I’m thinking through a more substantial post about the ethics and politics of the ongoing conflict in and around Gaza — it is at once right in my academic interest, in its relation to biopolitics and social justice, but it’s so polarizing and complex I want to be sure my thoughts on the matter are measured.
In the meantime, I thought I would offer up some thoughts on an underreported series of events going on in South Africa.
Lost in the clamor over Gaza, Ukraine, and Syria, the Ebola scare in Sierra Leone is really suffering from a dearth of news coverage. The global health ramifications there are startling (and the country is already overburdened by the medical and logistical nightmare). There are reports that several individuals who tested positive for Ebola are unaccounted for and likely in the general population. That idea is the stuff of horror film beginnings; however, it does emphasize something that we easily forget in the face of the moralization of health: the infected are people with actions, desires, feelings, and connections of their own. That is not to say that this is a good thing — certainly the preventable spread of deadly disease anywhere is terrifying and tragic — but the inability of public health services to quarantine and track those with Ebola speaks at once to inequities in the distribution of global health (and the attention of global media, both of which are concentrated in the Global North and Global West), and it speaks to the impossibility of quarantine (as totalizing control).
I’ll be back in the relatively near future with a post on “Ethical Defense” (also the title of my final dissertation chapter — don’t worry, I won’t give much of that away) as it relates to Gaza.
It was hard to choose a link for this story, given that it is all over mainstream and independent news outlets. I went with The Guardian because (a) it provided detailed description and (b) they are based outside of the U.S. and have a bit more critical distance.
This is a sad case and I think it is in need of very little critical exegesis — and, certainly, I don’t want to be disrespectful, turning one man’s death into a simple teaching lesson or an example, especially given the privilege that I would be exercising and advertising in doing so.
Instead, I’ll say only a little: This execution, with all of its political intrigues and medical secrecy, fits shockingly neatly in a long history of biomedical experimentation (particularly on black bodies), especially within the prison system (for more on this you might consider: Allen Hornblum’s Acres of Skin (cheap on amazon: http://amzn.to/R1n2GD) or Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid (also very affordable on amazon: http://amzn.to/1fugZ8Q).
Lockett’s inhumane execution may lead to revision and review of Capital Punishment in the U.S. — one can only hope — but public outcry has to call the state to accountability.
Firstly, I’ll try to resume regular updates on the blog, although I am dissertating pretty diligently right now.
In the news department, my previously forthcoming publications all came out within a week of one another, so if the blog interests you please take the time to look up these great publications (and this is an endorsement for the publications themselves not necessarily my contributions… though… I won’t discourage you from looking up my articles and film review…).
The new volume of Literature and Medicine came out (that’s Volume 31, No. 2, the Fall 2013 issue), it’s a special issue on World Literature and Global Health guest edited by Karen Thornber. She and the executive editor, Catherine Belling, offer an introduction and foreword, respectively, that really help tie the issue together. It features a lot of great work and is totally worth your time. If you’re curious, I contributed the third article, “Insecure Lives,” which considers the relation of global health, global security, and the biopolitical in the transmedia Resident Evil franchise, Max Brooks’ novel World War Z, and the Soderbergh film Contagion. The issue is accessible via project muse and here is a nice link for you: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/literature_and_medicine/toc/lm.31.2.html.
Also out is an awesome collection on The Walking Dead edited by Dawn Keetley and featuring a compilation of stellar articles that focus primarily on the AMC television series, reading it through a series of critical lenses and really offering a deep and broad discussion of the series. My article in this collection, if you’re interested, focuses more on the comics than the show — focusing on the politics of security and survival that The Walking Dead and other zombie narratives represent. You can get a quick look at the preface and some of the chapter titles and order the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Were-All-Infected-Essays-Walking/dp/0786476281. That said, viewing it on the little “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” tab on amazon doesn’t do the book justice (the typos and errors evident on that sample are not in the print copy of the book at all).
Finally, the super awesome journal Monsters and the Monstrous, which publishes creative and critical work on monstrosity in culture just put out Volume 3 No. 2, in which I offer a film review of World War Z (it’s a much more in-depth, film-reviewy sort of review than the entries that largely populate this blog).
I was looking at shows “On Demand” on AMC through Time Warner Cable and I saw some real zombie movie gems (yes… I actually have cable, that’s another story altogether).
In addition to previously more readily available and more famous films like White Zombie (1932) and King of the Zombies (1941), they also have Revolt of the Zombies (1936) — a second zombie effort by the Halperin brothers, creators of White Zombie — and Teenage Zombies (1959) — a film where a scientist creates a horde of zombies via nerve gas.
Just a year ago, these films were not that easy to find — I checked about 1.5 years ago and just didn’t want to pay $15 or $20 for a really poor quality copy — now they are On Demand and airing on AMC AND streaming on amazon prime.
On one hand, this is an awesome demonstration of digitization and media democratization at its best, on the other hand it speaks to the utter popularity and proftiability of zombies and zombie films: that it could be profitable for companies to show 60 – 80 year old zombie movies that were unpopular and critically unfavored is staggering.
Nonetheless, I’m not judging, just observing. I’ll be watching the Halperin brothers bumble their way through another awful movie — featuring some intense orientalism this time — and checking out the (ab)use of stock footage in Jerry Warren’s Teenage Zombies.
So, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for research that might make its way into my dissertation revisions or my first monograph and I noticed this little gem in a footnote of Marius Turda’s Modernism and Eugenics.
I’ve been under the impression that Rudolf Kjellén had coined the term, but I’m happy to see that the conceptual history of biopolitics (as a discourse) is longer and more convoluted than that.
