In zombie stories and Orientalist fiction, there are fates worse than death. In zombie stories, it’s becoming one of the undead. In Orientalist fiction, it’s living in a world in which the Oriental dominates the West – economically, culturally, physically – and sexually.
Gina Marchetti’s work has highlighted sexual themes in Orientalist stories, including gang rape, sexual slavery, and racial pollution. In this video collage, I’ve cut together video and images to compare themes in zombie and Orientalist stories. I invite your comments and feedback.
Zombies’ hunger for flesh symbolizes more than just gluttony. We can also interpret “flesh” as sexuality (e.g., “fleshpots” refers to sex workers), particularly White women’s sexuality. Orientalism has represented “the Oriental” as a sexual threat to White women and White racial purity. Asian, Arab, and Muslim men have long been cast as perversely lustful sexual predators, looming over terrorized White women. In 2008, Lan Dong said, “One of the most potent aspects of the Yellow Peril discourse in American popular culture is the predatory sexual desire from the yellow race that endangers white womanhood and consequently threatens the racial purity of white American society.”
In 1877, Dennis Kearney, infamous American leader of the anti-Chinese “Workingman’s Party” said, “To an American, death is preferable to life on a par with a Chinaman.” The Orientalized enemy doesn’t just want to enslave individual White women – it wants to make all of Western civilization its sexual slave.
In 1992, Gary Hoppenstand said, “A favorite convention of the yellow peril featured the lone white woman surrounded by a horde of Chinese bent on debauchment. She holds them at bay with a revolver, and that revolver has only a single bullet left. Seeing that her situation is hopeless, she points the barrel of the gun to her temple..." Sometimes – as in Taken – the White male hero saves the White woman in the nick of time; other times, not. Resident Evil 2 evokes this Orientalist nightmare, with zombies standing in for the lecherous Oriental – reiterating to White women that suicide is preferable to racial pollution – and to White men that homicide or genocide is justifiable in protection of White racial purity.
Interesting observations. And I have to agree with the analysis of TAKEN: though ambivalent about it, so many friends extolled it as the best action flick of recent years, that I sprung to see it on video and it found it to be the most atrocious, racist updating of the even more reprehensible movie COMMANDO.
But as for our zombies: part of the analysis of Romero's zombies at least is how multi-ethnic the shambling hordes are, so it's hard for me to see them as representing a white fear of the "other" (at least in so far as the "other" is racially typecast). Do you think Resident Evil just takes it in another direction, or do you think the zombies' "otherness" represents race, even when they are (visibly) multiracial (and mostly white, for that matter)?
Kim Paffenroth, Author of Dying to Live and other zombie fiction and nonfiction
Yellow Peril / Zombie
I very much appreciated the juxtaposition of multiple "hoards" in the post, and I do think that the observation about zombies vis-a-vis white womanhood is fascinating. I am struck by the ways in which turn-of-the-twentieth-century anti-Chinese (or yellow peril) discourse was in part built on the notion of citizenship. Specifically, at stake in such discourses (which are often focused on miscegenation) is how the nation is threatened by the potential birth of non-white subjects. Accordingly, the zombie becomes an almost hyperefficient "reproducer," able to not only infect but build a larger nation of zombies through intimate exchange. What do you think? How does the very way in which zombies are able to produce other zombies (irregardless of gender) in turn underscore past androgynous characterizations of the Chinese (or other Asian/American subjects)? Both Taken and Resident Evil 2 rely on structuring feelings of anxiety through threats to white womanhood, which makes for an interesting, provocative comparison.
