UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

The Russian Dead: Ayn Rand and Mikhail Bakhtin in World War Z

Shawn Flickner

 In recent years, the undead have shambled into films, television, video games, comics, and novels. This proliferation in zombie texts has inspired discourse in areas of study ranging from information technology to political ideology. To determine why the zombie has become such a popular and influential monster, I turn to Max Brooks’ 2006 novel, World War Z. The novel is written as a series of interviews which juxtapose the power of individual speakers against national governments. In the text, I examine two opposing ideologies. The first is Ayn Rand’s objectivism, and the second is implicit in her contemporary Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnival. World War Z uses the carnivalesque, the grotesque, and the dialogic – ideologies proposed by Bakhtin – as a means of critiquing Ayn Rand’s isolationist and objectivist political ideals. Through these political dispositions, Max Brooks proposes the zombie horde as a final equalizer. In the horde, there is no individualism and no social boundaries. Why, then, is the zombie so popular? I argue that in a country plagued by inequalities, the zombie provides total, carnivalesque equality.

On February 13, 2013, John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, exclaimed, “Canada will never be a safe haven for zombies” (Visser). This proclamation was met with great applause. A fellow parliament member had asked Baird if his ministry was working with the United States “to develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion would not turn into a zombie apocalypse” (Visser). This exchange between the two members of parliament was unexpected, and it was the first time a nation’s government, whimsically or otherwise, discussed the prospect of a zombie reaction plan. For the zombie to shamble its way into parliamentary proceedings is a testament to the wild popularity this monster has gained since its introduction to the public in George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. But what about the living dead has made it worthy of political debate? After all, wouldn’t the brain-seeking undead shuffle right past brainless politicians?

Though politicians may run from zombies, or at least the idea of them, academics have raised weapons against the ghouls in a variety of disciplines, including the political. In the introduction to their book, Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead, Shawn McIntosh and Marc Leverette explain that zombies “have increasingly been used in discussions ranging from the philosophy of mind to computer discourse to the business press” (viii). They also describe the zombie as “one of the most versatile and popular monster types” warranting scholarship “from fields such as cinema studies, popular culture, and videogame studies” (ix). This range in scholarship is to be expected when considering the sheer number of films, television shows, comics, and novels that discuss the living dead. Even Elizabeth Bennet, The Beatles, and Han Solo have been reimagined into apocalyptic scenarios to battle the undead1. One example of the popular culture zombie comes from Max Brooks’ novel (and subsequent film)2 World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. In the novel, an unnamed United Nations agent interviews survivors of a zombie plague that causes a near apocalypse. He describes his work as “a labor of love,” and recounts the “travel stipend, security access, battery of translators,” that he is given to complete the task (1). In his interviews, he travels to over a dozen nations to meet with political dignitaries, soldiers, dog trainers, important translators, and a blind man who single-handedly protects a sacred forest in Japan. Through these stories, the novel takes a global examination of what might occur when the dead rise, and Brooks’ writing provides a nuanced description of how such an event would affect the relationships of nation states while also discussing the role of the individual.

These concepts, both the global and the individual, when compounded with the many metaphors of the zombie as a monster, lend themselves to a number of theoretical frameworks. Many nations increasingly emphasize individual self-preservation which echoes isolationist and objectivist policies such as those asserted by Ayn Rand. These policies, which disrupt and discourage dialogue, oppose the theories proposed by Mikhail Bakhtin, who uses the image of the Renaissance carnival to uphold cooperative human equality. Therefore, World War Z presents Bakhtin’s theories of the carnivalesque, the grotesque, and the dialogic to critique isolationist and objectivist political structures, like those championed by Rand.