So in this issue of The New Age, you’ll see “Bio-Politics” by G.W. Harris. This short diatribe is a (rather frightening by today’s standards) diatribe about enacting eugenic policies at the state level. It really drives home the very real relation between eugenics and biopolitics that is so often referred to without being discussed in contemporary literature.
To me, this also reinforces the importance of considering race (and ethnicity and nationalism) when one evokes the discourse of biopolitics.
Apologies for the dearth of blog entries — I’m still hoping to do a mini-review of Bennett Simms’ A Questionable Shape, and I have some more updates for you; however, teaching and the job market demand my attention right now.
On that note, this one goes out to all those grad students and junior academics hunting for jobs:
This time I’m going to unpack World War Z — starring Brad Pitt and a lot of CGI (and in all fairness, some really good makeup).
As some have pointed out, this film has little to do with the novel whose naming rights it used — The Oatmeal has really handled this more concisely than I can — but I knew that going into the theater and really didn’t hold it to any expectations (sidenote: big fan of the Max Brooks novel, just for the record — I’ve taught it and written about it and see a lot of value in it).
So, let’s leave the title behind after saying, it fits the narrative fairly well, even if it has nothing to do with the book.
Okay. That out of the way let’s talk about this movie — plot spoilers (but not the ending) to follow.
Firstly, the film moves in three basic acts. The first is a tense setup, one of the — fairly common, now — flight or exodus narratives where survivors try to escape a zombie-ridden city. The pacing, the suspense, and the action are really well done here and the action is pretty solid. Mireille Enos is awesome and her chemistry with Brad Pitt is pretty great — it almost makes the film seem like it is going to be an interesting and unique exploration of one family with two badass parents working together to survive the zombie apocalypse… and then it turns into something else.
The second act is about trying to discover an etiology for the zombie pandemic ravaging the earth, and it sends Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, globetrotting as the U.N.’s only resource and the world’s only hope.
—-Annnnd sidenote, at every mention of his name I pictured Jerry Gergich:
Okay, so, back to act 2. This pretty much covers the journey to a military base in South Korea and a trip to Jerusalem — whose super-touted-zombie-stopping-wall breaks down as good ol’ Gerry watches (don’t worry, he escapes). He makes some friends, saves some lives and ends up in act 3 in Cardiff, Wales.
I don’t have much to say about Act 2. It’s got some cool action scenes and some really impressive zombie crowd-flows (more about that at the end of this post). I will say, by this point in the movie I was beginning to get distracted by a few things: 1) it appears that Jerry is the only human with a family to care about — he gets kinda whiny and indignant and the film does nothing to show us that literally all of the characters have people they care about and want to save — making him seem rounder in a world of flat characters, 2) this feeling is deflated by the fact that we know nothing about this character’s life or his past except that he was a super-awesome U.N. guy in some hot situations and he ‘thought he gave all that up before the world needed him’ or some other b.s., 3) this has the affect of making this hetero white dude hero of the film seem like he’s a bit of a privileged toolbag. That third point made me feel kind of ambivalent when he saves Segen (played by Daniella Kertesz) and takes her out of Jerusalem — at the same time its an extremely compelling moment in the film, as you just have to root for her to live. It felt awkward for me because in all truth she should be way more hardcore and badass than Gerry — and she appears to be at first — but she’s quickly wounded and weakened and the audience is cheated (for the second time) out of a strong female heroine. I also kept hearing a famous Gayatri Spivak quote on loop in my mind: “White men are saving brown women from brown men.” Which understandably destabilized the film for me a bit.
That said, Daniella Kertesz is still awesome and compelling as Segen, and the addition adds some character depth.
I want to pause for a moment again here to explain that, I took issue with some of the race and gender politics of the film, but I don’t condemn it. I think it has some shortcomings, falls into some genre and representational traps, but it also ALMOST doesn’t do that. Granted, I also can’t laud it for that ALMOST factor.
Okay. Act 3. Wales and the WHO research center.
This is the slowest and least glitzy part of the movie — the result of a rewrite and reshoot. This part of the movie nails it in some ways. There’s a great tension and some really fun and original moments — the idea that the end of the movie is predicated on is pretty interesting and originalish. This last sequence is fun and features the old secured lab setting genre buffs are already familiar with. It takes the pageantry of the film down a notch and I think that the tension and the suspense go up a notch in response. The ending is not exactly satisfying — it seems a bit rough, really unresolved, and like fodder for a sequel rather than a polished product — but these movies are really hard to end well.
All in all, I’d give the movie 6 out of 10 stars (maybe 7 if you caught me right after I walked out of the theater). I think it’s above average as a zombie film and it does some original things — which is pretty solid. It’s shortcomings really come in the way it falls into some genre (or is it really just major Hollywood production?) traps — Mill Jovovich in the Resident Evil films notwithstanding.
Before I sign off, though, I’d like to talk a bit more about: zombie swarms, the U.N., and the W.H.O.
Firstly, the title sequence is amazing and unsettling. It primes the viewer with shots of different flock and swarm activities in nature and then primes you view the zombies in this way. And, indeed, they do flow, flock, and swarm like ants on sugar, bees making a hive, or… you get the idea. The film is worth seeing just to watch the zombies move en masse — it’s like the zombies from Zack Snyder’s cover of Dawn of the Dead (2004) on speed… or super-soldier serum?
I don’t know.
Anywho. Medicine. Thematically, I was reminded of Contagion (2011). In that film, the C.D.C. is the real hero, and in this one I felt like the U.N. and W.H.O. were getting a similar plug. It really foregrounds the medicalization of the zombie as a figure (I’ve talked about this enough on the blog and in my recent work so I’ll spare you here).