I knew Walter A. Davis way back when. He is now professor emeritus at Ohio State and continues in retirement to write books. I wish I had his energy. He published recently: Death’s Dream Kingdom: The American Psyche since 9-11. I started poking about the book; I don’t read books anymore. I poke about and came across the following passage while thinking about zombies:
Belief in the self is the American ideology. Next to surplus value the self is our most important product: the thing we constantly proclaim and reassure ourselves about in order to cover over the emptiness of that concept and the void it conceals. Nothing is shallower than the inwardness of the average American, a subjectivity composed of little but the incessant mimicking of "signs" of success and affects that through ceaseless happy talk confer no more than a phantom substantiality. Beneath that chatter the truth of its inner condition continues to work on the American psyche: the death of affect, the deepening of psychic numbing, and a collective flight from anything that causes the least anxiety.
A zombie is a zombie because his or her psyche or subjectivity has been hollowed out. He has one thing on his mind; and he isn’t going to see a shrink about it. Maybe that’s why they like to eat brains. They are trying to make up symbolically for their lack of interiority.
I can’t quite tell what the zombies in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead stand for. Us, of course. But us as what? Since Romero had the nerve clear back in 1968 to make the protagonist of his movie a black man—a sane and decisive black man to boot; compared to which the whites in the movie are raving selfish lunatics—one thinks perhaps that the zombies represent the unthinking mob and its manifest prejudices and general idiocy.
But in The Dawn of the Dead (1978, I think), Romero’s second and equally classic zombie flick, it’s pretty clear what the living dead stand for. Consumers. The living characters—to get clear for a while of the pressures of moving around in a completely zombified universe—hole up in a deserted mall. It has everything they could possibly want, including mall music. And one thing they don’t want. Zombies… They are there milling about in the parking lot, pounding at the doors, drawn to the mall as if by an instinctual force. So what if they can’t buy anything—they just want to be in that mall.
Consumer as zombie. Were I in an arguing mood or had the strength for it, I would argue that nothing has contributed more to the disembodiment of subjectivity than the consumer society. We carry our hearts on our sleeves now in the form of advertisement for Nike.
Above, please find a mall zombie from Dawn of the Dead.