My Yesterday

I was inspired by this poem by Opinionated Man and created this poem in response.

(For Opinionated Man)
Typewriter keys clicked through
The silence of the night hammering
Alphabetical symbols on the worn tape
Leaving fading ghosts.
Reams of paper tabbed their way through the bail
Leaving consonants and vowels that bleed
But make no words.

Urban Sprawl is for the Birds

5 October 2014

Celestino Deleyto’s essay “Focalisation in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds” emphasizes focalization due to camera angle. For the most part, Deleyto uses focalization as synonymous with point of view shots. In fact, Deleyto keeps such a tight hold to the idea that camera angle equals point of view that he refers to high angle, bird’s-eye-view shots as the omniscient external focalizer as if the camera, independent of a character, is a character in its own right. An external focalization is an object or character that is being viewed by the camera, and an internal focalization is when the camera acts as the sightline of a character. Deleyto mentions that anything in the view of the camera is focalized at least to some degree, but he spends very little on this idea (Deleyto 3). Following Deleyto’s ideas, one can see that both Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Daphnie Du Maurier’s “The Birds” spend a great deal of time focalizing the birds themselves.

Du Maurier only uses external focalization to portray the birds in the text. However, in Hitchcock’s adaptation both external and internal focalization are used to portray the birds as an object and as a subject in the film. Du Maurier’s “The Birds” focuses all of its narrative on Nat’s house and the Trigg’s farm. But Hitchcock’s adaptation of Du Maurier’s story extends the symbolic possibilities of the attack of the birds. While the extended scope of Hitchcock’s film The Birds does add more possibility for changes to the symbolism of the bird attack, the scope by itself does not do everything necessary to create a new context for symbolism. The new symbolism is being carefully crafted from the beginning of the film. In Hitchcock’s The Birds the damage that is wrought by the birds symbolizes the impact that people fear urban sprawl might have on small town America.

In fact, between the years of 1950 and 1960 San Francisco County lost 4.5% of its population while the entire region had a 35.7 % increase in population. During the years between 1950 and 1960, Sonoma County, the county that includes the actual city of Bodega Bay had a 39% increase in population and a 42.5% increase during the decade before (U.S. Geological Survey 184). By the time Hitchcock made his 1963 film The Birds, the people of Bodega Bay had already been witness to the effects of population growth over the last 20 years.

Hitchcock goes through great pains to imbue the birds with a greater symbolism than the everyday clichés one might expect. Hitchcock’s birds are actively made into symbols by their juxtaposition with Mitch, Melanie, and the city of San Francisco itself. In the first scene of the film, Mitch and Melanie meet in a pet store among all of the caged birds (Hitchcock 1963). The beginnings of their budding love affair takes place within a background of multicolored imported birds, and Mitch and Melanie’s conversation is highlighted by the sound of the birds in the background. Adding to the metaphoric connection that is built between the prospective couple and the birds, Mitch asks Melanie if she would show him some lovebirds, but more importantly, the lovebirds take actual form in the mise en scéne of the film. (Hitchcock 1963). Not only does Mitch’s choice of lovebirds indicate that he is interested in Melanie, but also his choice of birds creates a symbolic connection between him, Melanie and the lovebirds.

But Mitch and Melanie are not fully equated with the birds until Melanie drives the pair of lovebirds up and sneaks them into Mitch’s house (Hitchcock 1963). By allowing the lovebirds to surprise Mitch, Melanie’s actions foreshadow the scene when the birds enter his house through the chimney and the scene when the birds enter through the hole in the roof, and the damage and confusion that the bids cause symbolizes the damage being caused to small town America.

The birds in the pet shop are an assortment of domestic and exotic birds imported from around the world, and workers that are attracted to a booming city like San Francisco also arrive from all around the world. The arrival and departure of birds in the San Francisco pet shop mirrors the influx of jobs and workers to the city. The increase of workers in the city creates a need for places to live on the outskirts of the city.

Mitch and Melanie could easily be seen as stand-ins for the workers that had been known to be leaving San Francisco over the last decade. And as Mitch and Melany were well-to-do, they are not necessarily seen as the problem. The influx of birds is the problem and in the scene in the dinner after the city has been under full-fledged attack by the birds, one of the women in the dinner accuse Melanie of bringing the birds (Hitchcock 1963). Although Melanie denies being the cause of the attack, she does bring a pair of caged lovebirds with her from San Francisco. The pair of lovebirds were the first birds to arrive in Bodega Bay; therefore, the lovebirds stand in for the scouts or the early adopters that review the area and advertise it to others that might be looking for the same thing. As Mitch and Melanie are equated with the lovebirds they could be seen to perform the same function trying the area out and reporting it back to others who might be interested in a place to live outside of San Francisco. And the enjoyment that Melanie gets from her sunny seaside drive up the beautiful California coast shows how alluring the prospect of living in Bodega Bay might be for some one that wants to work in San Francisco and live where the housing costs are lower.

Although the film does not actually depict an influx of immigrants from San Francisco other than Mitch, Melanie, and Annie the increasing number of birds in connection to them symbolizes a bigger problem with population growth than just those three. The imagery of the Melanie surrounded by birds in the background of the pet shop is mirrored in the scene outside of the school house in Bodega Bay when the crows are gathering behind her on the playground equipment. The manmade pipes of the playground equipment and the telephone wires that the crows perch on are a more ominous reference to the cages that the birds were held in inside of the pet shop. This more dangerous imagery shows that the small town folks view the things that the birds symbolize as a much more dangerous problem than the people of San Francisco do. And the view of the birds massing one by one behind Melanie shows that the invasion of outsiders continues to grow.