To begin any analysis of a zombie text, it is important to define what the zombie represents. The monster often embodies social anxieties of a particular culture at a particular time in history, and the zombie is no exception. McIntosh and Leverette, in their introduction, explain that zombies “represent societal fears, but have evolving portrayals” of what those fears are (ix). In other words, “the zombie is tough to pin down” (viii).  Perhaps the metaphor presented by the zombie evolves rapidly because the zombie is a blank slate imbued with different social commentary based on the context in which it is placed. While Frankenstein’s monster may primarily represent a fear of technology, or vampires a fear of disease and sexual promiscuity, the zombie represents these same fears, as well as many more. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, for example, has often been read as a commentary on consumerism. In his Day of the Dead, the zombie comments on the anxieties of military power and the military-industrial complex. In Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a new zombie, fast and filled with rage, and it has been argued that his new brand of zombie represents a post-9/11 fear of terrorism. In Michael Sarmiento’s Dead Girl, the single female zombie tied to a gurney in the basement of an abandoned hospital offers a frightening interpretation of sexual violence and psychosis3. With the fears implicitly represented through zombies constantly changing and evolving, it is evident that this particular monster seems to be a canvas onto which society paints meaning.

The transformative nature of zombies can be explained using Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogic, or his assertion that understanding is created through dialogue. This understanding “maintain[s] an awareness of the multiplicities of nuance, value, accent, and meaning that exist” in a subject (Schuster 164). The zombie is the perfect example of a subject that is open to a multiplicity of meanings. When, in Dawn of the Dead, the zombie symbolizes a fear of consumerism, it is largely because the setting of the shopping mall imprints upon the monster. Similarly, in Day of the Dead, the fear of military power is evidenced by the setting of a military base and by the conflict between military personnel and scientists. In both instances, the zombie exacerbates social anxieties that already exist and then tears down the social structures that create those anxieties.

In World War Z, the social structure that the zombie dismantles is a political ideology of objectivism. Ayn Rand makes her political views obvious even in the titles of her works. Take, for example, The Virtue of Selfishness: In the introduction to that particular work, Rand explains, “The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest” (26). She explains that a rational selfishness is necessary “for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival” (1). In an interview, Rand explained that man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness” and that, when political institutions lack these morals, “you are moving toward disaster until and unless all those welfare state conceptions have been reversed and rejected” (qtd. in Seabrook). Ayn Rand even uses the zombie as an image to explain her thoughts. She writes in The Virtue of Selfishness, “one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives” (22). In addition, in Atlas Shrugged, she asserts that society’s goal is to create a man who is “an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know” (138). In each of these works, Rand suggests that the best society is one in which each man operates with his own best interests at heart. The zombie in World War Z critiques this ideal. Just as Rand suggests, the zombie largely cannot act in its own self-interest. It truly is unthinking and unfeeling, and operates only at the most basic biological level, searching only for food and for procreation, both of which can be found in the form of human flesh. Additionally, the zombie operates only through the horde. There is rarely a lone zombie, as a lone zombie shuffling slowly with decreased motor skills is hardly dangerous4. The danger comes from the sheer numbers that the zombie can accrue, and this undermines the concept of the horde as a cohesive unit for which Rand advocates.

While Ayn Rand’s particular political leanings are undermined by the zombie, other ideologies fare better in an apocalyptic setting. In Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Daniel W. Drezner hypothesizes how certain political ideologies may react to a zombie apocalypse. His book, published five years after Brooks’ novel, functions well as a companion to World War Z. Brooks’ novel is unique in the zombie canon because it may be the first work to examine the effects of the dead rising at a global scale, which is also what Drezner considers in his work. Drezner explains that the zombie universe best accommodates the realpolitik, or realists who believe there can be “no world government,” and therefore “anarchy is the overarching constraint of world politics” (33). Drezner describes political realism as “rather dystopic and jaundiced” (36). He further asserts, “The failure of humans to cooperate in the presence of reanimated corpses” is the downfall of humans in the zombie environment. Humans choosing not to cooperate, preferring individual self-preservation, is exactly what Rand would applaud.

