understand language if “Nazi zombie” registers drugs instead of video games in my mind? Could one simply write me off as a cynic (assuming drugs are worse than video games), or am I merely too far outside of gaming culture to understand the subtle delights of using various weapons to silence the jawohls of the undead? I’m going to explore that below, but I’m going to use Lacan’s ideas — that said, I am totally confused about what I’m attempting here, so it probably isn’t actually very Lacanian and it probably isn’t very sensible.

Zombie as a word conjures up associates of cheesy/hilarious/not-scary old zombie films. You’ve got to love Shaun of the Dead! It does not make me think of video games. Zombie also makes me think of an old friend of mine who was once fully captivated by books about voodoo and the like. Still no connection to video games. My underlying understanding of “zombie” is simply as something amusing — and Nazis aren’t what you would call amusing. How did I come to this non-gaming understanding of the brain-eating-undead? Well… pretty much through others. Without those horribly made (and purposely horribly made) zombie-flicks, my understanding of zombies — that is, my immediate understanding of the word when spoken — is that they are funny.

Yet some people take zombies seriously (I think?). Clearly zombie movies have not fallen away completely, although it seems like faster incarnations are becoming popular — but really, what good is a horror movie if all the scares are just surprises? Lame. So apparently the others who help determine my view of zombies are different others than those who help frame the view of zombies as scary. Or are they? Perhaps the key is far more complicated than all that. Is it really permissible to rule out anyfactor in a person’s life when we want to figure out what something means to them? It seems to me that if you separate one part of a person’s life from the whole, it becomes not their life, but someone else’s.

Now if we consider that I don’t live in the world of video-gaming, it probably is not important for me to know that there are Nazi-zombies. So the undead remain for me an object of mockery. Quite honestly, the absurdity of the idea should be enough to make anyone laugh. Then again, the pixels of my character’s life are not in danger of them, so I can laugh without fear… Nazi-zombies are still nonsense.

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    • steventhomas
    • March 15th, 2009

    I was waiting for you to get to the Lacan half of your blog about zombies+lacan…

    … it may interest you to know that Slavoj Zizek (who is one of the world’s most famous living Lacanian theorists) has written a lot about zombies in various books. I actually taught one of them in English 243 last year–his book, How to Read Lacan.

    And I just googled “Zizek zombies” to see what would come up on the internet, and it seems somebody else has blogged a response to Zizek.
    http://naughtthought.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/zombie-economy/

    Meanwhile, I’m not sure anyone actually takes zombies “seriously.”

    • Tom
    • March 18th, 2009

    To differ from Steven Thomas, I take zombies incredibly serious. What could be more terrifying than a massive army of the undead that do not respond to signifiers? What makes the whole situation increasingly worrisome is the zombie culture that exists in the world of present. Ipods, video games, and other types of mass media have turned the whole world into a certifiable zombie haven. But seriously, the most Lacanian thing about zombies is probably that they do not exist within the fabric of what Lacan describes in his book “Ecrits.” Like I already said prevoiusly, they do not respond to signifiers and of course the inverse of that is that they are never signified. Neither are the living in these zombie films. So these films (if done right) should extol the unsignified world and amounts to humans running around with their heads cut off. In short, these movies serve to show what the world would be without societal signals.

  1. What’s interesting to Zizek about zombies is that they are “undead” so the binary between dead and alive is undone — zombies are neither and both at the same time. So, this goes along with Tom’s point about how they resist meaning (resist any stable signification by, paradoxically, signifying too much.) And in that sense, they represent precisely what is unrepresentable about human nature, which makes them serious indeed.

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