Disregarding all of their other more obvious narrative motivations, Mitch and Melanie go to the small town of Bodega Bay for a weekend trip from San Francisco only to experience the destruction of the small town beauty and charm that had drawn them there in the first place. As a result of the destruction caused by the increase in population (whether by birds or immigrant people), the city of Bodega Bay is no longer suitable for a weekend getaway by the well-to-do, and Mitch and Melanie, with their original lovebirds in tow, beat a hasty retreat back to San Francisco. Therefore, Hitchcock’s The Birds portrays the fear that the increasing populations of major cities and the urban sprawl associated with this growth will wipe out the culture of small town America and ruin the weekend getaways of the rich.

Work Cited

Celestino Deleyto. “Focalization in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.” Miscelanea Journal Archives – FOCALISATION IN ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S THE BIRDS. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.

Du Maurier, Daphne. The Birds. London: Virago, 2004. Print.

The Birds. Hitchcock, A. Universal Pictures. 1963. Film.

“U.S. Geological Survey.” USGS Publications Warehouse. Web. 09 Oct. 2014. <>.

Ambiguous Framing

14 September 2014

When Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw was adapted into Jack Clayton’s 1961 film, The Innocents, the frame story was conspicuously missing. Francesco Casetti’s “Adaptation and Mis-adaptations” says the reappearance of a story creates an area of discourse between the two stories (Casetti 82-83.) Both The Turn of the Screw and The Innocents are successful and entertaining stories only The Innocents has a much lower level of ambiguity. Much of the loss of ambiguity comes from the difficulty in translating Henry James’s famously complex syntax to the screen. However, if the film was framed by the story of Douglas’s narration, it could have maintained some of the ambiguity that was lost. Douglas’s story creates another level of depth to the already ambiguous Story in The Turn of the Screw by adding the possibility that the story of the governess was a complete fabrication created by Douglas.

The way Douglas strings along his audience for four days before beginning his tale can be seen both as a way of building suspense and/or as a way of stalling for time long enough to allow him to write the story that he has promised to tell. Douglas’s story takes place within the context of a gathering of storytellers and he is noticeably inspired by the lack luster ghost story that started off the novella. The narrator of the frame story says, “[N]ot immediately, but later in the evening…. Someone else told a story not particularly effective, which I saw [Douglas] was not following. This I took for a sign that he had himself something to produce…” (James 1.) Douglas did not announce right away that he had a similar story to tell. He waited and deliberated until after the next story was finished before he pitched his story. Although the narrator never says that how much time elapsed between the finish of the ghost story and the beginning of the next story, the gathering did not seem to be guided by a strict schedule. Therefore, there could have been a considerable lag between the time that Griffin’s ghost story ended and the next story began. But Douglas did not pitch his story then, nor did he pitch his story directly after the next story was finished. He waited until the gathering was about to break up for the night (James 1.) Douglas could have been spent that whole time trying to remember where he had kept the manuscript that the governess had given him, or he could have spent that time tying together different fictional elements together to think of a way to top Griffin’s story. After he pitches his story and the group begs for him to begin his tale he finds reason to postpone his telling for four days (James 4.) This delay in the telling of the story adds a touch of ambiguity to the question of whether or not the governess even existed to relate the story that Douglas promises to tell.

The parallels between the frame story and the governess’s story add to the question of whether or not Douglas is the author of the story. Both the climax of the governess’s story and the fame story revolve around the sending of a letter. The governess’s letter to the master mysteriously disappears before it can be mailed out (James 76,) and later in the confrontation with Miles, the fact comes out that the letter never had anything in it to begin with (James 84.) And just to reinforce the fact that there was nothing in the letter, the governess and Miles repeat the word ‘nothing’ two more times each (James 84.) Going back to Casetti’s argument that a reappearance creates a discursive field, the letter that Douglas plans to send becomes suspect. Yet, unlike the governess’s letter the novella never discloses whether or not Douglas’s letter is sent, or whether or not he actually receives the manuscript book in the mail. All the novella says is that Douglas produces the manuscript book on the third day and it is not even opened and read from until the fourth day (James 4, 6.) If Douglas did receive the manuscript in the mail, his postponement from the day of the third, when he claimed to receive the manuscript, and the night of the fourth gave him plenty of time to transcribe the story into the manuscript book, and even more time if he had the manuscript book in his possession all along. But up until this point, all of the ambiguity is delivered through the narrative plot.

The best case for an intentional ambiguity of whether or not Douglas is the author of the governess’s tale is delivered in carefully crafted syntax. The narrator of the frame story says, “But Douglas… had begun to read with a fine clearness that was like a rendering to the ear of the beauty of his author’s hand (James 6.) This quote makes very clear that Douglas is a skilled orator if not an author outright. The phrases ‘fine clearness’ and ‘rendering to the ear of beauty’ as well as his earlier ability to draw out the suspense of the promised story for four days show that excels in at least two of the skills that would be required of a writer: the ability to sell a work and a knack for grabbing the audience through the skilled reading of a story. But the three most important words in the quote for drumming up ambiguity are contained in the phrase, ‘his author’s hand.’ Because the phrase does not say the governess’s hand or even more simply the author’s hand, this phrase could either mean that Douglas is the author of the manuscript or that the governess is the author of the manuscript depending on one’s reading of this line of the frame story. Since the last mention of the governess as the pronoun, ‘she’ was two full paragraphs before the word, ‘author’ and the mention of Douglas using the possessive pronoun, ‘his’ is right next to it, most of the evidence points to Douglas being the author. However strong the evidence is that Douglas is the author, the ambiguity remains. Another peculiarity of the frame story in The Turn of the Screw is that the story ends without returning to the frame. Therefore, the placement of the quote as the last line of the frame story leaves the very ambiguous line about the author’s hand at a position that could completely change the reading of the governess’s story without ever resolving the question of who authored the story.

The ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw creates a story that not only holds up to rereading, but also holds new surprises with every read. Of course, the film, The Innocents does not offer as much reward for multiple viewings as the novella, but the reading of the novella in conjunction with the viewing of the movie gives plenty of chances to compare and contrast the different interpretations between the two.

Work Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. New York: Dover Publications, 1991. Print.

The Innocents. Clayton, J. 20th Century Fox. 1961. Film.

Controlling the Zombie

30 June 2014

The character of Murder Legendre looms large over the image of Haiti that is portrayed in the film, White Zombie. He is a well-known person on the island, and he is conspicuously European. Legendre owns a large estate and runs a large sugar plantation. But what makes this character the most dangerous to the Haitian people is that he is a zombie master (White Zombie 1932.) In the article “The Zombie Media Monster’s Evolution to Empty Undead signifier” Ryan Lizardi states, “Thematically, [zombies] exhibit … the importance and preoccupation with concepts of control, loss of control, and fear of being controlled” (Lizardi 92.) As a former slave colony, the people of Haiti have a particular fear of losing control or being controlled by others. The character Murder Legendre of White Zombie shows up as a symbol of their colonial past, and the only way for them to regain their own control is to remove him as a symbol of the former colonial regime.

In a movie set in Haiti dealing with Haitian myths, one might expect the welfare of the Haitian people would be one of the main themes.  In fact, in the article, “Thinking Dead: Our Obsession with the Undead and Its Implications” Murali Balaji said, “Race is another element of zombie texts, seen both overtly and subtextually, as zombies are seen as stand-ins for racial and ethnic others” (Balaji xii.) Most of the film only deals with race in a subtextual way. The narrative of White Zombie revolves around the conversion of a white woman into a zombie for the sole pleasure of one of the rich white plantation owners of the island (White Zombie 1932.) while at first this story line seems to be missing the point of setting a film in an exploited land by leaving the Haitians out of the main story, this decision may have been made consciously to avoid offending the sensibilities of a 1930’s audience. Due to the prejudices of the day, the viewing public who may be convinced to help the exploited of other countries would likely have been chased off by a film that revolved completely around the problems of a foreign people.

Black characters are used in very few places throughout the film, and when they are used they are part of a crowd of extras with only three exceptions. The carriage driver, Pierre the witchdoctor that Dr. Bruner asks about the death of Madeline, and the former witchdoctor that Legendre has turned into a zombie are the only black characters that have any extended screen time and both of the witchdoctors were played by white actors in black face. By keeping the screen time of black characters to a minimum the film makes a statement about the second class status of the black people living in Haiti.

The roles played by the black characters also play a part in showing the disparity between the races on the Island of Haiti. In the beginning of the film, the group of people mourning at a funeral consists of black actors (White Zombie 1932.) While the group does fill the role of exposition giving the carriage drive the opportunity to inform Madeline, Neil and the film’s audience about the cultural and religious practices of the Haitian people, the group of mourners also works as an obstacle for the white characters. Therefore, the black carriage driver and the group of black mourners exemplify the way that the white characters think about the Haitians: while alone Haitians can make perfectly fine servants, such as carriage drivers, taken as a group they are a strange and unknowable hindrance and must be avoided as much as possible.

All of the white characters in the film live in opulent mansions far removed from the Haitian people. Neil and Madeline have come to the island to get married in the opulence of Beaumont Manor. Charles Beaumont lives in luxury with large rooms and expensive furniture. He has the means to throw a feast for people that he barely knows, and he is constantly attended by his butler named Silver. Even Doctor Bruner, the preacher lives in a large house with expensive furniture and decorations (White Zombie 1932.)  The only reason that they can afford these things is because of the plantation economy that takes advantage of the low labor cost afforded by the poor Haitian people.

While all of the white characters in the film are making their livings on the backs of the black Haitians, only Murder Legendre is honest about his exploitation of the Haitian people. In only one scene does the film ever explicitly deal with the subject of race in any overt way, and this scene takes place in Legendre’s sugar processing plant. The sugar plant is being run exclusively by zombies. The zombies that are doing the all of the labor are black Haitians, but the white zombies are seen in the background standing around and watching, and the camera zooms in to show the pained faraway look on the faces of the zombies that are stooped over the cranks that they are pushing to turn the sugarcane grinder (White Zombie 1932.)

The white zombies that line the edges of the plant floor resemble foreman inspecting the work being done and keeping their workers in line. However, in the article, “Race, colonialism and the evolution of the Zombie,” Cory Rushton and Christopher Moreman state, “Aside from being scary monsters, what [zombies] share in common is an idea of subjugated agency” (Moreman and Rushton 3.) Since the zombies working in Legendre’s sugar plant have no agency, the reason that the white zombies are standing around watching the black zombies work is to bring the plight of the Haitian people forced to work under deplorable conditions to the viewing public. But this is where the politics of the film get complicated. While the narrative of the film has taken time to ask the viewers to feel for the exploited Haitian people the casting of the film takes advantage of prejudices of the day and hires two white actors to play black characters.

Difficulties in making sense of the film’s complicated politics aside, the film concludes when Legendre loses control of his crew of zombies and they throw him off a cliff into the surging waves of the ocean below (White Zombie 1932.) While the tossing of Legendre into the ocean symbolizes Haiti’s removal of exploitative interests from overseas. But Neil Madeline and Doctor Bruner remain showing that even with the removal of the biggest hindrance to the Haitian people removed there will still be a very long road before Haiti is able to recover from the damage it received at the hands of colonial oppressors. In their article, Rushton and Moreman state, “Zombies, for their part, represent in the African tradition not simply the walking corpse of Western imagination but are synonymous with a wide range of monsters” (Moreman and Rushton 3.) Using Rushton and Moreman’s knowledge of zombies, one can see that the zombie problem that the film White Zombie is trying to eradicate is the outside interference in Haiti’s affairs.

Work Cited

Balaji, Murali,. Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013.

Lizardi, Ryan. “The Zombie Media Monster’s Evolution to Empty Undead signifier.” Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013. Print.

Moreman, Christopher M. “Race, colonialism and the evolution of the Zombie.” Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011. Print.

White Zombie. Halpern V. United Artists, 1932. Film.

Romero’s and Bakhtin’s Apocalyptic Carnival

25 June 2014

George Romero’s movie, Dawn of the Dead celebrates the violent excess and grotesque spectacle that Mikhail Bakhtin would be likely to term a world turned upside down. The film is filled with zombies invading the public spaces, wandering the streets all hours of the day and night like the revelers of carnival. According to “Mikhail Bakhtin: Carnival and Carnivalesque – Summary and Review” from the website The Cultural Studies Reader, “But the town square and its adjacent streets were the central site of the carnival, for they embodied and symbolized the carnivalesque idea of being universal and belonging to all people” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.)  The zombies thrive on the basest of urges, the urge to eat. The zombies of Dawn of the Dead are male, female, rich, poor, powerful, and lowly. The zombies in this film are diverse with examples of nun zombies and Hari Krishna zombies as well as a zombie in a nurse’s outfit and one fat zombie in swim trunks. There are zombies dressed for every profession and every recreational activity. In fact, the zombies have the look of individuals in costume. And when you include thick white makeup that the actors must wear to look like they are dead, the zombies in this film begin to resemble clowns on parade. As clowns, the zombies of Dawn of the Dead fit perfectly into Bakhtin’s of carnival. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead fits perfectly into the literary tradition of the carnivalesque; horror movies in general and especially zombie movies supply the cultural transgression that audiences need to continue to live within the strictly controlled structure of today’s society.

Dawn of the Dead begins by showing the chaos going on inside the newsroom of a television broadcasting network. While the people inside the newsroom are safe from the riot and death in the streets, their job as purveyors of mass media make them especially aware of the danger that is brewing in the streets. The awareness of the danger in the streets causes then to act erratically and panic. The fear and panic that the newscasters feel is spread to the individual residences through television programing. This radiating of fear, panic, and bad decisions from the streets to the media and then out to the people’s private residences parallels the way that carnivalesque is able to penetrate into all facets of society. The web article says, “[The carnival] penetrated the house […] and did not exist just in the public sphere or town square” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) And the fear and panic that spreads to everyone in immediate danger or just informed of it is given license to do things that would have been unthinkable before the beginning of the zombie outbreak. The web article states, “…Behavior that was otherwise unacceptable is legitimate in carnival, and human nature’s hidden sides are revealed” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) Peter, Francine, Roger, and Stephen all show no remorse when stealing gas to refuel their helicopter or looting the stores in the mall for the items that they need (Dawn of the Dead 1979.) But they did not just stop at the necessities; they looted high end clothing, electronic devices, and other luxury items that they definitely did not need. And all of this was deemed acceptable because of the extreme circumstances of the zombie outbreak. In fact, there is even a news cast within the film that directs the survivors to “remove the head or destroy the brain” of the zombie (Dawn of the Dead 1979.) The idea that a news authority would authorize the general public to murder other people on sight indicates the extent to which the laws have been loosened during this time of zombie carnival.

According to the web article, “The central ritualistic act of the carnival is the false coronation and deposition of the carnival king” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) The initiating act of all zombie films, not just Dawn of the Dead, is the rise of the zombie to a position of power, and the main conflict in Dawn of the Dead is the deposition of the zombie usually by inflicting some sort of violent trauma to the head of the zombie. In Dawn of the Dead, the supplanting of normal society by zombies acts as a de facto coronation of the king of the carnival. The carnival king is chosen from someone that is the exact opposite of a king (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) The zombies of this film are far from regal kingly material. While a king is an exalted example of what a human can become, a zombie is the most degraded example of what a human become. A king is stately and impeccably dressed while a zombie is hunched over, decomposing, and dressed in the tattered remnants of clothing. The web article states, “The carnival unites the two poles of change and crisis, birth and death, old and young, down and up, wisdom and stupidity etc. the dualistic imagery is characteristic of the carnival for their contradiction” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) Carnival’s dualism is also apparent within the desiccating corpse of the zombie. Birth and death unites in the zombie. The moment of a zombie’s birth is the death of the human that had once inhabited the body. The zombie is effectively immortal combining young and old in an eternally ambulatory corpse. While the zombie has lost its ability to think for itself, it is still motivated to eat and create more zombies by an instinctual drive. Instinct is a form of wisdom passed down through the genes, and therefore wisdom and stupidity are united in the zombie as well.

The final scene of Dawn of the Dead shows Peter and Francine flying off in the helicopter into the noon day sky, into the pristine pastoral paradise of forest and blue sky accented with big puffs of white clouds. Francine’s departure in the late stages pregnancy leaves the film with a sense of hope for rebirth and renewal of the Earth. And Peter and Francine serve as an Adam and Eve analogue, and their escape into the untouched wilderness resembles a return to Eden.  But this act of renewal and rebirth would mean very little without the death and destruction caused by the zombies. The degradation of normal society to its basest animal instincts is what allows the escape of Peter and Francine to have any significance. Bakhtin believes that the cycle of change and renewal, death and rebirth that is represented in carnival is what allows people to continue to function within the strict structure of society (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.) The web article states, “The carnival for Bakhtin is a festival of time which exterminates all and renews all” (The Cultural Studies Reader 2014.)

As a festival of time Dawn of the Dead is displayed to the general public within the confines of a 128 minute movie. The public’s consumption of this movie also follows within the confines of Bakhtin’s theory of carnivalesque. The movie audiences share in the enjoyment of this bloody carnival. The feelings of being a coconspirator in the cultural transgressions and sacrilegious debate allow the viewers of Dawn of the Dead and movies like it to have the feeling of change and renewal that allow them to go on with the rest of their boring daily lives and stay in lockstep with the constricting rules of society.

