Introducing the Spectral Visions Press Tarot Collection

Following the launch of Spectral Visions Press: Tarot Collection, Tegan Stevenson, who is an integral part of the press team, including editor and contributer of the new edition, introduces the book in further depth. Tegan has recently graduated from the University of Sunderland with a BA Honours in English and Creative Writing.

When I was asked to work on this project my first thought was, “wow”.

My second thought was, “how?”

I’d proofread small pieces of work for friends and classmates before but compiling an entire anthology was definitely something that I had never done. I was up for the challenge.

Thankfully, like most great achievements, I had a partner on the project. Danielle Shaw was the first to join me and her efforts when it came to managing and editing were tireless. Her passion for the work was a real inspiration throughout every stage. As well as her involvement behind the scenes, Danielle took the time to write her poem ‘Demeter’s daughter’ for the fifth illustration in the series, ‘The Hierophant’. As we sat on the train on our way to university, it was always fascinating to hear about her research into the meaning of that particular tarot card.

Of course, the production of the book really began with Katie Loyd. As an illustrator and artist who had worked with Spectral Visions Press before (Spectral Visions: Grim Fairy Tales was published in 2015 and contains artwork by Loyd), her beautifully drawn images depicting the Major Arcana of the tarot was met with enthusiasm. The illustrations were inspiring and I was lucky enough to be offered the chance of pairing the images with authors whose work would be published alongside the art.

Poetry was the initial and ultimately the only option to accompany the images. The singular focus upon one discipline of writing was unique in the repertoire of Spectral Visions Press to date and the approach we took was quite focused. The interest from writers willing to contribute was flatteringly high but there was no open call for submissions, barring a small post on the Spectral Visions Facebook group in the beginning to generate interest, instead each author was contacted personally by myself and Danielle. We were thrilled with the eager reactions we received.

We’d like to take a moment to thank the writers, in particular those who are not students or staff members of Sunderland University because their efforts were admirable. The response to our emails were great and I know that Danielle was especially elated by the positive response from Elisabeth Hewer, a published poet from South West England who has long been admired by Danielle (Her book Wishing for Birds was published in 2015 by Platypus Press). Elisabeth’s poem ‘High Priestess’ is the third poem in the SVP Tarot Collection.

All of the submissions, from students, staff and published authors alike, were fantastic and I remember being blown away when one writer, Ieuan Ivison approached us with a villanelle that he’d written within a couple of days. His poem ‘The Hanged Man’ accompanies the twelfth illustration in the collection.

The project became a team effort once we had received a poetry submission for each illustration and every person who was a part of the project was incredibly focused and passionate during each stage which was remarkable considering that they were working on the book during their final months at university.

We were lucky to have our proofreading team and our in-project copyeditor as well as our typesetter and cover artist: Kate Edmonds, Penny Metcalfe, Laura Stock, Jack Gray and Sacha Margetson. For some of us we were using new skills which makes their efforts even more outstanding.

As for me, I began as a project manager. I gathered interest, submissions and a team, but my role didn’t end there. I worked as an editor with Danielle. I was a typesetter. I was a designer as I made the initial sketches which were taken by Sacha and transformed into a beautiful front and back cover for the book. Most of these stages involved skills in a way that I’d never used them before but I am so proud of the work that was done and I sincerely hope that I will have the chance to work this way again in the future. My poem ‘The Tower’ is the sixteenth piece of writing in the series.

The Spectral Visions Press: Tarot Collection is a beautiful anthology of art and poetry developed and put together by the students of the University of Sunderland.

 

You can purchase your own copy of Spectral Visions Press: Tarot Collection on Amazon now. Just follow this link: (X)

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Monstrosity and Misogyny: The Intellectual Victims of Hegemonic Discourse

After a short break, we are back, with the second instalment of Katie Watson’s article on Mary Shelley. Katie graduated with a BA Honours in English and Drama and is currently studying an MA in English Studies.

Continuing my discussion of Mary Shelley and the monstrous woman, I wish to digress further into the feminist movements that surrounded Shelley and led to a great many other women to be deemed monsters.

