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Yari Lanci, "Zombie 2.0 Subjectivity: A New Dromological Paradigm"

Zombie 2.0 Subjectivity: A New Dromological Paradigm
Yari Lanci

At the end of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, the remake of the second film in Romero’s Living Dead series, the spectator is faced with footage from a videotape. Paradoxically placed at the end of the movie, and more precisely integrated with the end credits, the footage appears to work as the happy ending of the storyline. It follows the journey of the main characters, escaping the overrun mainland by yacht. The remaining survivors eventually reach an island. It takes only few seconds for the alleged happy ending to be transformed into a repetition of the same eschatological setting, with which Snyder had opened his movie. In fact, the island has already been infested by zombies. The contagion was faster than their journey to the island. The zombies are too fast to flee from. The survivors are not going to survive. The character filming the disembark is forced to drop the digital camera on the dock, and from that moment onwards the camera shows the scenes of the desperate attempt of the group to resist the running hoard of undead.

Kim Paffenroth argued that Savini’s remake of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is “too identical to the original to need further comment.” Conversely, one of the things that distinguishes Snyder’s remake is an important change regarding the physical capacities of the zombies. In the last ten years we have witnessed in zombie movies something we have never seen before. Zombies have started to run. Their usual slow shuffling has turned, in Snyder and other’s interpretations of the zombie narrative, into a frenetic run towards the living. In a recent book on popular culture after 9/11, Anna Froula lucidly describes this new category of zombie when she affirms that since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2002, the living dead have shifted from being “lurching ghouls to adrenaline-filled berserkers.” It is this notion of physiological metamorphosis of the undead, in relation to their increased speed of movement, which constitutes the basis of my presentation today. It is speed, not class or ethnicity, which is the trait that might provide an alternative understanding of the political relevance of the zombie. As already exemplified by George Romero himself, the ‘godfather’ of the zombie subgenre, there has always been an overt allegory on both class and race in any zombie texts, be it film, book, or TV series. The perspective I am trying to adopt is one under the umbrella of speed. In relation to some examples from zombie movies and TV shows in the last ten years, what is possible to learn when we investigate the change in speed of zombies? Isn’t this increased speed, with which the living dead is being represented, nothing other than a symptom of a generalised anxiety about the kind of speed the homo œconomicus must adopt in order to survive the neoliberal market?

My presentation today can be summarised in three main points. Firstly, I will provide a methodological framework with which to consider the zombie narrative as one of the tools to better understand what is going on in our society. Secondly, I want to draw a genealogy of the undead in relation to the increased speed of their movements and analyse this metamorphosis in order to understand how the formation of subjects has changed in the last twenty years. Thirdly, I will try to read this new subjectivation not just as a passive product of contemporary capitalist society (in its neoliberal version), but rather as a potential for a zombified subject who might disrupt the established order. This new subject is what I call the Zombie 2.0.

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I should provide some methodological justification regarding the importance of the zombie in critical theory and, accordingly, in relation to the ways in which this monstrous figure can function as a diagnostic tool of contemporary Western society. Romero once stated, and I quote: “The zombie films are what I perceive as my platform, a pulpit. They have given me an opportunity to at least, not necessarily express opinions or criticise, but observe what’s going on in society.” Romero is quite explicit in considering the zombie films he makes as being fictional metaphors to represent his perception of contemporary society. Over the years, critics have read Romero’s movies as an allegory of the tumultuous social climate of the 1960s America – and I’m referring here especially to Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Also, the two sequels – Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead – have been read by critics from a diverse variety of critical perspectives, such as critiques of capitalism, racism, and American conflict abroad.

The zombie becomes a privileged tool of analysis of contemporary society, because it represents the kind of political and economic subject produced by political and economic tendencies, in determinate periods of our history. The zombie is always a result, never a cause. More precisely, as a metaphor for our contemporary times, the zombie is the result of a process of subjectivation. When I say “subjectivation” I am referring to the kind of formation of subjects that philosophers like Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze were outlining in their works during the 1970s.

For Romero the zombie is a product of a certain kind of economic framework that was taking shape after the 1960s. For example, in his Dawn of the Dead in 1978, zombies gather outside and inside the shopping mall. They endlessly wander around the different shops as a result of memory patterns of their previous state as living humans. In Dawn of the Dead, the hoard of the walking dead naturally gets attracted by one of the most powerful symbols of the American consumerist culture. In that case, Romero was trying to warn his spectators about the state of hypnosis caused by the intense regime of mass-production and consumption of commodities, started by corporations. The typical sluggishness of Romero’s undead reproduced the uniformity and massification of the majority of the Western population, half-hypnotised by TV and by consumer culture. This is why Romero’s critique was, and still is, admittedly political.