Work Cited

Romero, G. Dawn of the Dead. United Film Distribution Company, 1979. Film.

“The Cultural Studies Reader.” Mikhail Bakhtin: “Carnival and Carnivalesque” – Summary and Review. Web. 26 June 2014. <;.

28 Days Later: Taming the Human Animal

13 June 2014

28 Days Later begins with a montage of news reports of violence and riots around the world (28 Days Later 2002.) Because of genre conventions, the viewer is encouraged to assume that this is the beginning of the zombie outbreak. The viewer is lead to believe that like in the Romero films the cause of the zombie outbreak will be left unexplained or at least explained in an ambiguous or contradictory manner (Romero 1968, 1979, 1988.) However, the camera pans back to reveal that the news reports feed into a bank of televisions that play simultaneously to a test animal in a scientific looking laboratory (28 Days Later 2002.) Of mice, rabbits, and apes that have been connected with scientific experimentation in popular culture, the ape is the one that most resembles the human. The anthropomorphic quality of the ape being tested on brings up the idea that the film is trying to critique the human/animal comparison. The misleading beginning of this film forces the viewer to take a step back from the immediate narrative of the film and think about the violent animalistic brutality of the human world. In “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism,” Even though Sarah Lauro and Karen Embry  anticipate much of their possible criticism when they state, “…There is […] the American importation of the [zombie], which in its cinematic incarnation has morphed into a convenient boogeyman representing various social concerns” (Embry and Lauro 87.) A critical reading of the 28 Days Later shows that Embry and Lauro’s implication that the zombie is the next necessary step in the evolution of modern humans is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the zombie narrative (Embry and Lauro 87, 88.) The film, 28 Days Later is ultimately a story about the human’s struggle with and eventual triumph over his or her own animal nature.

This film portrays its zombies with different characteristics than the standard definition of the zombie as defined by Romero’s movies and its clones. The zombies of 28 Days Later are not undead, immortal, or cannibals. The zombies of this film are referred to as infected and the opening scenes of the film reinforce this idea when a band of eco-terrorists break into a scientific research laboratory and liberate the test animals. Embry and Lauro seem to agree that these zombies fall outside of the traditional undead category. They dismiss these zombies from the ranks of the undead by claiming that they result from viral contamination; however, the film is not give an authoritative explanation to their exact origins (Embry and Lauro 87, 88.) When informing Jim of what has happened while he was in a coma, Selena tells him that the outbreak of the infected is a result of viral infection, but while Selena had been a pharmacist before the zombie outbreak, she was not an authority on viral infection. When the lab animals were about to be released, the scientist, who presumably was an authority on the experiments that were going on in the lab said that the monkeys were infected with rage (28 days Later 2002.)  Although it is easy to assume that rage is the name of a virus, he does not refer to it as a virus, and viral infections are not influenced anything that the host watches. The scene with the ape with wires hooked to his brain while he was being forced to watch multiple television monitors showing these scenes of intense violence repeating over and over on a loop serves no purpose if rage is a virus (28 days Later 2002.)  Since the zombies are not undead beasts and they are not caused by a viral infection, cause of the zombie plague must be a psychological one.

Embry and Lauro say, “…The zombie horde is a swarm where no trace of the individual remains” (Embry and Lauro 89.) But they are slightly off the mark. A swarm is a group of insects that work together for the betterment of the collective, and as lower order animals they do not have the mental capacity to develop a theory of self. Without a theory of self the swarm insects are allowed the freedom to act without selfish motivations, but humans do not have this luxury. The name, rage is crucial to understanding the psychological nature of the zombie infection. As a social animal, humans have an instinctual drive to follow the verbal and nonverbal cues of others of the same species. What is thought of as a mob is just the human equivalent of a herd. Rage is just one half of the fight or flight response, and humans are driven to act by the verbalizations or body language of people that they identify with. Therefore, an agitated body posture or an angry yell will get others nearby agitated and angry as well. And violent actions of one individual will encourage the violent actions of another. In herding animals, these instinctual reactions are not a selfless act for the betterment of the hive. The herding animal is driven by a selfish concern for safety in numbers. Therefore, the human animal member of the zombie horde is not acting because he or she has lost all trace of the individual; he or she is acting to preserve all aspects of the individual especially the individual’s life.

Embry and Lauro state, “…In the figure of the zombie, the body and the mind are separated antinomies…. the body is resurrected and retained: only consciousness is permanently lost” (Embry and Lauro 89.) Jim’s narrative through the film serves to prove that at least in this film the zombies have the potential for redemption. Although Jim was never seen to be actually infected in the film, he did begin to take on the aspects of the zombies.

After escaping from the soldiers when they were planning to put him to death, Jim spent several hours without a weapon alone in the woods with the zombies (28 days Later 2002.)  While he was gone he adapted the stealth, speed, and strength of the zombie while maintaining enough mental capacity to work tactically to draw out and kill the soldiers one by one. Jim is portrayed as animalistic. His posture is hunched and his muscles are taut. Every time he moves, he is sprinting.  Even the camera works to portray Jim as a predator stalking his prey. The portrayal of Jim like an animal calls back to the apes at the beginning of the film. The apes seem docile or even friendly while they are in their cages, but when the ape is let out of its cage into an environment that it cannot control it lashes out violently (28 days Later 2002.)  The animal that had seemed so much like a human seconds earlier, reveals its brutal animal nature, and so too does Jim in this situation.