The 1790s saw the first real rise of the radical woman. There had been intellectual women in the past with an agenda for achieving better rights for women but this decade saw a vast increase in the publication of texts with a feminist agenda, both fictional and theoretical, for example, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Mary Hays’s A Victim of Justice (1799). The former text was written by none other than Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. The pioneer of feminism, Wollstonecraft strove for the education of females, equal rights and the abolition of marriage as a patriarchal institute.

This rise of feminism directly confronted the entire male hegemony that had dominated society for millennia, thus, unfortunately, with this literary movement, came the social portrayal of these radicals as monsters.

Wollstonecraft’s reputation was systematically destroyed by reviews and social gossip. She went against the tide not only in her literature; she practiced what she preached, giving birth to a bastard child, Fanny Imlay, attempting suicide twice and spending time alone and unmarried, with men. This destruction culminated after her death when her husband, William Godwin, published her Memoirs. In this he revealed all the aforementioned information that had remained concealed until then. Wollstonecraft became a “hyena in petticoats” (Mills, C. 2015) according to our most beloved gothic father, Horace Walpole. She was nothing more than an animal, a bestial creature in the guise of a woman, a monster.

This divergence from the social norm spread to everyone around her. You need only refer to my previous article to see how her famous daughter strove against conformity. Her first daughter, Fanny Imlay, committed suicide as a young woman, the ultimate act of monstrosity: self-murder and sacrilege. Folklore told that suicides may indeed come back as vampires, and so to prevent any more claims of monstrosity being thrown towards the family, William Godwin and Percy Shelley worked to cover up the girl’s death, claiming it was the result of a short illness.
As a young woman Wollstonecraft worked briefly as a governess in Ireland for the Kingsborough family. Refusing to stick to the standard curriculum for girls, Wollstonecraft taught the Kingsborough daughters about more masculine subjects, and allowed them to go outside for great lengths in order to strengthen them. One of these daughters, Mary, felt the lasting effects of Wollstonecraft’s antisocial feminism. Mary fled her home to the continent, leaving her husband and children, there dressing as a man and training to become a doctor. Another monster in this misfit family.

Finally is Mary Shelley’s stepsister, Jane Clairmont. After Wollstonecraft’s death Godwin married his neighbour, Mary Jane Clairmont. Clairmont’s daughter eloped with Mary and Percy Shelley in 1813. She later had an affair with Byron which resulted in the birth of their daughter. Godwin and her mother, however, believed the child to be Percy Shelley’s as rumours of their behaviour as the league of incest grew in England. Jane Clairmont was deeply struck by Wollstonecraft, she changed her name to Claire in defiance of her mother and took on Wollstonecraft’s birthday as her own.

Thus it is often the case that with the rise of feminism, be it first, second or third wave, there is also the rise of the monstrous woman. The hegemonic male fear of the woman’s power, both seductive and intellectual. These women were struck down and cast out of the society they desperately tried to change for the better. Ignored was their intellectual capability, highlighted was their deviation from the norm. So always remember, ladies, patriarchy hates deviance.

Mills, C. (2015) Mary Wollstonecraft: A Hyena in petticoats, or just misunderstood? Available at: http://www.headstuff.org/2015/01/mary-wollstonecraft-hyena-petticoats-just-misunderstood/ (Accessed: 28 July 2016).

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Frankenstein’s Summer Holiday

To end our discussion on Monstrous Women, Katie Watson brings you the introduction of an interesting two-part read on Mary Shelley and how a woman with no supernatural power can just as easily possess a ‘monstrous’ title. Katie graduated with a BA Honours in English and Drama and is currently studying an MA in English Studies.

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Credit: Flickr

Spectral Visions have recently collected a series of pieces on the Monstrous Woman. Aside from the fictional female monsters our society has been replete with since Classical times (just take a look at Medusa), there are women not supernatural or superhuman, not evil or demonic, yet still typified as monstrous. The concept of the Suffragettes as social monsters to the hegemonic patriarch was explored by Olivia Metcalfe. I would like to follow a similar lead. One such woman, daughter of a celebrated feminist, a runaway at 16, eloping with a married man, was a disgrace, a monster to her society. Perhaps even the monster in her own allegorical tale. The insightful, emotive and sympathetic first person narration from the monster’s perspective suggests so.

 

Coming up is the bicentenary of that fateful night on Lake Geneva where amidst drugs, sex and speculation a tale of terror was born.

