Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.–Mark Fisher, “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative”
In the current age of neoliberal capitalism, our technologized world has grown more inundated with the wiles of the ever expanding virtual. The specter of virtual space, the arena of media, communications, and digitized social connectivity, forever haunts the real which grows more and more decayed with time. The collective unconscious, the congealed accumulation of humanity’s psychological experiences, has grown deprived and estranged from libidinal energy; as a result, society’s constructive efforts have become few and far between and its actors restless and dissatisfied with their inhumane conditioning. Capitalist and state control through the digital has manifested the idiosyncratic and perverse depression of the modern age, and new generations, now digital natives, are now threatened with a future of psychological distress and discontent. The dystopian socialization of mental illness is more of a reality than a portent from Hollywood movies or the lyrics of the modern pop star, and modern culture is laden with the signs of this universal pathology. Thus, cultural analysis is the most effective method at elucidating the undercurrents and meta-narratives that are dominant in the modern age. Through this method of interrogation, the virtual is discovered to be a domain engineered for oppression, alienation, and hegemony formation with the drawback of a culture ridden with impermanence, liminality, and transience.
As a space created by the forces of technocratic capitalists and a virulent surveillance state, the virtual exists to manifest social bonds that have effectively disappeared under the policies of neoliberalism and austerity. The alienation associated with neoliberal capitalism is believed to be solved through the virtual; however, the virtual, as a constructed and surveilled space, is incapable of permitting organic relations. The connections that manifest between the billions of users of the Internet are mined for data and monitored by hegemonic forces, and these ersatz social bonds facilitate the associated effects of virtual hegemony.
Humanity has grown more enchanted with the false hope of communal activity, and this hyper-connectivity grown more normative in popular culture has facilitated this perverse and pervasive alienation, termed virtual-real alienation. Our bodies and the constructed Personas that are psychologically eviscerated from ourselves as an Other exist in a dialectic relationship, in which the Persona is fashioned as the idealistic, transhuman, and normative self. In another sense, one’s body and self is unnaturally and forcibly abjected and repressed. Thus, one must continue to consume the virtual, fashion their Persona, and become more addicted to the allure of the now all-encompassing virtual space to achieve any state of psychological stability.
Persona formation as a means to facilitate virtual interactions and achieve one’s idealized self inadvertently develops power relations within the virtual. The idealized body of one’s fictive imaginations reflect dominant sociocultural hierarchies as all individuals who exist and are socialized within modern societies unconsciously subsume cultural narratives and signifiers. As personas are constructed by their ever more alienated user base, hierarchies are virtualized, reflected onto virtual space and given meanings through the communicative practice of social interaction. However, the Real (the domain outside of the expanding virtual) is comprised of persons of varying backgrounds, personalities, and prejudices, and naturally, it is difficult to assume that hierarchy is innately formed within these presumed spaces of “neutrality”. Nevertheless, for the virtual to not exist within an unstable and chaotic state of discord, homogenization must occur. The varied linguistic and ideological characteristics of the diverse humanity that occupies the virtual must be distilled in a homogenized, common linguistics; in a sense, a common, pervasive culture must be created out of unstable matter. As a reiterating motif of the dynamics of the virtual, the genesis of a new, postmodern culture of the virtual can only be facilitated and directed through capital. By this deduction, postmodernity as defined by its virtual construction exists as a tool of self-replicating hierarchy and ensuring the hegemony of its capitalist architects.
Postmodernity has an unique quality of impermanence which is not immediately elucidated from an understanding of its authoritarian origin in capital. Under capitalist management, the liminality distinct to the virtual and more of the Real has projected itself onto culture. Modern culture has been defined by transient trends, constantly shifting points of discussion, incessant culture wars, and a simultaneous disassociation and pessimism for a future and longing for the cultural grandeur and opulence of ancient and medieval society. These unique sociocultural conditions are defined as temporality, and through temporality, the unconscious meta-narratives that are omnipresent within postmodernity are effectively revealed. As evidenced by the incapability of the future and longing for a more distant past, individuals within a temporal society are displaced within time as the past, present, and future are in themselves abolished. Without a locality within time, hegemonic structures are perceived as normative and of a certain universality that seems to transcend temporal limitations. As Fisher articulated capitalist realism, virtual realism is made manifest, and the conditions of virtual-real alienation and the decomposition of communal space are considered natural and integral to society itself. In a society of the temporal, the ephemeral culture is inundated with disparate and continuously proliferating cultural symbols, short-lived cultural iconographs, and a generalized detachment from one’s own histories, and thus, reality itself.