As he went along he became more and more brutal and the soldiers back at the mansion began to grow more and more afraid of him, and as the soldiers fear grows so too does Jim’s zombie like strength. By the end of Jim’s slaughter of the soldiers, he has given over so much to his animal instincts that he kills the last soldier with his bare hands by plunging his thumbs into the soldier’s eyes (28 days Later 2002.)  During Jim’s killing spree, he has given so much of his personality over to his own psychological rage that he is indistinguishable from the infected zombies. Not did Selina believe that Jim was a zombie when he came to save her, but the zombies must have mistaken him for one of their own as well. During the whole time that Jim was fighting to free Selina and Hannah, the zombies did not attack him. The other zombies even seem to be feeding off of Jim’s animalistic brutality. For all intents and purposes, Jim had become a zombie, yet he is able to recover his humanity after having given in to his animalistic rage.

Unlike the main thrust of Lauro and Embry’s essay, “A Zombie Manifesto,” the film, 28 Days Later allows for the recovery of the humanity of those that are drawn down into the depths of the zombie condition, and unlike the claim in “A Zombie Manifesto” that the zombie is the only way to become post-human, I submit that the zombie is the pre-human or the animalistic side of humanity. All one must do is tune in to the nightly news report to see graphic depictions of the violence going on all around the world to be reminded that humanity is in a constant struggle with its animalistic urge to destroy one another.

Work Cited

28 Days Later. Boyle, D. 20th Century Fox, 2002. Film.

Lauro, S and Embry, K. “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” 2008. Print.

Romero, G. Dawn of the Dead. United Film Distribution Company, 1979. Film.

Romero, G. Day of the Dead. United Film Distribution Company, 1985. Film.

Romero, G. Night of the Living Dead. The Walter Reade Organization, 1968. Film.

I am Legend: Rebuke and Reaffirmation of Prejudices

10 June 2014

The changes in cultural thought and the advances in technology that have taken place in the 40 years between the writing of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and its latest adaptation in 1994 have forced many changes between the text of the book and the movie. But rather than reading these changes as improvements over or deteriorations from the original text, Francesco Casetti argues that these differences form a conversation between the texts (Casetti 82.) The inconsistencies between Matheson’s book and the film adaptation attest to the differences inherent to the medium of delivery, the scientific advances within each medium, the cultural themes relevant at the time of adaptation, and the artistic vision of the adaptor. Each of these four categories allow for the exploration of the text in ways that the original either could not explore or chose not to explore. Neither version of the text is superior or inferior because by dent of adaptation they have become distinct and different texts that only happen to share some of the same characters and ideas. Using Casetti’s ideas about adaptation and mis-adaptation one is able to show that Richard Matheson’s novel I am legend and the 1995 film adaptation of I am Legend are two completely separate stories locked in discourse with one another about the same characters and similar themes but two completely separate intentions.

The novel and film versions of I am Legend are subject to differing pressures that inform the way that they are constructed. Casetti states, “…Film and literature are more revealing of the way in which subjects interact with each other as either addressers or addressees, than of an author’s ability to express him or herself (Casetti 82.) According to Casetti, a comparison between a book and it’s movie adaptation should not explore how they differ or which version is better, but should be a comparison of the differing points of view between the film and the book and what those differences say about their  particular view of the world. Richard Matheson’s story is told from inside the mind of Robert Neville. The reader experiences every thought, feeling, and need that Neville experiences. While this storytelling technique allows an immediate connection to the main character, this style of reporting is only available in a text based medium where the only way to experience the story is through written language. Because the reader may only experience the story through his or her imagination the author can successfully tell the story through any vantage point that can be imagined. However, the film version of I am Legend is significantly handicapped when it comes to the ways in which the story can be told. Voice over techniques and first person camera views have been developed to try to recreate the effect of being inside a character’s head but these techniques are clumsy at best and cannot be relied upon to deliver the entirety of the film. Therefore, the film version of I am Legend uses character interaction to deliver the same kind of connection between the viewer and Neville. The problem in the film is that much of the film takes place with only one human character. But this problem is solved in the film by having Robert Neville hold one-sided conversations with his dog and with manikins at the video store (I am Legend 1995.)

The one-sided conversations are an interesting idea that was brought into the film that was not included in the novel. The one-sided conversations deal with the problem of character interaction in a film that only has one character throughout most of the film. The one-sided conversations are kept to small talk that is common and recognizable by anyone that views the film. While unlocking the door to the video store Robert Neville says to the manikins, “Hey. Good morning Buzz good morning Fred. What are you guys doing here so early? Nice sweatshirt there Fred” (I am Legend 1995.) This type of conversation is so common that any of the viewers could supply the missing side of the conversation without even thinking about it. But the simplicity of this dialogue and the rote nature with which these types of conversations are had in today’s world communicates the isolation and sadness that Neville is going through that no amount of access to the character’s inner thoughts could convey. Additionally the conversations with inanimate objects also give a hint to Neville’s declining mental state without having to show this through the alcohol abuse that is used in the novel. Giving Robert Neville the dog from the beginning of the film serves similar purposes, and also gives a greater emotional hit to the viewer when the dog eventually dies.

The connection that Robert Neville has with female manikin allows the film to allude  to Neville’s growing for sexual companionship without having him fantasize about the naked bodies of the undead that gather outside of Neville’s house showing off their bodies in the novel (Matheson 19, 22, 33.)  The difficulty with portraying this idea in the same way as the novel comes back to the visual nature of the film medium. In text it is possible to describe the disrobing of a woman in a way that is not at all graphic or titillating, but there is no way to show nudity that is obviously recognizable as nudity in a film that is not graphic. Not only is it in good taste for the film not to show nudity, but also the film version of I am Legend is rated PG-13 and nudity would have caused the rating to go up. Therefore, pressure from a ratings agency, the difference between film and text, and addition of the one-sided conversations all contribute to the decision to show Neville’s growing need for sexual companionship in a more family friendly way.