As a contrast to the realpolitik, Drezner offers solutions that liberals would embrace, which ultimately appear in World War Z. However, he begins his analysis of liberal ideologies by admitting that liberalism would “accelerate the spread of flesh-eating ghouls” (50). That seems to be the case in Brooks’ novel. Brooks depicts the plague as beginning in China, where there is a government crackdown to prevent the spread of the disease. This proves ineffective, however, as fearful (and infected) refugees easily find transport to Tibet, Thailand, or Myanmar. One human smuggler interviewed in the book says he only needed to “arrange for the fake passports, or fake tour buses” (12). Liberal ideologies, in emphasizing free trade and travel agreements, create open borders which are easy to cross. Drezner writes, “Just as open borders foster greater migration of peoples and pandemics, they would also facilitate the cross-border spread of both the undead and infected human carriers” (50). For a real-world example, one needs only to look at the 2014 ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak. What started in Guinea, in February of that year, quickly spread to the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. After months of ravaging those countries, despite attempts by government officials to quarantine individuals and to prevent travel, the disease was still able to spread into Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom (CDC). These examples would make it seem as if liberal ideologies would be ineffective during a zombie plague.

Despite the ways an open and liberal global community encourages its people to move about and travel, Drezner explains how the community can be effective in stopping a zombie outbreak. He predicts that, in the event of the undead plague, global institutions would develop “a regime complex” (54).

A welter of international governmental organizations—including the United Nations Security Council, the World Health Organization, and the International Organization for Migration—would promulgate a series of policies and protocols designed to combat existing zombie hordes and prevent further outbreaks… A counter-zombie regime complex could make significant inroads into the zombie problem. (54)

Drezner later explains that this has been seen previously with similar systemic threats “such as terrorism and global pandemics” (55). Drezner’s theories on liberalism match the events of World War Z. In the novel, members of the United Nations convene and decide, through a vote, that the participating nations should begin a strategic offensive against the walking dead. Through international cooperation, the zombie is nearly eradicated. One example of such cooperation which Brooks describes is “the start of the UN multinational force,” in which the Mexican and Canadian armies were to “keep [U.S.] borders clear until the U.S. was secure” (316). This style of liberalism is what Brooks envisions as being key to solving a zombie problem; an obvious contrast to what Ayn Rand would support.

Brooks’ imagined international response also supports a Bakhtinian reading of the text through an analysis of the carnivalesque, which he describes as universal:

Everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it. During carnival time life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom. It has a universal spirit; it is a special condition of the entire world, of the world’s revival and renewal, in which all take part. (7)

This description easily applies itself to the universal nature of the undead scourge, and specifically to the apocalyptic global narrative that Max Brooks presents in his novel. Indeed, World War Z examines the zombie apocalypse as “a special condition of the entire world.” Furthermore, Bakhtin asserts that the carnival explores “a temporary suspension of all hierarchic distinctions and barriers among men and of certain norms and prohibitions of usual life” (15). This is to say, the carnival celebrates in the progressive subversion of societally constructed power structures. Bakhtin further elaborates on this by explaining that by removing hierarchical structures, “People were, so to speak, reborn for new, purely human relations” (10). The idea of the carnival is as distant as is possible from Rand’s objectivism.

Brook’s novel describes two opposing carnivals that occur simultaneously: a carnival of the living, and a carnival of the undead. The carnival of the living is that of the survivors of the plague. Brooks’ novel is written after the end of a great zombie war in the form of a series of interviews with individuals who played particularly significant roles in the war or were intimately familiar with operations that occurred. It is, as the subtitle states, an oral history that offers individual interpretations to the events and their effectiveness. To explore the ways in which these individuals support the carnival, it is important to first discuss the Bakhtinian use of dialogue.

Bakhtin described dialogue as the means to discovering understanding. He writes, “With explanation there is only     one consciousness, one subject; with comprehension there are two consciousnesses and two subjects… Understanding is always dialogic” (Speech Genres, 111). Bakhtin’s description of the power of dialogue is important because it also emphasizes plurality. With dialogue, there must always be at least two equal speakers, and therefore there cannot be one individual authority. Such a concept reinforces the power of the masses as represented in the carnival. You have many voices who subvert the power of one voice. With dialogue, there is no master narrative, and this is also how Brooks’ novel is written. The narrative in World War Z is constructed by separate stories that individually offer little to the complete story of the rise, climax, and fall of the zombie war. However, once these narratives are compiled, they become a complete picture of the events that occur.

