“This is the vengeance of the dead that haunt us in their absence” – Jean Baudrillard
Imagine waking up on a regular bright and sunny morning. As you go about your regular routine you notice that the normal sounds of birds chirping and children playing has been replaced with the wails of sirens and people screaming. As you pull back your curtains you realize your worst fears have come to life….zombies.
As if this situation could not get any worse, imagine fighting off hoards of zombies to get to a safe location, only to discover your only form of help lies in the hands of the one and only Jean Baudrillard. What would he have to say about this global catastrophe? To get his perspective on this event let’s look to “The Precession of Simulacra” for his brilliant insight.
For starters, it seems that Baudrillard would first have a big “I told you so” just waiting to be declared. On page 1730 he explains how signs have now taken over the things signified.
“Something has changed in the human relation to the nonhuman that plays itself out in a deadly hostility to all things different…it is a change for the worse and all attempts to turn back the clock only accelerate the the triumph of the sign. We are left yearning for the things we killed and nostalgia assumes its full meaning as we create ever more signs to simulate those lost things. This is the “vengeance of the dead”who haunt us in their absence. ”
So in relation to theory, the zombies of “Dawn of the Dead” could symbolize the ever growing use of signs over things signified. This process started off slowly,within the individual, but like the zombies; bite by bite, the death of the signified began to increase and before long the world is infested with nothing but signs (zombies). After this process was complete the world is left in a “hyperreal” from which there is no escape. These copies of a copy are seen in the mass produced zombie films are the simulacra that thrives in this “hyperreality”
Baudrillard would associate the American obsession with zombies to “a loss of the real”. Baudrillard feels that in “contemporary life the pervasive influences of images from TV, and film has led to a loss of the distinction between real and imagined, reality and illusion, surface and depth. The result is a “hyperreality” in which the distinctions between these are eroded.” (Barry 87) An example of this would be the constant scene played out in most zombie flicks. This scene involves a member of a group being bitten and then turning into a zombie. Someone emotionally attached to that person then freaks out when someone else tries to kill the now turned zombie. This situation usually results in the death of both the zombie and the threatening party. This shows the strengths that are involved with “the loss of the real”. The reality presented is too much to handle and the individual cannot handle the loss of the real. So much that they are willing to die for it not to change.
On page 1730 Baudrillard explains “There are no longer human needs that human work strives to satisfy. Rather there are culturally produced “hyperreal” needs that are generated to provide work and profits….consumer society provides a “precession of simulacra’, a parade of images that projects a life that consumers are encouraged to live”
By the entertainment media constantly releasing zombie films like these, they are bombarding the audience with the ideas and images of a hostile takeover. The chaos and panic that ensues after the event takes place creates a false reality that the audience latches onto. The film creates a need for a safety that does not exist and constantly presents a false reality that could happen to you and your family any-day. Even the slight worry of this coming true already begins the process of the “loss of the real”.
In the film, ” Dawn of the Dead” the group of survivors makes their way to the only safe place they can think of; the mall. Baudrillard would view these action along the lines of how he views Disneyworld. Baudrillard believes that “Disneyland has the effect of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real and thus saving the reality principle. ” (Barry 89) The survivors use the mall as a way to block out the outside world that has been turned upside down. Although their version of reality has collapsed, they still continue to hope that they can get things back to normal somewhere else. Baudrillard points to the parking lot as the actual reality of Disneyland. The cold, dirty, automobile filled wasteland. In “Dawn of the Dead” the zombies gather in mass numbers and mill about in the parking lot. In a world turned upside down, the parking lot again shows the reality of the situation, filled with flesh-eating zombies. The mall however, represents a false reality that the survivors are masking as actual reality. They hope they will be able to get back to a normal life so the security guards uphold not only the law but mall policy as well, even though that version of reality is long gone. This example can show the impact hyperreality” can have on individuals in the midst of a catastrophic event.
By taking a look at Baudrillard’s view towards the Gulf War, it is interesting to think if he would relate the same perspective to a zombie takeover. Baudrillard believes that the Gulf War never happened, “what really happened was a kind of televised virtual reality”.A larger example of “a copy of a copy” If a zombie takeover were to take place , it would be none other than a televised virtual reality. The news reports and actions by the government would be very similar to the ones played out in the numerous films based on the subject. And the citizens caught up in the chaos would react the same way as they have seen on the big screen. Their actions and fates have become nothing more than a simulation that will lead them to not much more than a gruesome death at the hands of the flesh-eating vermin.