 

The galvanist theme so prevalent in Mary Shelley’s timeless Frankenstein (1818) was not just a nightmare for the authoress. The summer of 1816, or lack thereof, was filled with tempests, thunder, lightning. Electricity was in the air.

 

It was the result of an environmental phenomenon that the League of Incest and, indeed, the rest of the world would not believe could cause such international meteorological distress. Beyond contemporary scientific comprehension, the world was terrified: crops wiped out, floods, and perpetual darkness. This was certainly reflective of the apocalyptic suggestions in Revelations. Was our God destroying humankind in its new, enlightened state of secularism? A fitting punishment for a world playing with the flame of science.

 

A catastrophic volcanic eruption, thousands of miles from Shelley, then Miss Godwin, in South East Asia lead to mass devastation. Tens of thousands killed instantly.

 

It was the year without a summer.

 

Remarkably comparable with our own tumultuous weather. Hail stones and snow in late April. It’s almost as if that same ominous thunder bolt that struck a bulb in Shelley’s head is ready to strike again. Or perhaps it is a sublime homage to that brilliant writer, a reminder that we should be careful playing with fire and tempting fate.

 

The summer of 1816 was ruined by a natural event. Can we say the same of our own weather? Or perhaps our Promethean hand has had a part to play in it.

 

How very Gothic indeed that we may be the result of our own destruction…

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Lady Macbeth: A Misunderstood Monster?

As part of our Monstrous Women collection, Rachel Duarte has contributed with a detailed analysis on the ultimate femme fatale, Lady Macbeth. Rachel graduated from the University of Roehampton with a BA Honours in Drama and Dance, and a PGCE in English and Drama. She is the Head of English at Wolsingham School and is currently studying an MA in English studies.

So we’re here to talk about monsters, monstrous women to be precise. Yet just what do we mean by a monstrous woman? One who is a hideous, ugly beast; a giant superhuman; an evil sub-human killer? Or simply a frustrated female fed up with being subjected to the unfairness of a dominant patriarchal society and unwilling to play along with the feminine stereotype dreamt up by men?

One of the earliest archetypal monstrous femme-fatales has to be the iconic Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare’s meatiest role for a woman. She is cruel, cunning and conniving, convincing her husband to commit the ultimate crime: regicide in her quest for power and control. Yet is she really the monster she is often made out to be or is she really a scapegoat for male fears and concerns about intelligent women?

So just what is the case for Lady Macbeth?

Let’s start with the evidence. The first time she is seen on the stage she is reading a letter from her husband explaining his encounter with the witches and their subsequent prophecies. Described as his ‘dearest partner in greatness’ it is immediately clear that she is not a subservient minion responsible for running an efficient household, but rather an intellectual equal, even a superior, with powerful brains, foresight and intelligence. Is it any surprise then that such a smart woman would not be content to stay in the shadows, playing second fiddle to her man and confined to the domestic role? What would be more natural than for such a character to strive for a more stimulating role in life? It is a sure sign of the times that simply by naming her his ‘partner in greatness’ and his equal sets her up as an unnatural wife, a woman to be afraid of – a ‘monster’!

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Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth – Credited to John Singer Sargent

As a genuinely insightful woman, she understands from the start that her husband is ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’ (1,5) to fulfil their joint ambitions and so realises that she has a job of persuasion on her hands. She knows that, despite all her qualities, it is only through her husband’s promotion that she can gain any active control over her destiny and so she knows she has to persuade him to “do the deed” (1,5)

Her next speech depicts her summoning spirits and it is this soliloquy, which is often used as damning evidence in the charges of monstrosity. As she calls on those evil beings who ‘tend on mortal thoughts’ (1,5) asking to be filled ‘from top to toe with direst cruelty’ (1,5) and for all compassion and remote to be effectively ‘stopped’ there are clear parallels with those other monstrous women in the play: the witches. However, she also rather strangely asks to be ‘unsexed’, a curious and telling command and one, which reveals quite another aspect of her character. By asking to be made androgynous, Lady Macbeth recognises that, as a woman, she has feelings, which would make her unequal to the role of murder and even that of accomplice. She needs to be ‘filled with cruelty’ as it is not in her nature. She requires her feminine emotions and empathy to be removed in order to go ahead with her plan, highlighting that she does have these emotions, but she sees them as a sign of weakness. In a society filled with barbaric battles and the most vicious fighting, is it any wonder that power is viewed as in the hands of those who seize it for themselves? Merely because Lady Macbeth is a woman existing in a man’s world can we condemn her for trying to emulate male behaviour in order to achieve her political aims?