Brooks emphasizes the power of the individual repeatedly and sets that tone from the first pages of his novel. It opens from the perspective of an unnamed United Nations councilman, who chairs the “United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report” and has been tasked with gathering the information necessary to write the report. He complains that his supervisor finds most of his work inappropriate because she seeks “clear facts and figures… cold, hard data,” which can be built into an authoritative reference guide for future generations (1). The writer instead seeks what he calls “the human factor,” to produce a work that is not authoritative, but is instead built from a collective memory of the people (2), a project which supports Bakhtin’s theory that dialogue subverts the authority of an individual speaker. To ensure that this is upheld in World War Z, Brooks adds that the writer will “maintain as invisible a presence as possible” and will “reserve judgement, or commentary of any kind” (3). This is a vow from the writer to uphold the power of dialogue over individual declarations. By making this vow, the writer presents a number of stories from people who hold different positions of power—or no power—who would otherwise be separated by societal hierarchies, and in this way, provides a carnivalesque equality.

Later in the novel, Brooks continues to comment on the power of dialogue. He presents it as undermining authority, as evidenced through the character of Maria Zhuganova. Maria is a soldier of what becomes The Holy Russian Empire. During her interview, the writer notes they are alone, “although [he senses] watching eyes behind the room’s one-way glass” (76). Later, Maria explains that her government uses her for her ability to procreate. “Our leader says that the greatest weapon a Russian woman can wield now is her uterus” (330). Maria admits that her uterus is why she’s “treated so well, allowed to speak so freely” (330). Her statement makes obvious that, were she not being used for childbearing, she would not be allowed to hold the interview, or to speak openly about the events that occurred in Russia. The new theocratic Russian government is afraid of the power of dialogue, because open dialogue encourages equality and subverts power.

The carnival of the survivors further represents the way that the masses subvert existing power structures through the apocalyptic scenario. The scenario “provides a temporary and imaginary dissolution of modern power structures,” in the true nature of the carnival (Orpana, 154). In this dissolution, the masses band together. In one tale, an Air Patrolman describes seeing “sedans, trucks, buses, RVs, anything that could drive… tractors, a cement mixer, even a flatbed with nothing but a giant sign on it. People were riding on top of it. People were riding on top of everything, on roofs, in between luggage racks” (68). The scene depicts the beginning of what the novel describes as “The Great Panic,” and the people described are part of mass migration northward where the undead are known to freeze. In an America facing the undead, street laws are no longer important. Before, where one might face legal repercussions for riding atop a car or truck, it is now normal. The scene also provides a sense of community. These people band together and provide transportation to one another. The original speaker asks, “Who organized this exodus? Did Anyone? Did people see a line of cars and join them without asking?” (69). His musings speak to the communal nature of the carnival that the novel provides. Without any real leadership, the individuals seem to simply desire community and to trust one another unquestioningly.

The carnival does not only affect political or legal structures, but removes all socially constructed barriers. One instance of this is the story of T. Sean Collins, a contracted bodyguard turned mercenary. Collins asserts, “what was happening wasn’t just about the living versus the dead, it would send shock waves through every facet of our society: social, economic, political, even environmental” (85). His own story exemplifies this. Collins works for a wealthy man who “did something in entertainment, or high finance” (84). His client builds a compound to safely hold a number of celebrities. Collins describes him as “playing Moses to the scared and famous” who include “actors, and singers, and rappers, and pro athletes, and just the professional faces, like the ones you see on talk shows or reality shows, or even that rich, spoiled, tired-looking whore who was famous for just being a rich, spoiled, tired-looking whore” (84). The compound is built to withstand the living dead “forever” (85). The unnamed client had chosen to televise these celebrities in his own makeshift reality show, which is why this section proves to be significant. The downfall of this compound is not the living dead, but the everyday man: other survivors, seeking shelter, who stampede the house. In this situation, the power of the wealthy is inverted to favor the masses. In true “Occupy Wall Street” fashion, the ninety-nine percent are able to overcome the one percent.