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If Romero’s zombies are the counterpart of a general image the director himself had of American culture – in political and economical terms – how should we understand the new increased speed of the living dead in the last ten years? When did zombies start to run and how should we understand this change?

The first manifestation of the fast zombie can be traced back to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later in 2002. Although not technically zombies – for they were the result of a synthetic biological contagion known as the “rage virus” – the running infected living dead in this movie started a trend regarding the new enhanced speed of zombies. In fact, this new fast type of zombie can also be found in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, the English TV series Dead Set in 2008, the Resident Evil trilogy, Le Horde in 2009 and Rammbock: Berlin Undead in 2010. In these movies, the walking dead become the running dead. It sounds like an oxymoron, for if we follow Max Brook’s tutorial for surviving the living dead – The Zombie Survival Guide published in 2003 – and I quote: “Zombies appear to be incapable of running. The fastest have been observed to move at a rate of barely one step per 1.5 seconds.” However, the new breed of zombies run fast. Extremely fast. Their level of dangerousness has increased in the same way as their speed. It might be argued that zombies have undergone a dromological paradigm shift. The new zombies can be characterised by a dromological acceleration of their movements.

But what is dromology? Dromology is a concept developed by the French philosopher and cultural theorist Paul Virilio at the end of the 1970s. The word comes from the Greek dròmos, translated in English as “race” or “race course”. Virilio often described his concept of dromology as a discourse on speed and, more precisely, dromology is the science, the discipline, the logic of speed. The first systematic use of the concept can be found in his Speed and Politics, originally published in 1977. In this work, Virilio argues that the history of humanity can be understood only insofar as we focus on the technological progress made possible through the militarisation of society. One of the most important concepts of Virilio’s book is that the militarisation of society should be analysed through the study of the speed of the weapon employed. The passage from the feudal system – and its fortified cities – to the capitalist system – and the development of ballistic weapons like projectiles – is symptomatic of the way speed becomes an important category worthy of investigation. Accordingly, Virilio affirms that is speed – not class or wealth – which is the primary motor behind civilization.

If the slow speed of Romero’s zombies mirrored the process of subjectivation under consumer culture after the 1960s, the increased speed of the new zombie is the metaphor for a new dromological subjectivation. The new generation of zombies are functioning as an allegory and a metaphor for a new kind of economic subject. These new subjects are not anymore zombified – in other words, subjectivised – as passive subjects of the market, but rather they are created to respond to the new needs of neoliberal capitalism. This is what I call the Zombie 2.0.

Michel Foucault outlined the formation of the neoliberal economic discourse in his lectures at the College de France in 1978, The Birth of Biopolitics. In these lectures, Foucault expands his research on the genealogy of power he started in the first part of the 1970s. The study of the mechanisms of security, in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe, opened paths of research about the birth of the economic discipline of liberalism. The lectures in The Birth of Biopolitics expose the way in which neoliberal economics changed the way the economic subject was not only perceived but also constructed. According to Foucault, the first American neoliberalists argued that classical economy did not analyse correctly the field of labour. Classical economists studied labour only as a part of the big machine of capital – that is, the conception of labour as an entity between capital and the process of production. On the contrary, as Foucault shows, neoliberal economists study the internal rationalities of the workers when they are on the market. In doing this, the position of the worker is conceived in a completely different manner. Neoliberal economics formulates its discourse from the point of view of the worker. For the first time in economic analyses, the worker is no longer assumed to be an object – an object of demand and an object of offer in the form of labour force – but he becomes an active economic subject. According to Foucault, the homo œconomicus assumes the form of an enterprise, or more precisely, an entrepreneur of himself. Neoliberalism incites each individual to take the form of “human capital.”