Another male fear and literary trope of the monstrous woman is the female who emasculates her man. Again, Lady Macbeth is shown to use this method effectively to shake up her reluctant husband in order to persuade him to go ahead with killing King Duncan. Calling him a baby and metaphorically ‘unmanning’ him indeed hits a sore spot and ultimately succeeds in ‘screwing his courage to the sticking place’ (1,7). So does this really make Lady Macbeth a monster? Surely, behind the majority of great men (to quote the song) there has to be a great woman (Franklin, 1985) and across history it is the females in the background who have made their men into household names. It is again a mark of her own frailty that she needs Macbeth to do the actual killing while she waits for him to go ‘about it’. Surely if her husband were a real man he would not allow himself to be easily convinced by a few taunts and insults.

Probably the most damning evidence in the argument of Lady Macbeth’s monstrous identity is in this speech. Her admission that:

[…] I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums

And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this. (1.7.62-67)

is a horrific image clearly intended to create abhorrence in the viewing audience. What greater evidence could there be of an unnatural monster; a woman who would willingly kill her own offspring is surely pure evil. Indeed, this statement does the trick and drives Macbeth to agree to kill the king. Yet, if we look more closely, look beyond the hyperbolic admission and at the grammatical construction of these words, a rather different perception is waiting. By using the subjunctive mood here, Shakespeare actually writes that she ‘would…have…dashed the brains out, had I so sworn…’ meaning that she would have killed her own baby if she had promised to do so. Obviously she did not make any such promise and so can safely claim to commit any heinous crime safe in the knowledge that is it simply a tool in her persuasive armoury.

So Lady Macbeth stands as one of literature’s most monstrous female characters and as such she has to be punished. Her demise is both pitiful and ironic. As the partner who ensured her husband’s success, the clever accomplice covering his back when he went to pieces, she pays the ultimate price for claiming the ultimate prize. As Macbeth withdraws his support and effectively abandons her to her guilty conscience, madness descends and suicide beckons. Her ‘unwomanly’ behaviour, which threatened the male hegemony, is her downfall in order for Shakespeare to maintain the patriarchal status quo.

The monstrous Lady begins the literary trope of the ‘mad woman in the attic’ and so a whole stereotype is born.

References:

Image rights obtained:

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Shakespeare, W. (1997) Macbeth (Wordsworth classics) (Wordsworth classics). United Kingdom: Wordsworth Editions

Frankin, A. 1985. Sisters are doing it for Themselves. Arista Records. United States.

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The suffering of a Suffragette and the Monsters of the Patriarchy

We welcome back, Olivia Metcalfe who writes about the suffering inflicted on the Suffragette activists in a patriarchal Britain.  Olivia graduated with a BA Honours in English Language and Literature and is now studying an MA in English Studies.

In British history women were rarely given equal status, their voices often unheard over the loud roars of men. The suffragettes changed this ideology, transforming Britain forever. The suffragette movement was the campaign for the right to vote for women, aiming to obtain equality for women in political representation. By challenging archaic patriarchal views the suffragettes would have been viewed as monstrous women, those who transgressed the boundaries of how a woman was expected to behave. They left the domestic sphere, caused a commotion in public and fought for change in a time of conformity. This article will discuss the suffragettes in relation to the anxieties they represented to the patriarchy. It will also focus on the adverse treatment these women experience at the hands of our government and law system, fighting for rights that women in the twenty-first century generally take for granted. It is vital to not just remember their accomplishments but their suffering too.