At the peak of “The Great Panic,” a time when most nations completely lack control, Brooks offers an example of what people are capable of. In a display of the dialogic, a number of translators and interpreters band together to produce Radio Free Earth. The writer interviews Barati Palshigar, an interpreter who works on the radio production team. Palshigar asserts that “ignorance was the enemy,” and from a desire to battle that ignorance developed a “crowdsourced,” so to speak, solution to disseminate information (197). Members of the radio would take information from “experts and think tanks in various government safe zones” all around the world (198). From there, the team of translators would convert misconceptions into usable information to be rebroadcast to the isolated survivors of the world. Palshigar explains that “most of it had to do with basic survival” but included medical, scientific, military, spiritual, and psychological information. The radio broadcasts represent a dialogue, passing examples of misinformation to experts who could write and translate appropriate responses to broadcast back to the people. It also represents the carnival by exemplifying the power of individuals, not led by any sort of governmental organization, simply working together to offer better chances to the entire population.

Perhaps the most striking example of the carnival that Brooks offers is told by Kondo Tatsumi, a Japanese tech-nerd turned warrior-monk. He describes himself as an “otaku,” which, he explains, “simply meant ‘outsider’” (204). Tatsumi elaborates, asserting that in America, “individualism is something to be encouraged,” but that his culture prefers a social sameness (204). While the Japanese seem to encourage a mass identity that the carnival might celebrate, Tatsumi explains that even as an outcast, he finds his own carnivalesque community through cyberspace. He connects online to other students like himself, where they continually build a knowledge base on the living dead. They study for hours, Tatsumi explains, and feel that they are “on a mission,” barely sleeping (205). When asked about his safety, Tatsumi replies:

Japan was doomed, but I didn’t live in Japan. I lived in a world of free-floating information. The saifu, that’s what we were calling the infected now, weren’t something to be feared, they were something to be studied… My culture, my upbringing, and now my otaku lifestyle all combined to completely insulate me. Japan might be evacuated, Japan might be destroyed, and I would watch it all happen from the safety of my digital mountaintop. (205)

In the passage, Tatsumi describes the ultimate power of the carnival through a digital perspective. He has developed a sense of community which, despite the power of the undead, ultimately flourishes without the boundaries of society. The undead have, if anything, offered him new topics of studies and removed distractions like school, which further deepen the bonds he shares with his online community.

While Brooks offers these examples of human masses subverting power to overcome social constructs, an important aspect of the carnival is that it ultimately results in power being restored. The carnival is temporary. Such is the case in World War Z: Russia becomes a holy empire, and through the use of decimation – systematically killing 1 in every 10 soldiers – completely reinstates a political structure that would more closely reflect what it had been prior to World War II. In America, Arthur Sinclair, who serves as the chairman for the Securities and Exchange Commission prior to the Zombie War, notes that after the war and America’s declaration of victory, the government offers him his own position. He explains that “every day we get a few more registered accounts with American banks, a few more private businesses opening up, a few more points on the Dow” (337). This return to normalcy demonstrates the temporary nature of the carnival and the way in which is eventually reinstated. Even Tatsumi becomes a monk, completely integrating into the burgeoning Japanese society.

Whereas the living subvert their societal structures in carnivalesque fashion, the undead provide a carnival of their own. Zombies exist without the need for dialogue, and yet they seem to be a perfect symbol for the carnival. The carnival’s ultimate goal is to completely remove societally created hierarchical structures. Bakhtin describes it as “the utopian ideal and the realistic merged” (Rabelais, 10). He explains further that “people were, so to speak, reborn for new, purely human relations” (10). The rebirth is an important aspect of the carnival, and one that is embodied by the zombie. While the carnival, in Bakhtin’s terms, contains a symbolic rebirth, the zombie yields a more concrete rebirth. The spread of a zombie virus yields death, but from death there is un-death. The undead are the reborn. They exist without any constructs of division, any hierarchical structures, any sense of individuality5. Drezner describes the zombie’s carnivalesque unity, writing, “there are no divisions among the undead… they focus their rage only on other humans—not their fellow zombies” (52). The zombie, through cannibalistic consumption, offers rebirth into a total carnivalesque equality.

