Undead reckoning

It's the Halloween before Tuesday’s election, so the big question is -- how is the political situation reflected in horror movies? And, specifically, those that deal with that fundamental source of horror, the Undead.

There are basically two types of undead, zombies and vampires (Frankenstein fits in uneasily somewhere), and I think it’s safe to say that up until recently the zombie contingent has dominated the genre. Being the socialist film critic that I am, I would interpret zombies as representing the lumpen proletariat. Thay have been so exploited by the capitalist system that they’re not just downtrodden — they’re dead. But they rise again — the return of the repressed — to destroy and devour those who subjugated them.

In other words, they represent that “redistribution of wealth” that the Republicans are scaring everybody with.

On the other hand, they also embody the Joe the Plumber fantasy that the right wing is trying to sell to the working stiffs of America. The working stiffs, so to speak. Those real Americans that their fellow real Americans John McCain and Sarah Palin want to defend against the “liberal elite.”

In other words, the Republicans are trying to co-opt genuine working class discontent, as they have so successfully  done so in previous elections, pretending to be the supporters of the common people when in fact they are those who have victimized them. And movies like “28 Weeks Later” and “I Am Legend”  and "Diary of the Dead" are expressions of the masses’ ambivalent fear of and attraction to their potential revolutionary fervor.

But those are the old undead. The trend now  seems to be in the direction of  vampire, a trend spearheaded by the expected success of the upcoming adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s YA bestseller “Twilight” in which a teenage girl falls for a gorgeous, demi-godlike vampire boy. The trend should gain momentum as we reach 2011 and the scheduled release of Tim Burton’s adaptation of “Dark Shadows”  starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins.

And why not? Vampires are sexy. No one wants to have sex with a zombie. If a zombie comes snuggling up to you, you don't want to have sex with it, you want to blow its goddamn head off. 

Why is that,  political subtext speaking? What do vampires represent beyond confused adolescent hormonal agitation? To find out, I consulted one of my socialist criticism guidebooks, “Signs Taken for Wonders” by Franco Moretti, and his essay “Dialectic of Fear” in which he quotes Marx’s observation: “Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

Well, that kind of sounds like the zombies described above. Or maybe it describes the Wall Street parasites responsible for the collapse of the economy. And nobody likes them anymore. There must be another explanation.

So, so much for Marx and Moretti. Could these sexy new vampires be representing neither capital or Wall Street CEOs or the aristocracy but the “liberal elite” that the Republicans have tried to demonize? Could this mean that instead of hating and fearing this elite, regular people might actually be drawn to those who are smart, beautiful, educated and talented? Even if they want to suck their blood?

Beats me. Maybe we’ll know by next Wednesday. Or better yet, on the opening weekend of “Twilight” on November 21.

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