Film

Day 2: Understanding the Undead

Few would disagree that Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important and talked about films in the history of cinema. On our second day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that give a rationale as to why, after 40 years, Night of the Living Dead continues to provide a frightful and nightmarish viewing experience.

Few would disagree that Night of the Living Dead is one of the most important and talked about films in the history of cinema. Just think about it -- during this week PopMatters offers no less than 30 articles about a film that is 40 years old. Why does this film continue to attract the undivided attention of hundreds of critics, scholars, academics, and fans from all over the world?

Arguably, the power of Night of the Living Dead resides in its interpretative ambiguity, which permits us to consider this film in relation to a variety of social, cultural, political, ideological, philosophical, psychological, and theological frameworks. In this regard, Romero’s geniality transformed a simple tale of flesh eating zombies into a complex showcase of academic and ideological readings. And even after several theoretical studies, the reasons behind the potent attraction of Night of the Living Dead remain ambiguous and enigmatic. Romero’s masterpiece continues to defy interpretation and categorization.

On our second day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that explore some of these theoretical frameworks. These essays attempt to give a rationale as to why, after so long, Night of the Living Dead continues to provide a frightful and nightmarish viewing experience.

In “Satiety in Numbers”, Prof. Jay McRoy argues that the power of Night of the Living Dead resides in its presentation of a swarming mass of dead bodies. He reminds us of fears and anxieties due to alien aggregate social collectives. From immigrants to refugees, masses of displaced people have often been considered as a threat to a nation’s cultural and political integrity. This film counters the swarming crowds of the walking dead with a seemingly antithetical mode of social organization.

In “An Anthem for the Undead”, Spencer Tricker presents how Night of the Living Dead relates to the philosophical work of Ayn Rand. In particular, Tricker relates Romero’s horror film to Rand’s Anthem. The allure of the undead stems from the idea that a zombie apocalypse subverts thousands of years of moral discipline engraved into our brains. As such, when the dead walk the earth, mankind is stripped to its barest, most brutal self.

In “Blood, Guts, and Identity Fragmentation”, Rajith Savanadasa relates the powerful attraction of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead to the cultural and sociological theories of Baudrillard and Sartre. The resemblance between the narrative structure in Night of the Living Dead and the struggle for ascendancy in the most powerful nation in the world is indeed striking.

In “I’m Coming to Get You, Barbra", Ian Mathews argues that the power of the ghouls in Night of the Living Dead is not their number, and neither the infectious nature of their gruesome bite. The real horror presented by these ghouls is the terrifying possibility that your loved ones can become flesh eating monsters. Indeed, when the zombie standing in front of you is your friend, brother, or child, then you are confronted by a wholly different kind of terror that challenges rationality.

On a related issue, Victor Calderin reminds us in “Resurrection Revisited” that Night of the Living Dead subverts one of our dearest theological beliefs. Indeed, most religions invoke the promise of a glossy afterlife where we will be able to reunite with our dear departed ones. While most religions promise resurrection as a happy reunion with those lost loved ones, Night of the Living Dead frustrates this reunion. In Romero’s film, resurrection and the afterlife are transformed into nightmarish scenarios.

Without a doubt, the zombie walk is a notable aspect of the legacy of Night of the Living Dead. As explained by Dan Brian in “Zombie Walk this Way”, zombie walks are public events where fans of the undead dress up as zombies and parade across town. One of the reasons as to why these displays are so interesting from a cultural perspective is that they boil down to public displays of what appears to be a worldwide … death wish.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

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