The most striking point of separation between the film and the novel is the general theme of each. The novel’s theme revolves around the question of what it means to be human and how one should treat the other. In the end of the novel Robert Neville comes to the realization that he had been wrong the whole time and the undead that he had been killing had just as much right to life as he did (Matheson 153, 156.) However, the film version ends without Robert Neville ever coming to the realization that the zombies were intelligent and deserving of life. Neville sees the way that the zombies are able to set up traps for him, work together to try to capture or kill him, and he sees that they domesticated zombie hunting dogs, yet he never realizes that they are evolving into a new and legitimate society (I am Legend 1995.) After he sees one of the undead poke his head into the light to try to save his captured mate, Neville misinterprets the creature’s action. Neville says, “Social de-evolution appears complete. Typical human behavior is now entirely absent” (I am Legend 1995.) Neville ends up killing himself along with a handful of undead rather than come to grips with the idea that that the undead are the future of the human race. But just because Robert Neville is not able to see the truth does not mean that it is not in the film to be seen. The final words of the film are, “Dr. Robert Neville dedicated his life to the discovery of a cure and the restoration of humanity. On September 9th, 2012,… he discovered that cure. And at 8:52, he gave his life to defend it….This is his legend” (I am Legend 1995.) Therefore, the ending of the film version of I am Legend is essentially stating that killing people just because they are different or other is completely acceptable. In fact, the final scenes of the film are a celebration of the destruction of an entire new civilization.

The discourse between the novel and the film adaptation of I am Legend shows that the time has not been kind to main implications of the story. Casetti says, “A reappearance is a new discursive event that locates itself in a certain time and space in society, one that, at the same, caries within itself the memory of an earlier discursive event” (Casetti 82.)  And the filmmakers do make one more addition to the discursive event by releasing an alternate ending to the film that addresses the discordance at the end of the theatrical release. The alternate ending allows Neville to realize the error of his ways and release the captive female (I am Legend 1995.) The alternate allows the main intentions of the film adaptation to be something other than the justification of genocide.

Works Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

I am Legend. Lawrence, F. Warner Bros. Pictures: Roadshow Entertainment, 2007. Film.

Matheson, Richard. I am legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Resurrecting Religious Debate

30 April 2014

Dickenson’s poems are characterized by their layering of meaning through her use of words with complementary and or competing meanings. Therefore, her poems can seldom be defined to mean one specific thing. Dickenson uses the word resurrection in her poems, “A Lady red—Amid the Hill,” “While it is alive,”  “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” and “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” (poems 74, 491, 608, and 876, respectively.) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resurrection can have many different meanings. Mainly, resurrection refers to the resurrection of Christ or of the resurrection of Christ’s followers at the judgment. Resurrection can come as the reference to the return of someone or something that has been forgotten or dormant. Emily Dickenson uses the connotations and denotations of the word resurrection to create complex meditations into the understanding of the sometimes contradictory Christian World View.

In poems 74, “A Lady red—amid the Hill” and 608, “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” Dickenson uses the word resurrection to refer to Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of the saints, the second coming of Christ,  and the idea of earthly renewal. In poem 74, the word resurrection performs double duty as a reference to both the new spring and the second coming of Christ. The images of spring are evidenced throughout the poem in the words lily, breeze, tree, orchard, buttercup, and bird (Dickenson 4-6, 11).  The red flower on top if the hill symbolizes the saving power of the blood of Christ, and the white flower symbolize purity (Dickenson 1, 2). The wind sweeps down from the hill bringing the connotations of saving blood and purity to give the hints of the coming of the spring (Dickenson 5-8). The lines “Prithee My pretty Houswives!/Who may expected be?” seem to point to these hints of coming spring as being a metaphor for the second coming of Christ (Dickenson 7-8). The lines “As if the Resurrection/Were nothing very strange!” reinforce the metaphor of spring renewal and make obvious the connection to Christ (Dickenson 15-16).

Poem 608 also has two meanings of the word resurrection, one of renewal and the other the resurrection of the saints. However, this poem relates resurrection to the morning sunrise as indicated in the lines, “Of Resurrection? Is the East/ Afaid to trust the Morn” (Dickenson 9-10). The lines, “In one or two existences—/As Deity decree—” show how God gets to choose whether or not the speaker is worthy of the resurrection (Dickenson 7-8). One existence refers to the mortal existence and the second existence refers to the existence after the resurrection that would only be available to the worthy. Therefore aside of the ideas of earthly renewal these two poems deal with the word resurrection in a religious fashion.

In poems 491, “While it is alive,” and 876, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” rely more heavily on the nonreligious aspects of the word resurrection. Poem 491, “While it is alive” uses a religious tone and the word resurrection as a metaphor to describe love. The first half of the poem uses religious ideas such as being of one blood and of one sacrament as an abstract way to describe what it is like to be in love (Dickenson 4-5). In the second half of the poem, the word love is repeated three times as the first word of the lines (Dickenson 7-9). On the final repetition of the word love come the lines, “Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection/Scooping up the Dust and chanting Live!” the intentional use of the words fellow of the resurrection rather than the word God or Christ adds credence to the idea of this poem as a description of secular love by minimizing the religious connotations using the word fellow. Fellow is often used informally to mean a lover which helps the idea that the poem is primarily about love, but fellow can be used to mean boy or man. Therefore, the fellow of the resurrection bears a striking resemblance to the phrase resurrection man, and According to the Oxford English Dictionary a resurrection man digs up dead bodies and sells them. This connection with the unsavory profession of grave digging only further shows that this dissonance was intended to draw the reader’s attention away from the religious interpretation of the word resurrection in this poem. Although the religious imagery in this poem is very strong, it is only used as a way to describe the powerful feeling of being in love.

