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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Zombification versus reification at the end of the world : exploring the limits of the human via the posthuman zombie in contemporary horror film Doyle, Kelly Ann


The zombie figure is ubiquitous in contemporary horror film—particularly in the United States—and has prompted me to explore why zombie films have regained popularity post-9/11, why the zombie has become a figure in flux, evolving from slow to fast, from un-dead to living, and from decaying to mutating body, and finally, to explore the practical use of an allegory of the zombie at the end of the world. My fascination with horror film has bloomed into an analysis of the ways in which the zombie figure in film troubles and in part reifies the human figure delineated by classical humanism and anthropocentrism; how posthumanism serves as a critical lens through which the zombie figure not only threatens ontology, but also the ideological constructs of speciesism, racism, and sexism that depend upon the fantasy figure of the human to justify dehumanization and atrocities. Zombie films’ apocalyptic narratives warn of ecological crisis, of over-consumption, of ends that are always near yet always deferred. They are intertextual, historically and politically resonant, and draw particularly though not singularly on America-centric fear and trauma. It is particularly significant as a genre when one considers the 9/11 attacks as a benchmark. Extant criticism has focused on examining the political and cultural critiques of American society in George A. Romero’s canonical films, and others, to conclude that “they” are “us”. Moreover, it often suggests that zombies provide a background against which humans reach their full potential—re-endorsing humanism and anthropocentrism—or alternatively, they highlight essential flaws and the aggressive, ‘animalistic’ nature of humans. By contrast, I argue that these films do more than mediate terror; they profoundly affect political life since 9/11 by insisting that posthumanism must be addressed if we are to understand the ways in which the human subject is mapped and remapped by such events.

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