Fifth installment in the series about zombies in popular culture versus zombies in psychobilly.
READ THE PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS: SECTION A gives examples of the so-called Zombie Renaissance within recent popular culture; SECTION B discusses the origins and definitions of zombies that make us think they’re evil and must be killed; SECTION C talks about how zombie stories over time have corresponded to major fears or anxieties that permeate the masses; and SECTION D analyses the ways in which zombie movies help us prepare for disaster and learn strategies for surviving a real apocalypse.
So picking up where Section D left off: zombie narratives have their own hegemonic narrative that is retold time and time again to appease the audience, and it’s that humans must defeat the zombies and survive the apocalypse…. that is, until psychobillies turn this all on its rotting head.
THE PSYCHOBILLY ZOMBIE:
Richard Greene conducted an unofficial poll of his university students: “Among those who consider Undeath to be a bad thing, it’s generally regarded to be worse than death. I have a number of students who think it would be cool to be a vampire. Pretty much nobody, however, wants to be zombie” (4). Except psychobillies. Rejecting the hegemonic metanarrative, psychobillies don’t accept the idea that zombies are evil or bad, nor do they accept the idea that human survival is the imperative. Through their manipulation and appropriation of zombie popular culture, psychobillies subvert traditional narratives of survival by seeking out other possibilities for outlasting the apocalypse… as a rockin’ and rollin’ zombie.
As Washington Post journalist Carrie Donovan puts it, “Take an average rockabilly song about falling in love and add a verse about how that same girlfriend happens to be undead. That’s psychobilly.” Like fans of zombies in the popular sphere, psychobillies too use the walking dead to work through their fears of death and their anxieties about a collapsing social order, but in a very different way. Rather than wanting to kill zombies to re-enforce a sense of security, victory, and survival, psychobillies would rather be zombies. In order to understand why undeath is not considered to be a bad thing, let’s look at how zombies are represented within the subculture.
How the psychobilly zombie differs from the popular culture zombie:
Psychobilly art (event flyers, album covers, and arts & crafts made by and for the community) depicts zombies as relatively harmless, happy, cute, and even sexy. They’re having fun, they’re playing instruments, they’re rockin’ and rollin’. They’re in love, or surrounded by sexy female zombies. They’re even enjoying an exotic vacation on the beach in their summer wear in one flyer (the happy zombie couple has just beheaded a tourist and scrawled in blood ‘wish you were here’). These are clearly not the same zombies that popular culture has vilified. CHECK OUT THE SLIDESHOW TO SEE SOME OF THESE IMAGES
Lyrics further imagine the idealized benefits of zombie life in a (post)apocalyptic world and the activities they enjoy in the undead afterlife. For instance, according to several songs, sex is apparently best enjoyed with or as a zombie.
In the Mutilators’ song “I F*@ked a Zombie”, the protagonist goes to the cemetery with the intention of stopping the zombie apocalypse and putting “those god-damn zombies back in the ground”. But, to his surprise, “The last living dead girl, she looked so fine / I could not resist when she said ‘your grave or mine’?” Turns out, “she was the best [he] ever had”:
The sexy stench of rotting flesh
The grinding sounds as our bodies meshed
I came so quick but had to have another taste
When I saw the look of lust on what left of her face.
For a dead girl she gave me one hell of a ride
But somehow I was still not satisified
Until I realized she could be trained
To suck my d!@k the way I seen her sucking on those brains.
It’s so good being with a zombie girl that he has to apologize to his living girlfriend:
Baby I’m so sorry
But she’s the perfect girl for me
We’re gonna settle down, even though I’m six feet underground,
And start a zombie family.
– “I F*@ked a Zombie”, Mutilators
In the Cold Blue Rebels’ song “Worm Hole Hooker,” (listen to the song here) the men in the band find pleasure in the abundance of holes a dead woman has to offer. What begins as a morbid song about gangbanging a corpse takes a comical turn when the dead woman comes back to life to enjoy the activity:
She had enough holes to take them all at once.
Danny, Joe, and Draztic [members of Cold Blue Rebels], well they started the fun
And then another, and another, one by one.
Like a game of Twister and then she sat up and said.
I ain’t missing this just because I’m dead’.
– “Worm Hole Hooker”, Cold Blue Rebels
Living in an idealistic (post)apocalyptic fantasy world:
According to this re-written narrative, zombies apparently continue to do all the things that living psychobillies love to do. What’s more, they evidently do so without worrying about, well, anything. One of my psychobilly friends expressed to me: “It’s a win-win situation. You kill the zombies as long as you can but then it’d be awesome to be a zombie. It’s a party. It’s a world without responsibilities, a world without rules. You can do what you want. If the bartender tries to make you pay your tab you can just eat his brains. And if they shoot you, what do you care? You’re a zombie!”
Zombie life, as characterized by the above examples, is ideal. “Zombie existence is worry-free. They have no money, no bills, no jobs, no responsibilities” (Sklar). It’s a hedonistic fantasy that’s much preferable to today’s frustrations, disappointments, and struggles and serves as an escapist fantasy for working-class, subaltern psychobillies whose lives have been filled with real-life horror. People I know have lost their jobs (sometimes several times in a single year) due to this hard-hitting recession, lost their friends and family members in a war they see as increasingly pointless and devastating, lost others at home as a result of drug- or alcohol-related deaths or accidents, lost their sense of optimism (if they ever had it). For them, the apocalypse is very real. Life isn’t so great.
So why would they accept the hegemonic narrative, the one that insists that they should do whatever it takes to preserve life as we know it? It’s better to fantasize about a world where, as members of the living dead, they could continue to enjoy all the fun parts of life without any consequences. It’s easy and fun to be a zombie. They just wander around looking for brains, apparently while having the most amazing sex ever, playing psychobilly music, and cruising around in their vintage cars. They might even get to share a cigarette, a beer, and a song with Zombie Elvis or an Undead Carl Perkins.
FINAL INSTALLMENT: Zombie Minstrelsy
Donovan, Carrie. “Psychobilly, Creeping Into the Culture.” Washington Post, December 20, 1998. http://www.hayridetohell.com/press/wpost.html
Greene, Richard. “The Badness of Undeath” in The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless, ed. by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad. Chicago: Open Court, 2006.
Sklar, Annelise. “Can’t Sleep When You’re Dead: Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, and the Undead in Psychobilly” in Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead, ed. by Shawn McIntosh and Marc Leverette. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 2008.