Just One of the Low Millions?


Zombies are, for me at least, a rich subgenre of horror that allows us to explore a host of issues that deal with issues of politics, economics, and class. Even scholars who are only vaguely familiar with the topic can often cite the cultural critiques latent within George Romero’s Dead trilogy.

Over the past two years, our group has bandied about different concepts that deal with pop culture and the political, with mention of terms like “movements,” “groups,” and “masses” calling to mind the ways in which issues of power and powerlessness manifest in the zombie genre. Although we can talk about the larger ways in which horror intersects with notions of power, zombies, out of all the monstrosities, provide a more direct understanding of the relationship between individuals/communities and minorities/majorities.

In particular, I am curious about the ways in which zombies are being reinterpreted in modern culture:  employed in the 1930s as symbols of colonialism, resurrected in the 1960s to showcase the ills of consumer culture, and tweaked in the 2000s to evidence fears surrounding biological agents, zombies have always been, in some ways, representative of a fear of being subsumed by the masses. And yet the rise in zombie subculture seems to have split in recent years:  although we continue to preoccupy ourselves with surviving the impending zombie apocalypse (hint:  take up parkour), we also seemingly exhibit an increased desire to become zombies through events like zombie walks/crawls. Moreover, looking to online spaces—which are, in their own ways, very much about communities—we also glimpse a thriving group of individuals who choose to play as zombies in various forms.

What does all of this mean for the ways that we consider ourselves in relation to the communities around us?


Although groups like Invisible Children seem quite distinctly different from zombies, I wonder about how individuals in both organizations negotiate their identity as members of a highly-visible subculture that, most likely represents a national minority, might at times be a majority in local societal contexts. Moreover, in both situations, we have (primarily) young people who toe the line between belonging to a group and maintaining a sense of individuality within the mass—or maybe members do not fear being “swallowed up” by the group at all.

The more that I learn about how zombie culture is being enacted and embodied in real world practices, the more that I think about how lessons for political action can be extracted and utilized. But then again, zombies have always been about politics.

Chris Tokuhama studies popular culture, youth, Suburban/Gothic Horror, and media as a graduate student in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California while balancing a full-time job in the Office of College Admission. Primarily interested in modern mythologies and narrative structures, Chris has often reimagined the Scarecrow as a zombie. Comments, questions, and Starbucks gift cards can be sent to tokuhama [at] usc [dot] edu.


Structure of Feeling / Structure of Being

Throughout the course of our investigations, we have garnered a much greater understanding of the relationship between activities grounded in pop culture and political movements, civic engagement, and public participation. Together we have begun to contemplate a multitude of frameworks and spheres ranging from social media—a member of our team, Kevin Driscoll, has recently responded to Malcolm Gladwell’s criticisms of Twitter—to DIY cultures and flash activism. Our thinking has been supplemented by insightful interviews and we have undoubtedly grown since our inception a year ago.  Yet, as with many other forms of research, hard work and findings, while fruitful, have also served to illuminate further areas of inquiry. For our research team, one of these subjects is the role and potential purpose of religion.

Going into this project, I feel as though our group endeavored to discover emergent themes:  although we each came to the table with a particular set of experiences, we used our backgrounds—a shared history of fan studies, civic action, popular culture, and cultural/media studies—to develop loose hypotheses regarding the various trajectories that groups might take. In some ways, then, it might make sense that we have only recently begun to dig deeper into religion’s role as the intersection between religion, media, and culture has only recently become a point of consideration; traditionally, scholars in various fields explored the overlap between religion/media, religion/culture, and media/culture, but not necessarily all three at once (Hoover and Lundby 1997).  [Read more…]

Icy Dead People


The sound is both unmistakable and unforgettable. Equal parts siren call, banshee cry, and woeful lament, the anguished scream of the female horror victim is a primal sound that instantly evokes unsolicited dread from somewhere deep within.
This image, often accompanied by an overhand stabbing pantomime reminiscent of Psycho, is the typical response that greets me whenever I mention my research interests in Horror. Many of my peers speak to me about their brushes with the genre and how various movies or television shows have served to instill a perpetual sense of fear in them:  to this day, friends will trace a hatred of clowns back to It, apprehension about blind dates to Audition, and a wariness of European hostels from, well, Hostel. Those around me see Horror as the representation of a force that serves to limit action, crafting a clear binary that contrasts the safe and acceptable with the foreign and dangerous.
To be sure, there is a certain amount of truth to what my friends believe; to live in a post-9/11 world is to be familiar with fear. As an American, I have been engaged in a “War on Terror” for my entire adult life, warned that illicit drugs fuel cartels, and have heard that everything under (and including) the sun will give me cancer. Sociologists like Barry Glassner talk about how our attempts to curb our fears just make us more afraid and Eve Ensler chimes in with a discussion of how an obsession with security only serves to instill an even greater sense of insecurity. Fear has become a sort of modern lingua franca, allowing people to discuss things ranging from economic recession, to depression, to moral politics. Perhaps worse yet, I have developed in an educational system that fostered anxiety as I struggled to get the best grades and test scores, desperate to find meaning in my college acceptances and hoping for validation in achievement—growing up, there were so many ways to fail and only one way to succeed. Whole parts of my identity have been defined by my fears instead of my hopes and although I rebel against the notion of being controlled by this emotion, I realize that it continues to have a pervasive effect on my life and my actions. I continue to quell the fears that I will not live up to expectations, that I will grow lonely, and that I will one day forget what I am worth.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
  [Read more…]

Star Wars and Political Discussion

I’ve recently started the process to join a guild for Star Wars:  The Old Republic and have begun to wonder about how the fictional universe’s basic structure lends itself to fans developing ideas regarding political participation. Beyond the simple binary of the Republic/Empire, I am interested to see how fans talk about political values and ideals. While much of this discussion has already taken place around published media, I am interested to see how the introduction of an MMO during the Old Republic period will allow discourse that differs from Star Wars Galaxies. I think it will be interesting to see how the forums develop over the next 10 months as the game leads up to launch. In that vein, here are some of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Participatory Fandom

Teaching Old Brands New Tricks


I’ve also including some of the readings that I used for a recent paper on Invisible Children.

Alice James and the Spectacle of Sympathy

Examining Social Resistance and Online-Offline Relationships

Muscular Christianity and the Spectacle of Conversion

Product RED Case Study and Ethics

RED and Causumerism

Youth Culture and Conflict Narratives