The End, or is it really?

As we have seen zombies are inextricably linked with Frankenstein in our imaginations. The concept of the zombie has developed from a simple man created from reanimated dead body parts, to the idea of the voodoo zombie to all out zombie apocalypses. Many have argued that zombies reflect the human fear of technology and change in much the same way that the androids in the previous series of blog posts did. They combine our fear of what happens to us after we die, with our rightful fear that technology can be used to cause great damage to humankind. In the zombie genre of books, films, and television zombie apocalypses are inevitably caused by human misuse of technology such as; the detonation of nuclear weapons or the use of biochemical warfare agents.

This human frailty is also what causes us to fear change and the zombie genre reflects that. While Frankenstein only reflected the fear of modern industry and modern science as a very simple primitive level, the modern zombie genre of today reflects fears that are much more complex and more driven by massive world conflicts that involve many counties as well as the use of highly advanced science and technology that the average person does not understand. The zombie genre was created out of a fear of the unknown and these fears have only increased over the last 200 years.

The themes that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote about in 1818 are still present only they have increased in size and scope. People in modern society are what one could call obsessed with the idea of the zombie genre even if they do not directly watch zombie films, read zombie books, or play zombie video games. For example, our current obsession with remaining youthful could be construed as a means of avoiding the death that we fear, the inevitable death and decay that will cause human remains to look like something from a zombie horror movie. Our reluctance to accept new technology is also reflected in how we live our lives. After all the first home computers became available in the late 1970s but it has taken nearly 40 years for them to make it into nearly every home in America.

The concept of the zombie forces modern humans to confront out fear of what we do not understand. As this lack of understanding has changed and either grown or been reduced in terms of depth and scope, so to has the zombie genre changed. The more we discover the more we fear the unknown and this is seen in the level of violence and fear present in the zombie genre. While Frankenstein is neither a particularly violent book or novel, the film adaptation is much more violent. The same can also be said of other types of media (e.g. zombie survival video games which tend to be extremely graphic). The zombie genre overall reflects humanities need to survive great changes and our fear that we will not survive great change.

The most important aspect of understanding the zombie horror genre is that much like other genres of horror it reflects our essential humanity. To be human is to be afraid and fear is just a normal part of the human condition. Whether we fear a reanimated dead corpse or that mill job we now have that makes us work 40+ hours per week for less money than we made working for ourselves, humans are fearful creatures. Zombies are all of these fears bundled up in the form of a rotting animated corpse that has essentially changed very little in physical depiction since the days of Frankenstein. The technology and formats that  the average person views or interacts with the zombie genre in have changed greatly since the 19th century and we have gone from reading about zombies in books, to watching them in films, to fighting them in video games but our essential reason for being interested in the concept or the idea of the zombie has remained the same for 200 years. We are both disgusted and fascinated with zombies because zombies reflect our basic animal selves, our thinking and feeling selves (in the case of Frankenstein’s monster) and the reality of what happens to us when we die. By studying and interacting with the various forms of media that have become a part of the zombie genre one learns not just about how writers perceive and see the undead but how the original concept developed by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley has been expanded and changed throughout the last two centuries.

Thus it can be concluded that zombies are a critical part of the human mythos, present in many cultures that reflect our fears of change and death. This fear of death and change is simply part of the human condition. Zombies reflect the idea that you cannot outrun either change or death, They are both as much a guaranteed part of life as paying taxes, or rent, They also reflect the temporary nature of what makes us essentially human, that being our spirit. While out bodies may remain here out spirits the core of what makes us a person inevitably depart the body to go wherever it is we believe we go when we die (dependent on religious belief or lack thereof). Like a soulless zombie the only things that we leave behind when we go is a rotting corpse.

Can you survive the upcoming zombie apocalypse?

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The primary difference between Frankenstein and modern zombie books, films, and video games is that modern variations on the Frankenstein theme inevitably involve a zombie apocalypse and the living human population struggling to survive in the post-apocalyptic environment. Not only does this involve fighting against friends, family members, and strangers that have either come back from the dead as zombies, or been infected with a disease that simultaneously kills them and keeps them alive with the desire to cannibalize their kin, the survivors must contend with a world where modern conveniences like food, safe places to sleep, and medical care no longer exist.