Societies upon exposure to the influence of virtual space do not immediately adopt the characteristic liminality of postmodernity. Temporality, as a state dominant within both the Real and the virtual, exists due to the acceleration of the dialectical drives that power the inter-relations humanity has between these domains. Initially, the latent alienation developed from extended contact with the virtual and the virtual’s expansion and degradation of the Real becomes ubiquitous within societies. Over time, culturally accepted narratives from the propaganda spewed by technology corporations to government heads justify the growing omnipresence of the virtual in the lives of its consumers, allowing alienation and the dynamics of the virtual to be further escalated. Culture, at least its foundations, begins to decompose, and the creative attitude of its residents dissolves, ensuring its recreation by bourgeois cultural “inventors” and “innovators”. Precipitating out of the void as if a demiurge, a society of the temporal is formed, and the collective unconscious experiences a cataclysm in which libido is nonexistent and creative, constructive effort is impossible.
Within the past few decades, zombie media from film to television to video games has found an unique popularity within pop culture. Death narratives are uniquely charged with a certain cultural character as if stinging the drained minds of the general population. From Train to Busan to The Walking Dead, the proliferation of a “death consciousness” reflects the often concealed state of the collective unconscious, oppressed under the dominant force of temporality. Zombies represent the liminality of postmodernity, positioned within an unclear state between the locales of life and death and the old versus new order. These revenants serve as recollections of a distant past that simultaneously feeds off of the now lifeless and vacuous world, post-apocalypse.
Settings within zombie-centered media are scattered with the architectural grandeur and cultural iconography of the world pre-apocalypse, untainted by the virus that radically changes the protagonists tasked with surviving in a seemingly unlivable world. The remnants of the old world have decayed, but their persistence and phantasmic extensions that haunt the new world have both an allure and abhorrence. Survivors seek to return to their now deceased families, their moderate but peaceful lives, and their communities now ravaged by the “zombie virus”. Within a world devoid of communal activity and in an “in-between” state, certain characters become authoritarian figures and lead new, embryonic societies. Typified by hierarchy, vacuous communities of social bonds built with distrust and constant surveillance become the sole site of human activity. Outside of these spaces, post-apocalyptic zombie worlds are scattered with lifeless zombies that will consume your brain at every chance they get.
These recurrent motifs throughout zombie apocalypse media are eerily similar, and dare I say, caused by the modern problem of temporality that is more integral to culture than ever before. Zombies, in themselves, represent humanity in its past, present, and future. The old order has now died out and lives on those who remember it, and those who live now in the present, now enveloped in the all-consuming force of virtual-real alienation, peer into a future where zombieism is socialized and apocalypse is all-encompassing. The occupants of time are orphaned and punished into a hell of liminal space, and the vacancy engineered by temporality leads to the decay and ruin of past world orders. Ruin becomes the dominant display of opulence, and the once productive force of society is shut off as life energy is eliminated by virulent force of the virtual.
The authoritarian capitalist forces of the modern age recreate facetious communities of incoherent social connectivity and intersubjectivity, and survivors destined for their future as zombies attempt to ward off alienation. Our real world becomes no-man’s land, and there exists no locale where the virtual does not invade, occupy, or indirectly peer into. Temporality, as a virus for destruction, becomes the mysterious and pervasive biological weapon threatening worlds in zombie media, and in our own worlds, it affects the way by which humanity experiences society itself.
In other words, death becomes us, and an undead humanity, already corrupted, is the only entity left to persist.
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