Mary Wollstonecraft, in her Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) attacked the domestic homely image of women ‘the weak elegancy of mind, exquisite sensibility and sweet docility of manners, supposed to be the sexual characteristics of the weaker vessel’ (p.76). Wollstonecraft, an early influential activist, believed that women should share the same rights as men due to their common humanity. The suffragettes, both women and men, have been immortalised in both media and literature, remembered for acts of valour and courage, paving the way for equality. By achieving this, women were given a voice in not just the political sphere but in the domestic environment too. Angela Smith of the University of Sunderland speaks about the inspirational legacy the suffragettes have left us, ‘What I was left with was a very strong sense of admiration for the courage these women must have had to campaign publicly for these rights.’ They reshaped the identity of women by becoming strong and empowered, encouraging others to follow, modernising archaic views in a pursuit for equality.

 The spheres of society were now changing, women were realising that they were not confined to the domestic household and were exploring new ventures. However this did not come without a price, suffragette activists were brutalised by the authorities and subjected to inhumane methods of torture, this included being beaten and squalid prison conditions. Perhaps the most common was the method of force-feeding; this was to limit hunger strike casualties and to discourage the image of a suffragette martyr. This method was seemingly medieval, the individual was strapped down and force fed through the nostrils or the stomach. This caused short-term damage to the circulatory system, digestive system and nervous system and long-term damage to the physical and mental health of the suffragettes. Geddes (2008) states the long term effect this brutality had on some women, ‘Some suffragettes who were force-fed developed pleurisy or pneumonia as a result of a misplaced tube.’ This method was carried out with little consideration for health or comfort, thus resulting in further injury or death.

Lady Constance Lytton was an influential British suffragette activist, writer and campaigner for votes for women, prison reform and birth control. Her account of her experiences as a suffragette is instrumental in understanding the horrific treatment many were subjected to. She gives her shocking account of her experiences as a suffragette. Within this, she includes her medical report revealing the extent of her injuries received while in Holloway prison. ‘The patient’s look of extreme illness, malnutrition and bad colour led me to examine her heart carefully’ (p.301). The concern of her examiner warranted a final examination, which revealed sinister news: ‘The most superficial examination of the heart cannot fail to reveal the grave risk to health and life to which the patient was exposed during the forcible methods of feeding’ (p.302). Women who challenged the patriarchy were in danger of losing their lives, thus gives a disturbing message from the British authorities: fight for reform and be silenced. These women were seen as monstrous females, those who transgressed the boundaries of society in order to obtain a fairer future. We owe our freedom to these activists, those who created a fairer Britain and expose the horrors of the patriarchy. Society was the monstrous force, not the women who opposed it. Lady Constance Lytton’s premature death was most likely caused by the trauma she experienced at Holloway Prison, however, her passion captures the spirit of the suffragette movement. This is clear in her account which describes her self-mutilation ‘I had decided to write the words “Votes for Women” on my body, scratching it in my skin with a needle’. Like many other suffragettes, she was willing to wear her pride not just in her heart but on her skin, proudly on display to show her passion could not be broken under mental or physical torture. The future of Britain was carved through the admirably resilient spirit of the suffragettes; these remarkable characters disregarded their own safety in order to ensure future generations. In a society where free thinking and wild passion were limited to only one sex, change was inevitable, we thank these women for the opportunities our mothers, ourselves and our children have been given.

Reference List

Geddes, J. F. (2008). “Culpable Complicity: the medical profession and the forcible feeding of suffragettes, 1909–1914”.

Lytton, C. L., Lytton, L.C. and Warton, J. (1976) Prisons and Prisoners: Experiences of a Suffragette. Wakefield, England: Charles River Books.

Smith, A (2016)

Wollstonecraft, M. (1792) A Vindication of the Rights of Women. London. J. Johnson.

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The Darkness Within: Vampirism in Dracula (1897) compared to 21st century vampirism with reference to American Horror Story ‘Hotel’ (2015)

In conjunction with our contemporary media series, Olivia Metcalfe has studied vampirism as a virus in Dracula and American Horror Story: Hotel. Olivia graduated with a BA Honours in English Language and Literature and is now studying an MA in English Studies.

The Vampire is a monster which has existed in our culture for centuries. We are fascinated by its beauty, strength and, more importantly, insatiable thirst for human blood. These factors rarely change, however, it is evident that the image of the Vampire has evolved. In this article I will examine the evolution of the Vampire in popular culture, focussing upon Stoker’s archetypal figure of Dracula and American Horror Story’s Countess.