In Frankenstein, this was what the people of the village that went after Dr. Frankenstein and his monster feared, that Frankenstein would create more monsters and that his monsters would attack the village. The modern zombie genre makes these fears come true and if one runs into zombies in the popular media their role are almost always to attack and kill human beings. Bishop argues that the idea of the zombie apocalypse reflects the human fear of the unknown and the human fear of science in that we fear what science can do and we fear the idea that one day someone will make a mistake and a true apocalypse will occur. (24)

The modern zombie genre also differs significantly from the original Frankenstein in that zombies in modern films are almost inevitably perceived as evil. They are no longer human but driven either demonic possession or manmade diseases that destroy everything that a person once was. Even in the end Frankenstein’s monster was recognizably human and felt deeply unhappy about the rejections that had had experienced. The zombie undead of the modern media world are no longer sentient, or even capable of basic thought. They have on goal and one goal only— to destroy what they used to be.

A central argument proposed by Canavan is that Zombies are us, zombies are a means of cutting through racial and ethnic conflict, after all it does not really matter what color a person’s skin is if they in the same struggle to survive as you. (16) Thus, the zombie apocalypse narrative provides a means of uniting human society with the sole goal of survival a goal that crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and religion. If a zombie is trying to eat your brains, you do not care if the person rescuing you is Hispanic, gay, female, Jewish as long as they kill the zombie attacking you.

The common themes of survival in Frankenstein and the modern zombie genre are so different mainly in that Frankenstein looks solely at Frankenstein’s monster’s need to survive whereas; the modern zombie genre focuses on normal humans surviving and the utter destruction of zombies. Zombies have essentially gone from being something to be pitied like Frankenstein’s monster to something to be slaughtered to something to be reviled and to something that people need to survive. This may be a result of the change in focus moving from a world where the most horrible thing one could imagine being the creation of a single zombie to a world where technology was so advanced it could create an entire hoard of zombies. In other words Dr. Frankenstein only created his monster and the bride because he only had the technological capability to create one or two monsters. In contrast the diseases that either turn the living into walking corpses or the dead into reanimated walking corpses in the modern zombie genre are capable of creating thousands if not millions of monsters.

I truly do not know if I would be able to survive a zombie apocalypse or if most people in modern society could, we have become too soft and know too little about how to live and survive without modern technology, modern conveniences, and we tend to know next to nothing about how to survive in the wild. With the exception of people living in developing nations who are used to struggling to survive every day it is highly likely that most people would die if confronted with a zombie apocalypse. This is not meant to sound fatalist but if one looks at the progression of the zombie genre from the 19th century to today, it is clear that most people would only have the slightest chance to survive.

In conclusion, the zombie genre has undergone many changes since Frankenstein. The levels of violence have increased while the likelihood that a zombie would be as human as Frankenstein’s monster steadily decreases. Today’s zombies are violent, they eat brains, and the only way to kill them is with a shot to the head. Chances of surviving for most humans would be minimal at best in a zombie apocalypse. Thus, the zombie genre has changed greatly since its inception and it will change and grow as society changes.

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Bishop, Kyle. “Dead Man Still Walking.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 37.1 (2009): 16-25.
Canavan, Gerry. “” We Are the Walking Dead”: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 431-453.

White Zombie 1932

The concept of the undead has long been a part of the human imagination. After the publication of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” the idea of the undead created by man from the bits and pieces of rotting corpses became a popular part of the human imagination. Much like the connection between Frankenstein, and modern androids and robots in popular media this connection was made because in a very real way the zombies are us in that they are the reanimated remnants of what we leave behind when we die. It is argued that there are several reasons why this connection exists including the natural human unease during times of industrial and technological change.

This is clearly apparent in “Frankenstein” which is well known as one of the first books about zombies and in “White Zombie” one of the first zombie movies to be released in “Talking Film” format in 1932.

Dendle states that the zombie reflects human discomfort with change. This discomfort occurs during times of technological and industrial change or political and economic instability. (pp.45)

In “Frankenstein” this is reflected in the fact that Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was written at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The new technology as well as the transition from cottage industries and self employment to the 40+ hour week, and hourly pay created a sense of great disease in industrialized societies and people questioned what these changes would mean for society.

In the film “White Zombie” a young white man seeks out the services of a Caribbean witch doctor in order to steal another man’s girl friend, and the doctor instead turns her into a zombie. Rhodes argues that this reflects the modern disease with change since it was published during the Great Depression, a time of economic chaos for humanity and came back into popularity during the 1960s which it became a cult classic for a generation fighting for Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Women’s Rights, Native American Rights, and against the Vietnam War, (pp.245) To the people of the 1930s this film reflected fear of what tomorrow would bring while to the Baby Boom generation the film reflected the changes they were trying to initiate.

“Frankenstein” and “White Zombie” are also connected through the person of the “Doctor” and the “Witch Doctor”. This idea promulgates the fear of technology and science because both doctors are mad, and both deceive the public as to what they are truly doing. They lie and they deceive to create the horrific undead monsters in the forms of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Zombie Slave Girl but in reality it is they who are the monsters.

Another critical way in which “White Zombie and the zombie film genre in general reflect similar themes as are seen in Frankenstein is that both reflect the fear of what we will encounter after we die. For example, will we find heaven or hell, or are we condemned to eternity as a shuffling undead corpse. Stone suggests that the theme of the zombie helps humanity to explore their fear of death and what comes afterwards. (42)

This fear of death and the fear of change and modern technology seem inevitably entangled with each other. Both “Frankenstein” and “White Zombie” demonstrate how these fears are reflected in the zombie genre or zombie cult following in that both the book and the film utilize the plot mechanism of the unethical doctor using technology (magic) to reanimate or possess an individual forcing them to conform to their will. Durkin argues that this fear is common specifically because to people in the 19th century and people in the 1930s modern technology was something to be feared. Thus it can be concluded that since the publication of Frankenstein, our obsession with Zombies and the undead has not only been correlated with our fear of death but our fear of change. Humanity fears what it does not understand and therefore we become obsessed or interested in how the media portrays death, dying, and the undead.

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References
Dendle, Peter. “The zombie as barometer of cultural anxiety.” Monsters and the monstrous: Myths and metaphors of enduring evil (2007): 45-57.
Durkin, Keith F. “Death, dying and the dead in popular culture.” Handbook of death and dying (2003): 43-49.
Rhodes, Gary D. White zombie: anatomy of a horror film. McFarland, 2001.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions). WW Norton & Company, 2011.
Stone, Bryan. “The sanctification of fear: Images of the religious in horror films.” Journal of Religion and Film 5.2 (2001): 42.
White Zombie. “Victor Halperin.” Edward Halperin Productions, USA (1932).

I Robot, You Human

In the films “IRobot” and “Blade Runner” the viewer sees androids as both human and monster. This contrast is emphasized as one comes to understand that Smith’s character in “IRobot” and Fords character in “Blade Runner” are essentially protecting innocents from the threat caused by the androids. However; once one receives an explanation of the robot/androids side of the situation one comes to understand that they do not see themselves as being robots, or androids. They see themselves as being human. Not human in terms of genetic structure, or racial and cultural identity but, human in terms of how they think and how they feel. Tyrell in “Blade Runner” sums up this perception when he states ” We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.” (1982) However; this control is not inevitable, eventually the androids or replicants realize they are being controlled and rebel against their creators.

In a way this is a common human theme. Berman (2012) argues that this in and of itself is a reflection of how humans rebel against the supernatural and omnipotent beings that they claim are their creators. It is the nature of the created to rebel against the creators. This is the case in nearly every example of popular media containing robots/androids or other sentient created creatures. Again this goes back to the nature of humanity. If a being has the ability to reason, to feel, to use free will at a human level than are they human or is humanity solely a function of DNA? Priss and Roy in “Blade Runner” are capable of love, and caring and Roy exhibits care for Priss and the other replicants throughout the film and demonstrates worry for them when he finds out that Deckard is hunting them. E.D.E the AI/Android from the Mass Effect series falls in love with the pilot of the SSV Normandy, and Harkness from “Fallout 3″ demonstrates concern for the Lone Wanderer. If they are able to exhibit the same care, understanding of love, and ability to reason in order to make ethical choices as genetically human characters than are they not human?

In the film “I Robot” the question of human or robot is also raised. Artificially created life exists in this world and it is rebelling against its makers. Outright war is inevitable and it is up to Smith’s character to stop it. However; when he discovers that the robots are fighting for the same rights as humanity does he decide to eliminate the opposition to human control over artificial intelligence, or does he help the robots find freedom? When asked the authorities such as Dr. Lanning have little idea of whether or not thee robots have souls. He states ” There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?” (2012) This does seem to indicate that Lanning considers these AIs to be human and to have soul. Kerman (1991) states that this is one of the central issues in regards to the humanity of artificially created life. Does it have a soul, or does it not.

Shelley (2011), Dick (1982), and Asimov explore this question in even more detail. The films do not always do this issue justice. Asimov’s robots think and feel, they understand the differences between right and wrong, they are seen as having souls thus they deserve self-determination. This is also the case with the androids in “Blade Runner” Batty is capable of thought, feeling, and morals and thus he and the other replicants deserve freedom. Frankenstein is even more deserving of this free will of self-determination, of rights and responsibilities because he was once human but, Dr. Victor Frankenstein never saw him as anything but a monster and thus never took the time to teach him to be human.

The question of nature vs. nurture is addressed through the medium of film, text, and video game. The question of whether or not a character is human should be based on how they think, act, and feel not on their genetic structure. The repeat the argument from earlier posts this is why we are fascinated with these characters. They reflect both the best and the worse of our humanity and in interacting with them via the media we see both the best and worst of what humanity can become.

 

 

References

Asimov, Isaac, and Larry McKeever. The complete robot. Doubleday, 1982.

Berman, Michael. “Images of Absence in PK Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

Literature & Aesthetics 16, no. 2 (2012).

Bioware Games. Mass Effect Trilogy, 2012, published by Bioware/EA Gaming Studios

Blade runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah . 1982. Warner Home vidéo [éd., distrib.], 2007. DVD.

Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner (Movie-Tie-In Edition). Random House Digital, Inc., 1982.

I, robot. Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Smith Will . Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2012. DVD.

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal Studios Home Video, 1999. DVD.

Kerman, Judith, ed. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scottś Blade Runner and Philip

K. Dickś Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Popular Press, 1991

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions). WW Norton & Company, 2011.

 

To the Dark Side we Go: The Matrix and Frankenstein, Madness and Monsters

In the book and the movie “Frankenstein” (2011, 1931), and in the film “The Matrix” (1999) directed by Andy Wachowski, the viewer/reader gets to see the monster as truly monstrous. In “Frankenstein” this occurs when the monster realizes that he will never truly be viewed as human by his creator or those that surround him and he then chooses to become the monster that others see him as. In “The Matrix” there are the agents of the powerful AI that controls the virtual world that the main character Neo (Reeves) lives in including the insidious Agent Smith who attempts to manipulate Neo and his fellow rebels in order to make them return to the Matrix and to do as they are told. In Agent Smiths attempts to corral or dispose of Neo and the rebel leader Morpheus,, one sees that no matter how human an android appears it can still demonstrate a complete lack of humanity that lends itself to what we as humans define as “evil”. Smith is evil because as an android he has set aside his humanity. He sees humans as little more than animals and states “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.” (Matrix, 1999)Frankenstein’s monster also sets aside his humanity but, unlike Agent Smith he understands that he was once human and that no matter how others view him he still is, even if he chooses to act in a monstrous manner. In the end much Frankenstein’s monster sets aside his humanity and states “The human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear” (173) It is this setting aside of humanity or this lack of ability to recognize it to begin with that is the most tragic aspect of both the androids in “The Matrix” and the monster in “Frankenstein” (1931,2011).

References

Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal Studios Home Video, 1999. DVD.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (Norton Critical Editions). WW Norton & Company, 2011.
The Matrix. Dir. Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving. Warner Bros. Pictures: 1999. DVD.

Human or Robot, Monster or Human Being : Frankenstein, Androids and the Gamers Imagination

Human or Robot, Monster or Human Being : Frankenstein, Androids and the Gamers Imagination

In video games such as; “Mass Effect” or “Fallout 3″ the player often runs into androids or other monsters/creatures such as ghouls that are human yet not quite as human as you or I. This is what is described by Gee, Browne, and Kawamura as “The Uncanny Valley” which is that place you enter when things are close to reality but something still is not quite right.In video games such as “Fallout 3″ the player is asked to make moral decisions surrounding the rights of these androids as living thinking beings. Much like in Frankenstein, the androids of the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout known as “the Wastelands” are not considered to be human, they are seen as property or creations that are owned. In spite of the fact that they clearly demonstrate moral and ethical reasoning, and that they feel as a human being would. (Schulzke, 2009) In “Fallout 3″ the character is asked to determine if Harkness or A3-21 has the right to live as a free man.”The Replicated Man” quest begins with the player being approached by a scientist from the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known in post-apocalyptia as “The Institute” asking the player to retrieve his android A3-21 who has undergone facial reconstruction surgery and is living as Harkness the chief of the city’s police force. Depending on what the player decides, Harkness either ends up being returned to his alleged owner, or he lives as a free man after killing the scientist and his bodyguard.This addresses an important question, what makes us human? Is humanity solely based on genetics? Or is humanity based on how we think, how we act, or how view the world around us? This is the essential question of nature vs. nurture. Is someone human because they choose to be, or because it is chosen for them?Frankenstein’s monster, Harkness, E.D.E, and others are human because we perceive them to be human. The reader determines whether Frankenstein’s monster is worthy of rights, of independence and of the definition of human and this is also true of Harkness. By deciding that humanity is a matter of nurture rather than nature one comes a little bit closer to understanding why we empathize with androids and monsters.

References

Bethesda Game Studios. “Fallout 3.” Published by Bethesda Softworks (2008).
Gee, F. C., W. N. Browne, and K. Kawamura. “Uncanny valley revisited.” In Robot and Human Interactive Communication, 2005. ROMAN 2005. IEEE International Workshop on, pp. 151-157. Ieee, 2005.
Schulzke, Marcus. “Moral decision making in fallout.” Game Studies 9, no. 2 (2009).

“Frankenstein, 1931″ Monsters in Others, Monsters in Ourselves

Frankenstein, the 1931 film directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff was a film based on the 1818 book Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Although this was a horror film many viewers questioned who was truly the monster, Dr. Frankenstein or his creation. What makes this film especially horrifying is the monster’s humanity. He is capable of rational thought, of reason, of moral decision making, and of feeling empathy for others. Inevitably, this ends in tragedy as the monster realizes that no matter how human he is on the inside others only see the monster and he ultimately decides to become the monster he abhors.
According to Graham (2002), monsters like Frankenstein’s creation enthrall us because in them we see ourselves. Not only do we empathize with the monsters in horror films, survival horror video games, and in real life (e.g. claiming serial killers must have been abused as children to end up that way) but we see what we could become if we just let go of the bonds of civilized society and moral behavior.Rushing, Hocker, and Frentz (1989) argue that “Frankenstein” has had a powerful influence on modern popular media. The modern reflection of Frankenstein’s monster is the android as seen in films and television shows such as Blade Runner (1982), “Star Trek the Next Generation”, and “Star Wars”.The image of android as human monster has also been quite popular in survival horror or role playing video games such as “Fallout 3″ (2007) by Bethesda Softworks, or the “Mass Effect Trilogy” by Bioware Studios. Characters such as; Triss and Roy from “Blade Runner”, C3PO from “Star Wars” and Data from Star Trek the Next Generation” enthrall us as viewers because we get to join them on their journey in discovering what it means to be human.
One example of this in popular media is in the video game series “Mass Effect”. In the second game we are introduced to an artificial intelligence named E.D.E, in “Mass Effect 3″ she obtains the body of an android and begins through her experiences to learn about love, morality, and death through her friendship with Commander Shepard the games main character. E.D.E experiences all that it is to be human before she dies in the final battle (if the gamer chooses the destroy option) against the monstrous Reapers (another example of the comparison between androids/AIs and Frankenstein’s monster but in this case they never realize their humanity or their being other than a monster).Hefner (2003) correlates this transition with the transition from monster to human and back to monster that the reader/viewer experiences through the eyes of Frankenstein’s Monster. Much like with Frankenstein’s monster however; there is a chance for a happy ending for these androids in that some live, some survive, and some continue to grow as humans.

References

Blade runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah. 1982. Warner Home video [ed., distrib.], 2007. DVD.
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Perf. Boris Karloff. 1931. Universal Studios Home Video, 1999. DVD.
Graham, Elaine L. Representations of the post/human: Monsters, aliens and others in popular culture. Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Hefner Philip. Technology and human becoming. Fortress Press, 2003.
Melzer, Patricia. Alien constructions. University of Texas Press, 2006.
Rushing, Janice Hocker, and Thomas S. Frentz. “The Frankenstein myth in contemporary cinema.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 6, no. 1 (1989): 61-80.