In Foucault’s reading of neoliberal economists, the concept of human capital is constituted by innate and acquired elements. The acquired elements of human capital are factors that become economically relevant with neoliberalism, such as education, professional skills, and mobility. The new active subject of the neoliberal market can be effective only insofar as he performs a series of investments in acquired human capital. In other words, contemporary neoliberal framework forces the worker to create, as soon as possible, an adequate level of employability. According to the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato, the aim of neoliberal economics is to create a vast array of self-entrepreneurs who keep the level of competition high. This in turn generates an atmosphere of what he calls “equal inequality.” Also, Lazzarato shows how one of the strategies of neoliberal economics has been to construct a new economic subject such as the “new poor” – that is, the proletarianised middle class that is often placed in the general category of “precarious workers.” In these categories, Lazzarato continues, fear runs along the whole continuum. These subjects are being created in order to render the mechanisms of competition and precariousness even harsher. As we can see, neoliberal capitalism has its own devices (or dispositifs) for social control.

If we follow Foucault and Lazzarato’s analyses of neoliberal economics, it becomes evident that, as it happened with the zombie movies at the beginning of the third millennium, the worker has undergone a dromological paradigm shift as well. The worker must now actively invest in his human capital, for the neoliberal market can be sustained only by the circulation created by the investments and mobility of the workers. Today, the worker as an entrepreneur of himself is required to be fast and adaptable to the constantly changing requests of the neoliberal market.

Through his concept of dromology, Virilio argued that the categories of space and time have become relative to the new absolute of speed. With modern technologies, speed becomes the only constant to the detriment of physical space. In relation to any kind of movement, more than the spatial coordinates of departure and arrival, what is important is the speed of the trajectory. According to Virilio, in the new framework of modernity, Newtonian time and space have been relativised by the absolutization of the speed. The route has the upper hand over the object. In the same way, neoliberalism creates and privileges the trajectories of workers, their mobility. This mobility doesn’t have to be intended only as spatial mobility – for example when different flows of workers migrate towards stronger economies – but also as the level of employability in relation to the acquired human capital.

To recapitulate, the new fast zombie that can be seen in different movies after Boyle’s 28 Days Later, is the reproduction in popular culture of a kind of subjectivity that emerged with the development of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. The Zombie 2.0, be it the fast zombie in movies or the precarious entrepreneur of himself described by Foucault and Lazzarato, has speed as his main trait. The movies featuring fast zombies registered a paradigm shift in the formation of subjectivities. As it was in the case of Romero’s movies, these kinds of zombie narratives function in our society as a political unconscious. The literary theorist Fredric Jameson argued that different branches of culture, like literature or cinema, act as the expression of a political unconscious faced with the challenges of the metamorphoses of capitalism. The change in speed required in different economic subjects under neoliberalism, is one of these metamorphoses.

*

Zombie 2.0 narratives, like Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and the TV series Dead Set, depict a situation of zombie epidemics from which it is impossible to escape alive. The entire world will end up zombified. If we get back to the comparison between the process of zombification and formation of subjectivities, one could argue that the sense of eschatological inevitability in these movies, seems to suggest that the contemporary economical and political subjectivation is something to be acknowledged as inevitable. Neoliberalism shapes our subjectivities according to its aims. This sense of inevitability is one of the tropes which might clarify why the zombie – and the actual subjects zombies allegorically represent – has often been thought of as a product of an overarching economical base, both with Romero’s slow zombies, and the fast Zombie 2.0. But if that is the case, what is the critique established by the Zombie 2.0?

I think that the critique of the Zombie 2.0 consists in what Virilio called the political economy of speed. Far from demonizing the increased speed of our modernity, Virilio has rather tried to understand the inner logic of speed. It is in this sense that we should try to understand not only how the neoliberal subjectivation works. We should also try to learn how the political economy of speed of neoliberalism works, to the detriment of the labour force on the market. Under neoliberalism, labour force – both in the forms of material and immaterial labour – undergoes the Zombie 2.0 dromological metamorphosis.

What has happened in the last thirty years is that the political economy of speed has been absorbed and employed by the schizophrenic power of financial late capitalism. What is at stake now is a new conception of the zombie not anymore as a passive product of a certain type of subjectivation, but as a new potential for disruption of the economic framework that created it. It is not surprising that the opening scenes in 28 Days Later and Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead show video footage of urban rioting. The student protests last year in England, the Spanish and Italian indignado movement, Greek uprising in the last three years, London riots in August 2011, the “Occupy” movement all around the world, they all display how the constant generalised crisis of contemporary capitalism is being challenged by the hoard of Zombies 2.0.

If zombies and subjectivities are produced as fast and reactive, that means that we have to use this new increased speed to turn the passive subjectivation into one that is active and against neoliberal policies. After all, as Sun Tsu affirmed 2500 years ago, “speed is the essence of war.”