I will concentrate on gender and the contrast in the vampirism virus in both characters.
Gender is an important factor to consider in this comparison. It would be unlikely for a female of the late Victorian period to command the fear and control that Dracula exerts and therefore, it is relevant that Dracula is male in the novel to represent a true picture of Victorian society. Although there are female vampires present in the novel, they are submissive to Dracula and under his control. The three vampire brides are predatory, yet they are unable to hunt for their own prey relying on Dracula to provide victims.
American Horror Story chooses a female vampire figure to lead and this demonstrates that women can also be dominant and monstrous. The owner of the Hotel Cortez, Countess (Elisabeth), is a century old vampire who is reliant on a diet of blood and sex. The Countess chooses and disposes of her lovers frequently to fill the empty void caused by the loss of her true love, Rudolph Valentino. By exerting violence and control in a seemingly emotionless manner the Countess is a remarkable character. She commands her victims with her sexuality and charm, unlike Dracula who controls with supernatural power. The Countess confesses: ‘I was drawn to the darkness I felt within him. I ached to be consumed by it.’ (Episode 7, Flickers). We can all be attracted to the darkness within ourselves and have the capacity to do monstrous deeds. American Horror Story shows us that supernatural attributes are not necessary; this need may exist in everyone.

Vampirism can be seen as a blood virus. Both Dracula and The Countess embrace their monsters, however, it’s clear that their viruses differ as vampirism has now evolved to suit a new audience. Dracula uses blood to link him to his victims, spreading the disease in order to multiply his race. The infected blood is used as a portal for the disease of vampirism to spread, similar to that of an STI. Dracula is the prototypal foreign other. The spread of vampirism coursing through England is used by Stoker to show the social anxieties of the late Victorian period. On of the anxieties being the idea of the foreign migrant overtaking England, attempting to change the face and cultural values of the country.

American Horror Story reinvents the typical vampire, focussing on vampirism as a similar virus, yet with different symptoms and results. ‘I prefer the term “ancient blood virus,”’ co-creator Ryan Murphy tells EW. ‘It’s not vampires,’ he adds, ‘It’s really a form of hemophilia [SIC] in a way. There are no capes and fangs.’ By drinking the infected blood the virus is spread, however, the modern vampire moves among us using blades instead of the typical razor sharp fangs. This questions the supernatural aspect of the vampire. American Horror Story shows that monstrosity is not solely limited to the supernatural. Although these creatures possess qualities that differ from mortals such as perfect health, vitality, and everlasting life, the vampires are made more human and relatable to us than Dracula ever was. The Countess is the perfect example of this. Although she commits atrocities, she emulates motherhood and female tendencies by creating her own family unit. This questions whether the maternal instinct is embedded into every female being, even those who are monstrous. This is not limited to her barely human child Bartholomew, but to the children and the adults she turns. The Countess states ‘I saved him, like I save all my children’ (Episode 5, Room Service) she claims to have saved her chosen victims from a wasted life allowing them to use their full potential. The vampire children in the basement are treated as her own; she feeds them, provides them with shelter and even entertainment. There is a notable maternal aspect in the Countess which is not present in the character of Dracula. She possesses human aspects such as kindness and mercy, be it rare, it is there. This can be seen with her relationship with Liz Taylor, a trans-woman trapped in a double life filled with self-hatred and despair. The Countess saves Liz and transforms her into the woman she was born to be, allowing her to live and work in her hotel.

Our view of vampires has been shaped and changed. They are no longer archaic ancient beings with uncontrollable bloodlust, they are made more acceptable. It is evident that they are not human but by giving these characters human attributes we are allowed to sympathise and even admire.
References
Chapman, E. (2016) http://vamped.org/2015/11/15/virus-or-vampires-the-case-for-the-undead-in-american-horror-story-hotel/ [Online source] [Accessed 13.3.16]
‘Flickers’ (2015) American Horror Story: Hotel. Series 5, episode 7, FX, date of transmission
‘Room Service’ (2015) American Horror Story: Hotel. Series 5, episode 5, FX, 4 November.

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‘This is not a democracy anymore’ –Capitalism and Consumption, the 21st century Zombie metaphor

In conjunction with our photo shoot, Degeneration: The All American Nightmare, Jennie Watson has contributed with an article on consumerism and zombie culture. Jennie graduated with a BA Honours in English and Drama and is currently studying an MA in English Studies. She also works closely with Spectral Visions Press as Deputy Editorial Team Leader.