Bakhtin’s concept of the grotesque further elucidates the relationship between the zombie and the carnivalesque. In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin describes the concept:

The grotesque ignores the impenetrable surface that closes the limits of the body as a separate and completed phenomenon. The grotesque image displays not only the outward but also the inward features of the body: blood, bowels, heart and other organs. The outward and inward features are often merged into one. (318)

The description of the grotesque body perfectly matches the image of the zombie. The first ghoul encountered in World War Z, the patient zero, is a twelve-year-old boy who, while struggling against the bonds that are tied around him, breaks an arm, and reveals “jagged ends of both radius and ulna bones stabbed through his gray flesh” (7). After breaking the arm, “flesh and muscle tore from one another until there was nothing except the stump” (8). From the earliest description that Brooks gives, there is the Bakhtinian union of the inner and the outer bodies. In a similar scene, Stanley MacDonald, a Canadian veteran, describes an encounter he has with one of the undead in a drug smuggler’s cave. The zombie had been pinned beneath a pile of rocks and as he pulled at its hand, he “fell back, the thing’s top half coming with [him]. The waist down was still jammed under the rocks, still connected to the upper torso by a line of entrails” (20). The scene is a gruesome depiction of the inner body being displayed with the outer.

This bond between the outer and inner is important because it allows complex and abstract ideas and social structures to be linked to the corporeal and the physical. Bianca Batti explains the notion: “The grotesque body degrades or lowers all that is elevated, noble, or ‘ideal’ by bringing it down to the material level. In other words, the grotesque body allows us to consider the idealized notions of human civilization and society in relation to the corporeal form of the (grotesque) body, complete with all its abjectifying fluids and its link to decay” (11). The goal of the zombie is to do just that: to lower societal constructs into a physical form. By using grotesque imagery to create a physical body that contains the complex notions of societal divisions, when the body is destroyed, so are those divisions.

Another aspect of the grotesque is the way in which it can evoke a comedic reaction. One theorist, Linda Badley, explains Bakhtin’s notion of comedy by writing, “death was represented as natural, jolly, and even joyful” and extrapolates that “the grotesque body is laughing, anarchic, joyously ambivalent, transgressing the modern canon that closes off and abjects: all that is open, protruding, secreting, decomposing, eating, and being eaten” (39). In the space of a zombie horror text, this may literally equate to “the pleasure of getting the shit scared out of you” (40). The theory that the abject can evoke a comedic response is supplemented when considering the Freudian joke. Freud asserted that laughter can be a reaction to discomfort caused by socially forbidden subjects. Badley clarifies this concept, explaining that “Freud’s theory that jokes provide a socially accepted means of expressing an otherwise unacceptable response toward taboo subjects” can be applied to the grotesque body, to decomposition, and to the theme of cannibalism present in zombie horror texts (37).

In World War Z, Brooks uses the abject lower body to elicit a comedic reaction from the reader. Early in the novel, Fernando Oliveira, a drug-addicted surgeon, performs a heart transplant using an illegally obtained heart from the black market. Operating in Sao Paolo, Oliveira receives a heart that is infected with the zombie virus. When he returns to his office to find his patient infected, he divulges, “I raised my pistol, aiming at his new heart. It was a ‘Desert Eagle’… I’d never fired it before. I wasn’t ready for the recoil. The round went wild, literally blowing his head off. Lucky that’s all, this lucky fool standing there with a smoking gun, and a stream of warm urine running down my leg” (25). Prior to this passage, the doctor spends an inordinate amount of time creating an identity in which he is brave, authoritative, and capable, but this identity is destroyed when “fluids that normally remain hidden invade public space” (Badley, 40). The urine in this scene is a perfect example of the way in which the grotesque lower stratum of the body can offer a comedic alleviation from the horror of the moment.