Poem 876, “It was a grave, yet bore no Stone” uses the word resurrection both as a reference to digging up an unmarked grave and as a way of wondering about how the person ended up dead and buried outside of a graveyard. The lines, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone/Enclose ‘twas not a Rail” show that the body was not in a grave yard (Dickenson 1-2). Stone refers to a grave marker, and rail refers to a fenced in graveyard. Therefore, the body had no grave marker and it was not within a graveyard. The last stanza begins with a line about resurrection, and the last two lines, “A Rose upon its Ridge to sow/Or take away a Briar,” refers to what is known as a resurrection flower or the Rose of Jericho. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a resurrection flower curls up into a ball and goes into a state of hibernation until it receives the water that it needs to bloom again. Sowing the rose or taking away its briar refers to the question of whether or not any information can be found out about the person in the unmarked grave. Therefore, poems 491 and 876 explore resurrection as a metaphor for love and the act of uncovering hidden or lost information.

Emily Dickenson complicated use of the word resurrection is as confusing as it is enlightening. Emily Dickenson uses religious ideas in her poetry in complex and varied ways. In effect, her religiously themed poems are guided debates on the implications of Christian belief.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “A Lady Red—amid the Hill.” N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?.” N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone.” N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “While it is alive.” N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

The Hippogriff among us… You can’t prove a negative? Yes I bloody well can!

I agree wholeheartedly.



I am truly sick of the theists trumpeting this logical fallacy as some immunising tactic of the idea of their imaginary friend.. The whole idea is folk-logic to begin with.. Lets not forget the statement ‘you can’t prove a negative’ is indeed a negative proof in and of itself…

What are they actually claiming? If it is that I can’t prove a negative beyond ‘all’ doubt, well nobody can prove anything let alone a positive beyond ‘all’ doubt can they.. Add to that one can always introduce a ‘maybe’ baby, perhaps Aliens constructed the Pyramids for example…

As an example lets trumpet the cogito, Descartes said in a nutshell ‘I think therefore I am’, so I can therefore prove ‘that I don’t not exist’…

If perhaps they expect that we fill-in the blanks in the claim they are making with the claim we know they are trying to make but…

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Graham’s Monthly Synthesizing the 19th Century

8 April 2014

Volume 48, January, 1856, Number 1 of Graham’s Magazine, Is a compilation of entertainment, education, fashion crafts, and music for 19th century families. By today’s standards, this would be considered to be a rather boring and poorly made magazine. It is mostly just words on a page. And when there are pictures they are crudely done black and white engravings rather than actual photographs. The pages are not slick and glossy, and the words are blurry and often obscured by the inkblots that abound throughout the issue. However, for its day Graham’s Magazine was a class act putting out a top of the line product.

The bulk of the magazine is high quality literary fiction and poems. Interspersed in the text of the magazine are nonfiction articles that have been chosen for their ability to entertain as well as educate. These nonfiction articles include one literature review, two reviews of cultural sites, and one human interest article. Because of the high cost and difficulty associated with printing pictures, the illustrations were saved for the embellishment of the most prestigious articles and the fashion section in the back of the issue.

This issue of Graham’s Magazine is targeted to an audience of middle and upper class men and women. Each of the illustrations, informative articles, short stories, and poems are all designed with their own target audience in mind. This issue is an almost even mix articles that are targeted to pique the interest of women and ones that are targeted to pique the interest of men. For example, “The Pirate Hoard” by W. Gilmore Simms is the first three chapters of a serial tale of the last two survivors of Blackbeard’s crew. This is a swashbuckling tale of a search for buried treasure that would likely attract male readers and children alike (54.) In contrast, “Judging by Appearances” by W. W. P. is an essay designed to help women to estimate a man’s character by outwardly observable traits such as his handwriting, the hairstyle that he wears, and the way that he wears his cravat. Although it does not explicitly state why a woman might need to judge a man’s character, this article is likely to attract an upper class female reader who wants to be able to choose from suitors without arousing their suspicions (59.) But what is more interesting is how the issue breaks down in terms of social class and politics.

There are also informative articles that depict cultural and historic places both foreign and domestic. The informative articles would be of interest to the upper class and middle class alike only for different reasons. The upper class likely used the used the articles as traveler’s guides to give them hints and tips in their travels while the middle class would use these articles to learn about and experience places that they could never afford to visit. However, in the case of “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” by Lieutenant Richard F. Burton of the Bombay Army, the article is a travelogue detailing his journeys within the holy lands of Islam that were off-limits to non-Muslims.

While on the surface this article seems like an innocent effort at educating the masses about the hidden places of the world the writer of this article and the editors of Graham’s Monthly have taken this time to express their political opinions about the followers of Islam. In the article itself, Lieutenant Burton takes every chance that he can get to the savage and animalistic behaviors of the people of this region. In one especially pointed instance Burton says, “[During the holy month of Ramadan] the men curse one another, and beat the women. The women slap and abuse the children, and these in their turn cruelly entreat and use harsh language to the dogs and cats” (48.) But the editors of Graham’s Monthly use a different tact to show their disdain of the Muslim people. The editors follow this article directly with the short poem, “The Red Flamingo” by R.H. Stoddard. “The Red Flamingo” reinforces Burton’s ideas of the Muslim lands as a backward and vulgar land with images of blood flowing over the desert sands (53.) Directly after the article about the animalistic Muslims, the editors printed a poem whose subject is the revenge on a group of Arabs for abduction of a woman. If this kind of intolerance was evidenced in a magazine today, there would be an outcry against the offending magazine and they would be forced to make a public apology.

Graham’s Monthly is a composite 19th century American culture as well as the culture of American literature up until this point. The article, “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” draws influence from early slave and captivity narratives for its narrative structure.  “Judging from Appearances” relies heavily on the culture of sentimentality pioneered by writers such as Olaudah Equiano. And the magazine format draws influence from newspapermen like Benjamin Franklin and his printing press. Therefore, Graham’s Monthly for better and for worse is a reflection of the culture of America.