Metamorphoses of the sexualized zombie
Hi, I think I'll jump into this discussion (last semester I did a post on Indigenous Video, and it's my first time coming back). Your post reminded me of a couple of things concerning the mindless horde and the rape/invasion iconography, as parts of the zombie genre's metamorphosis. Granted that zombie films are ever seen as metaphors, they exceed the zombie genre proper, and I agree with you in thinking in terms of zombie tropes, or zombie situations, carrying those same structural positions. Sometimes this overflow is to the point that the zombie allegory becomes so obvious and overstated that it is possible that the typical zombie issues may have migrated to other genres - science fiction, action/adventure etc. Maybe this migration started long ago, perhaps shortly after Romero even, and in the pastiche era of postmodern cinema, the Zombie genre remained, in part, as that endless elaboration and refinement, the perpetual polishing of the fascinating device, ideology obsessed with form. So, among these new loci for para-zombies, outside the zombie genre, and zombies themselves, I think of Science Fiction, and Horror.
One of the most horrific films I've seen in the last couple of years was Alexandre Aja's 2006 remake of Wes Craven's "The hills have eyes" (1977). Blood-thirsty mutant humans, victims of the Nevada atomic bomb tests, brutally attack a family traveling through the desert. The film in itself certainly welcomes all kinds of psychoanalytic/post-colonial/return of the repressed readings. But the sub-human-as-zombie-pack's sexual attack of a young girl is what brings it here for me. It's all there in the trailer and in the main slogan for the promo, a highly sadistic version of your "I'd rather die than…". In this particular case it's "The lucky ones die first.", and in the trailer it comes after a rape scene involving the creatures and the daughter of the family. One more to the repertoire of the crooked rabble and the damsel in (extreme) distress.
Another metamorphosis of the genre is the zombie-drone/android, and a good example is in "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996). Instead of mutated humans, we have a bonding of organic and synthetic, creating a techno-automaton-undead army called "The Borg". The appropriation of new humans into the swarm gains sexual connotation in an interesting twist. Instead of a blond woman running from a group of oriental looking men (or deformed sub-humans), we have the captain of the ship, Jean-Luc Picard, using his macho-wits to avoid the highly contagious mob, while flirting with a black woman from earth (Alfre Woodard) who has become stranded on the ship. In the end of his effortless struggles to rid the ship of the Borg invasion, he goes to meet them, and encounters what appears to be the manifestation of their unified brain, a kind of contradictory personification of the Borg collective: a seductive viscous cyborg woman. I've recently re-watched the film and happened to copy down the moment when the captain confronts the "Borg Queen" (as she's credited); it's bellow. Interestingly, this complex extrapolation of the zombie encounter receives strokes of the voluntary servitude idea, and is all framed through seduction. In the scene, as a kind of last heroic deed before he gives himself to the Borg and lets the ship be destroyed, Picard is trying to save his cybernetic friend Data, who in turn is being helped by the Borg to become more human (one of the film's themes) and, unbeknownst to Picard, does have a plan, which ultimately saves the day:
(Picard and the Borg Queen)
- What have you done to him?
- Given him what he always wanted, flesh and blood.
- Let him go, he's not the one you want
- Are you offering yourself to us?
- Offering myself? ... That's it, I remember now! It wasn't enough that you assimilate me, I had to give myself freely to the Borg. To you!
- You flatter yourself! I've overseen the assimilation of countless millions, you were no different.
- You lie! You wanted more than just another Borg drone, you wanted a human being with a mind of its own, who could bridge the gulf between humanity and the Borg, you wanted a counterpart. But I resisted, I fought you.
- You can't begin to imagine the life you denied yourself…
Ernesto Ignacio de Carvalho
I'd agree with the last
I'd agree with the last paragraph of your comment esp - LAND makes Romero's vision of race/class the clearest, with Big Daddy leading the horde (= foreign, alien, threatening, untermenschen), but the horde turning out to be much more heroic and sympathetic than Kaufman and Co ( = white, rich, genocidal cross between Trump and Bush). I find the final glare from Big Daddy to the human hero quite uplifting, as it seems to indicate a truce, as our heroes trapse off to safe, peaceful Canada (!) and away from the racist, consumerist, militaristic USA.
Kim Paffenroth, Author of Dying to Live and other zombie fiction and nonfiction
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