Sunday, March 13, 2016

Z is for Zombie

When the cultural history of the Obama years gets written, it will be hard to avoid the predominant role in television drama of the disaster-dominated genres:  from internal conspiracies (both corporate and governmental) to alien, angelic/demonic, and time traveler invasions, to epidemics of the viral (both corporate and governmental) and supernatural (vampires, zombies, etc.) sorts, the serials have pictured a world (but usually focused on the US) under siege and struggling mightily, with heroes, villains and many posed ambiguously in-between. While this trend certainly build on long histories of prior examples and it got into gear during the Bush II years, it really exploded under Obama and I can't help but assume that this came in substantial part from Hollywood (usually presumed to be of the "left") cynically creating product for viewer demographics (usually presumed to be of the "right") that pointed to a huge audience potential for paranoid tales addressed to those who think that their natural hegemony in the world has been taken away.  Each of the genres in question is well-suited to addressing one or another of the paranoid strains in our culture, with ethnic or racial and sexual themes vying with hidden exercise of abused corporate or state powers for the greater resonance and potential for volatile audience identification.   At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the greater the catastrophe represented, the greater the opportunity for conflict-driven drama  both compelling and complex enough to be sustainable over several seasons.

Of all the genres represented in this era, I suspect that it is the zombie story that is going to be the one end times genre that most attaches itself, in future histories, to the Obama terms.  While there are certainly elements of other genres, alien invasion (with aliens locatable in both a supposed Kenyan-born president and refugees or immigrants crossing borders, but also in the body-and-brain-snatched Kansans who so cheerfully continue to vote against their own best interests) or vampires (who inevitable have carried a charge that is both sexual and violent in their appearances in literature and dramatic media), that make strong competition and will likely continue to resonate in the future, the zombie, as notion and as dramatic form, offers both intrinsic and extrinsic qualities which strongly suggest that its shelf life is both limited in duration and limited to this era.  The first reason is simply the failure of the zombie literature to come up with a fictional science that even plausibly accounts for the biology of a zombie, for example the energy requirements for indefinitely sustaining, let alone mobilizing, a zombic folk on ever scarcer sources of food. (This is, eventually, that problem of a parasite killing off its own host.)  The second reason is that the limited brain function, i.e. focused solely on feeding and no longer capable of learning, make the long-term prospects for a walking brain dead rather low both as a fictional competing population and as a population with potential to generate further narratives.   It is no wonder that zombie epics inevitably turn to more human-vs.-human competition and away from the human-against-zombie business as the zombies inevitably slow down, decay, and cease to increase their populations relative to the remaining humans who must have qualities of strength or intelligence, perhaps immunity, to have survived.

I think the record of the Obama years has been and will be mixed, but it will be a valiant one, and it's a twist for all those who saw Obama as representing the head of an invading force. The twist is that Obama & Co. have not been the zombies, but rather the president-as-zombie-killer, with some (but, mind you, not enough) successes in a struggle against a resentful part of the population driven by ideas — zombie ideas — that are obviously dead but nevertheless continue to drive them forward


Those observations made, I ought to say something about zombie ideas in music.  There are definitely aspects of musical production and reception that, for better or worse,  may likely (if not already) be seen as zombie ideas, for example the traditional manager, impresario, and publisher, or licensing income from broadcasts derived from advertising,  But I don't think that actual ideas in music can become zombies.  To restate Schoenberg's observation that "there is still plenty of good music to be written in C major", there are no zombie ideas in music, just zombie composers and players who make dull music by failing to discover the potential in even the oldest of ideas.

(This is the end of a second alphabet on this blog. The date and number of words in each item in these alphabets were determined by chance, the contents were through-composed.)