Thursday, October 03, 2013

The political economy of zombies

This essay on the new zombie genre has a great analysis of the IP of the zombie apocalypse in Colson Whitehead's Zone One
In Whitehead's imagination, the forces that be – the remnants of the U.S. government still holding on to power and working to beat back the zombies and restart the world – have founded their efforts on preserving pre-apocalypse property rights.

Spitz is part of a cleanup crew searching a largely zombie-free downtown Manhattan for undead stragglers. That should be a party right?
But instead of fucking on the silk sheets of dead hedge fund managers, burning money for fun and stocking up with all the coolest stuff they find as they explore the emptied city, they are left to walk through New York coveting the abundance they see around them – because in Whitehead's world of the undead, you can only plunder brands that have sponsored your crew. According to the rules set down by the provisional U.S. government holed up in Buffalo and enforced by the local military authorities based in Manhattan's Chinatown (dubbed "Fort Wonton"), the party at the end of the world has been canceled.

In Zone One, a jingoistic administration is "rebranding survival." So if a single stockholder or executive of Nike has survived, he now owns all Nike shoes. If you want to lift a pair of Air Jordans, to snack on a box of Powerbars you happen to find or take a sip of Vitamin Water, you need corporate "sponsorship." Whitehead turns our current regime of patent trolls and copyright extension into the worst kind of dystopia: One that is exactly as shitty as right now – but with zombies.

In the post-catastrophe world of Zone One, some nameless corporation will still own the rights to the song "Happy Birthday to You," even if preserving that copyright means allowing all of humankind to go extinct. Whitehead's great zombie innovation is to suck all the joy out of the apocalypse – but by doing so, he shows you that the apocalypse should be fun. This isn't just a vision of capitalism gone sour; it is a vision of the American brand of capitalism as triumphant even in catastrophe. This is true zombie capitalism.

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