A similar scene occurs later in the novel. Sardar Khan serves during the great zombie war as a military engineer for the Indian forces. Tasked with destroying a mountain bridge to stave off the coming waves of undead, Khan is nearly trampled and seeks refuge beneath a microbus. Knocked unconscious by the blast that his general sets off at the bridge, he awakes to the “tap-tap-tap” of what he thinks is water, but later learns is “the living dead… falling in droves off the shattered edge… their bodies smashing on the valley floor” (Brooks, 135). The scene becomes comical as it evokes what Badley describes as Bergsonian mechanicalism. She writes, “The laughter is a response to mechanical behavior easily converted into slapstick. Oblivious to pain, reduced to basic drives, and represented as a mass, the living dead are prone to pratfalls” (37). Brooks builds upon the Bergsonian mechanicalism of the scene with grotesque comedy. As Khan stands watching this, he looks to a monkey sitting atop the bus under which he had been hiding. Khan says of the monkey, “His face appeared so serene, so intelligent, as if he truly understood the situation. I almost wanted him to turn to me and say ‘This is the turning point of the war! We’re finally safe!’ But instead his little penis popped out and he peed in my face” (136). In this moment Khan feels the destruction of the bridge has singly guaranteed his safety and those of the people on his side of the gap. As he feels things are returning to normalcy, the monkey’s action clearly suggests, through grotesque comedy, that the carnival remains.

Brooks creates comedic scenes by allowing private bodily functions to enter a public space in a way that represents the grotesque comedy. When these scenes are paired with his images of the grotesque body, merging the inside and the outside as a means to create a corporeal form that complex social notions can inhabit, he ultimately develops a carnival of the living dead. This carnival is simultaneously paired with a carnival of the living, where the survivors band together in a time of great struggle, without leadership or order from governmental organizations, and against normal social boundaries. Brooks also uses dialogue to provide a narrative structure that undermines the political hierarchies present in the novel. In these Bakhtinian ways, World War Z, provides an opposition to Ayn Rand’s theory of objectivism. That is, the novel displays humans (and zombies) working together to achieve goals that benefit large numbers, as opposed to each person doing only what benefits himself. The cooperation of the masses is celebrated over self-preservation. After all, even in Canada’s parliamentary proceedings, when Member of Parliament Pat Martin questioned his colleague John Baird, the question was not if Canada alone has the power to stave off the undead masses, but whether they are working on such a plan in cooperation with America.

Though the Canadian government is able to poke a little fun at the prospect of a zombie plague, it begs the question, Why is the zombie so popular? What makes this particular monstrous trope effective enough to warrant the attention of governments? Horace Mann once posited, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” In this case, perhaps the zombie is the greatest equalizer not of human origin. This is why the zombie serves well to a carnivalesque analysis; in both tropes, the carnival and the zombie plague, mankind is ultimately equalized. ■

 

 

 

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Endnotes

1 The works referenced here are: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion by Alan Goldsher, and Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber.

2 Due to the incredible differences between the novel and the Marc Forster’s 2013 film, only the book will be discussed here.

3 Shawn McIntosh’s essay, “The Evolution of the Zombie: The Monster That Keeps Coming Back”, briefly analyzes these films and many others as he provides a chronological examination of the shifting metaphors that have been applied to zombies, from their Haitian folkloric roots, through a host of films, and into the digital age of video games.

4 This does not take into account the “rage” zombie created in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. There is some debate as to whether this monster is truly a zombie, or still a living person afflicted with a rabies-like disease. For more information on Boyle’s created zombie type, consider “Hybridity and Post-Human Anxiety” in 28 Days Later by Martin Rogers.

5 A recent subgenre, dubbed the Rom-Zom-Com (romantic zombie comedy), has toyed with the notion of giving identity and agency to the undead. An essay to consider is Shannon Pfeifer’s “Domesticating the Monster: Conforming Cultural Identity in Warm Bodies”, in which she discusses this very topic.