Film

Day 3: Reanimation Politics

The race and patriarchal subtexts of Night of the Living Dead deeply resonated with the torrid social and cultural landscape of that bleak period in American history. As such, no discussion of Night of the Living Dead can be complete without considering these important issues. On our third day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that discuss issues related to race conflict and phallic control.

Night of the Living Dead was released the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Thus, the images of Ben destroying furniture to barricade the house and putting fire to a sofa to keep the zombies away bring to mind images of urban violence and rioting. The race issue is further complicated in those scenes where Ben tends to the nearly catatonic Barbara, as these suggest what was then still a forbidden interracial relationship. This reading is reinforced when one takes into account that the attacking zombies -- not to mention the cops who come to murder Ben in the end -- are all white, resembling lynch mobs.

These race anxieties are redoubled in the other survivors who have been hiding in the farmhouse basement. These include the dysfunctional Cooper family, Harry, his frustrated wife Helen, and bitten daughter Karen, as well as the young couple, Tom and Judy. According to Harry, the basement is the best place to hide, while Ben believes they should stay upstairs, as the closed underground appears a deadly trap. Their conflict comes to a head over their only gun. At this point, the fight for survival turns into a battle for phallic control between two alpha males.

As such, the race and patriarchal subtexts of Night of the Living Dead deeply resonated with the torrid social and cultural landscape of that bleak period in American history. Therefore no discussion of Night of the Living Dead can be complete without considering these important issues. On our third day celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, PopMatters offers six articles that discuss issues related to race conflict and phallic control.

In “The Trouble with Harry”, Prof. Peter Hutchings attempts to vindicate Harry. Indeed, while most readings of the film consider Ben and Harry as the nominal hero and villain respectively, Hutchings argues that Harry was not such a bad guy. It's a real irony that Harry is without a question the most unpleasant character in Night of the Living Dead, but he just happens to be the most insightful.

In a similar vein, Jeffrey Uhlmann's “Subverting the Subversion” observes that, if we ignore characterization nuisances, Ben is simply a well-spoken African-American who ultimately leads to the deaths of all the white characters. Furthermore, Harry is a voice that promotes isolation and segregation by urging everybody to hide in the basement. As such, the seemingly progressive casting decision of Duane Jones as Ben actually reinforces the intolerant ideologies of racist groups of the time.

Several race subtexts found in Night of the Living Dead are discussed in detail by John Grassi in “The Unhappy Undead”. Romero’s film simply reenacts the American Civil War at the micro level, Grassi states. Then, for instance, the seemingly unavoidable conflict between Ben and Harry is reminiscent of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech.

In “Why Can’t We Just Eat Brains and Be Happy?”, Chris Deis discusses the ways in which race is operative in Romero’s film as a thematic and a symbolic device. And perhaps more important, Deis explores how the interpretation and appreciation of Night of the Living Dead would change, or remain the same, if race as a critical lens is removed from the way we view the film.

As previously stated, because of its subtextual representation of race conflict, Night of the Living Dead perfectly reflected the torrid cultural and political landscape of American during the late '60s. While this observation explains the popularity of Romero’s film in the USA, it makes us ponder why Night of the Living Dead is an equally esteemed and respected film in other countries.

In this regard, Andrew Smith's “Zombies in Wardour Street” provides a detailed exploration of Night of the Living Dead within the context of the British horror film. Even though British audiences were becoming familiar with the evolution of the horror film, Romero’s film still presented a startling leap into the unknown.

Finally, Matt Nida and Carl Swift also consider the success of Night of the Living Dead from a British perspective in their essay, "Zombie Nation". The power of Night of the Living Dead resides on the way Romero presents a terrifying apocalypse brought by monsters not that different from the ordinary people that we meet every day. In that light, the authors conclude that Night of the Living Dead is as relevant to a British audience as it would be to an American, both historically and contemporaneously.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.