Monday, November 07, 2016


Gonna try and experiment with keeping it brief today, which basically means it'll probably be a longer read than normal - as I don't have time to write a post, delete it once my thoughts are gathered, write it again - remember what was the interesting thing I thought I wanted to get down, then delete it again then write another lengthy post and decide I've spent enough time and it goes up.

So getting tired of post-apocalyptic zombie-apocalypse genres. Or are we? Do they tap into something all-too-human that means we can basically consume it endlessly like pornography? I think maybe so, and I think that thing is some kind of network-theory grounded fantasy.

What do I mean by that? Well one thing I will concede from direct experience as true for artists - is the ability to move freely and vertically through society - not in the sense that it is easy to move from poverty to wealth in the social mobility sense, but that an artist kind of has a backstage pass to anywhere - which lest I sidetrack too far, I have not yet had the opportunity to go to court.

But a martial artist did in the form of Yagyu Munenori and he managed to strike another savage blow for practitioners over academics - so I'll let him explain network theory some 400 years before Kevin Bacon cured cancer - "There are only a few people close to a ruler, perhaps five or ten. The majority of people are remote from rulers. When many people resent their ruler, they will express their feelings. Now, when those close to the ruler have all along been after their own interests, and not in consideration of the ruler, and therefore serve in such a way that people resent the ruler, when the time comes, those close to the ruler will be the first to set upon him."

There's some solid cautionary advice in there, but the real insight is that the social brain has not evolved much in 400 years and you'd probably be no more capable of being influential in the world travelling back in time as you and I are now. But this guy managed to observe that no mater how large your fiefdom, your territories, your barracks of loyal retainers - we only really spend time with around 5-10 people. I believe modern day scientists have bumped that estimate up to about 30 people, and that the max number of social contacts our minds can handle maintaining is about 150 people. Dave Mcraney on his You Are Not So Smart points again that the army - the bastion of practice over academia - was way ahead of this with Romans breaking up their army into an organisational system that basically compensates for the limits of our social brains.

The point being that Yagyu's advice was probably welcome to the lords that read it because there's something quite depersonalizing in the experience of being told you are the head of an army of 10,000 that reigns over 200,000 civilians and yet you count up the people you know and it's around 30. We all live this depersonalizing experience any time you look at your friend-count on facebook. I have 699 friends - if I had to take a pop-quiz on naming 699 people that I'm friends with I couldn't even comprehend and once or twice in the past I've gone through that list and it feels like some kind of magic trick to realize I can recall each and every one of those people.

Fact is we live in both large cities and small villages - with the possible exception of you living in a city. My city is 4 million people, you know how many I would miss? Probably less than 699 to be perfectly honest.

So if some disease ravaged it and I found myself protagonist of a pretty saturated genre, I'd suddenly be living something much more reflective of my every day emotional reality. Me interacting in some combination of the 15-30 people I do that satisfies my emotional needs, and they rest being shambolic people that are dead to me and little more than a shambling possible threat.

And when I think about it, Zombocalypse films tend to be about as plotless as porno's. Even the movies tend to be episodic, at best structured around the central characters falling in love and paring up and contemplating bringing children into an uncertain world...

The Zombie genre appeals to our desire for connection and community, exploiting the scarcity-abundance relationship - which is to say if you have an abundance of one thing it naturally will create a scarcity of whatever that abundance consumes. The internet created an abundance of information/entertainment and has resulted in a scarcity of attention for example.

In this case though, a scarcity of economic agents creates an abundance in resources. The zombie-fantasy is one in which you can achieve a sense of community given that you and yours now have an abundance of time and material resources and don't need to service the economy.

Except that they have that sense of drama - there hasn't been that clever indie film yet about being left behind in the rapture only to realise that earth is paradise with a bunch of people gone and perhaps the chosen are the ones left behind? Except maybe that exists, because clever or not I probably wouldn't see it anyway.

No though, it isn't just adam and steve wandering through the worldwide garden of eden. Fetching canned goods has to come with some dramatic sense of peril - the zombies that simply want to consume us - a simplification of the economic non-community role in our lives. Something that isolates us emotionally, drains us of personality and has us singularly minded with trying to consume others to feed ourselves.

Thus, Zombie-apocalypse movies are really a 'slice of life' genre about everyday people trying to live despite the pressures of the economy forcing them to merely survive. Less fantasy than 'reality tv' and I suspect I like... neither genre. Though without porn I'll probably be watching more Zombie shit in the future.


No comments: