Professor Fred Botting: Do Zombies Walk Among Us?

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January 20, 2015 by The Ascending Staircase

This post was first published on 14th October 2013 via Humanity Hallows.

WARNING: Manchester Metropolitan University’s Geoffrey Manton building is infected. Do not enter under any circumstances. Zombies walk among us.

Botting started his talk by stating that, with zombies, there should be no hesitation, no parentheses, no question, no question marks’, which is completely contrary to his lecture’s title, Zombie (?). Unusual, yes. However, he moved quickly on to use zombie books and films, including World War ZWay of the Barefoot ZombieThe Zombie Survival Guide and two non-fiction books both called Zombie Economics, to explain that the question mark and parentheses in the title of this lecture are vital. They are necessary in order to explore why western society seems so fixated on the figure of the zombie. Wwere presented with a startling question throughout the lecture – are the zombies already here?

Botting highlighted the humanity behind the zombie, or possibly the zombie within us, emphasising lines of erosion between them and us, the humans. Zombies are a dead — or undead – end; a figurehead to demonstrate how society struggles with issues ranging from economics to cultural identity. The lecture turned to philosophy, more specifically, the claim that zombies may already walk among us. ‘Some of your best friends may be zombies’, Botting quoted while examining philosopher Daniel Dennett’s work on the subject. How can we tell? Well, a zombie is typically an autonomous being, dehumanised by capitalism, controlled by consumerism.

In economic and political terms, he explained, the societal zombies are those who are plagued with spiralling debts. As has become more and more common, people today seem only to accumulate debt in their attempts to rid themselves of it. As Botting aptly put it, they are the people who have bitten off ‘more toxic debt than they can chew’. The purpose of these zombies becomes rather singular as they are trapped by their debts; ‘One can neither kill it, nor escape it, Botting explains. It seems that these are the zombies to avoid. Personally, I’d suggest not venturing out during the night and staying away from city centres. If the movies are anything to go by, this tactic will not only be good for your purse, it may also save you from any potential zombie apocalypse.

Of course, we can no longer speak of zombies without referring to the satirical, the ironic and the romantic sides of the genre. ‘In a zom-rom-com’, Botting pointed out, ‘there’s a kind of banality to the horror’. We need look no further than recent movies such as Shaun of the Dead and novels like Warm Bodies and Breathers to see his point. Moreover, these stories seem to blur the idea of what a zombie is, by giving them human aspects, and sometimes even depicting the remaining humans as zombified and trapped, whilst their undead counterparts find love, religion and roam through the abandoned cities.

Botting ended with a quote from the novel, Way of the Barefoot Zombie. It was a thought which, at some point, we have probably all wished certain characters from zombie movies or literature would comply with – ‘I couldn’t help thinking it would be easier to lie down and get it over with.

Fred Botting’s talk was the first in a series of Contemporary Gothic lectures for MMU’s ‘Humanities in Public(HiPFestival. This series attempts to ‘act as an introduction to the Gothic’ and ‘aims to explore the value of Gothic Studies today. Botting encompassed this brief wonderfully and – with a little help from some zombie friends – gave the audience plenty to consider as they walked out through the (thankfully zombie-free) atrium and wearily into the dark night.

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