The American Dream is the ethos of the Land of the Free, but what does it really represent? Does it mean prosperity for all who work hard regardless of social order, or is it a materialistic ideology that enslaves rather than emancipates? Are the fast cars and the big house with the white picket fence really just around the corner? In truth, the representation of the American Dream is different for every American. With racial discrimination still rife, is the American Dream not a meaningless platitude used by the middle-class white American to give others hope of attaining the unattainable? Does it encourage the unfortunate to reach out for wealth, then place chains around their grasping hands? The picket fences cannot protect those dwelling inside from the decay at the very core of this mindless ideology.

Three students from the University of Sunderland: Rosie Hordon-Clark, Rachael Coady, and James Hogg were able to capture the essence of this ideology in their photo shoot Degeneration: The All American Nightmare, with photographer David Newton. Jenah Colledge, the Creative Director, wanted to bring the perception of the all-American Dream to life, with a Stepford Wife 1940’s ideology, juxtaposed with a horrifying zombie reality.

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The Stepford Wives

 

When you study the photos of our 1940’s models in the image above, it is disturbing for two reasons: firstly, because of the grotesque nature of the two juxtaposing images that exhibit the idyllic all-American family with the horror of the Zombie. Secondly, it highlights the real social anxieties that decay the ethos idea mentioned earlier, that strives for progress. These social anxieties created a society in which the aimless, wandering, zombie became the terrifying, yet pertinent monster prevalent in today’s culture. This capitalist ideology thrusts the zombie metaphor into twentieth and twenty-first century culture.

Whenever there is a time of social unrest or change, or when great accomplishments are made in science and medicine, this progress is often haunted by the ever-resurgent gothic monster.  The fin de siècle, for instance, was a progressive era, and here we see the creation of monsters like Dracula and Mr Hyde, whereas the twentieth century brought us the zombie. The zombie narrative exploded into twentieth century culture and spread its pervasive infection into literature, media and academia. We need not look far to see it in action. We turn on the television or open a newspaper and all around us the capitalist and consumerist ideology is forced upon us. The media drives us to consume, to want a faster car, a bigger house, and a higher fence. The potential prosperity of the individual is now the driving factor. Community cohesion and solidarity is no longer of value.   Marx (1992) says that ‘In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality while the living person is dependent and has no individuality’.  The zombie is the conspicuous consumer, yet it is also the victim of consumption. Capitalism and consumerism work hand in hand to produce the ideal society and the zombie metaphor thrives on this. ‘Capital is dead labour, which vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour and lives more, the more labour it sucks’ (Marx 1976). The zombie metaphor depicts the struggle of the proletariat against the culture which consumes it.

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It’s not all black and white

 

George Romero exhibits this culture in his 1978 movie, Dawn of the Dead. The zombies have an intrinsic instinct leading them to the shopping mall, which in turn is where the survivors run for refuge. The movie questions our own sense of individuality; has the society of control insidiously altered our instincts to such an extent that we now instinctively consume? If so, the driving force of capitalism is not merely shown to be individual monetary gains, but forced consumption brought about by subliminal control. The zombies are not only the proletariat, they are the state themselves, and they are a superstructure embodying the vicious circle of the capitalist world and man’s perpetual thirst for power. The zombie is the monster that mirrors the failings of the twenty-first century. It serves as a stark reminder of the consequence of capitalism and mindless consumers.

The notion of control is prolific in Stephen King’s Cell. King’s first real venture into the zombie genre comes at a time of great technological advancements in mobile phone technology and the rise of the social media monster. Cell depicts a virus that infects the victim through their cell phone.  Technology is another area of progress in the twentieth century, and thus a cause of social anxiety. The differing changes create contraptions which free us from the burden of thought. We no longer need to think for ourselves because the answer to any question is at the end of a 9-inch screen. The desensitisation of human beings towards each other and their surroundings are shown through the new forms of media, which are a kind of technological anaesthetic. This itself, is another form of control and consumption. Even the most basic human function of communication is now reliant on the newest technology.

When looking at the zombie culture, we must also look at the survivors and what they represent. These fortunate few are the proletariat fighting back against the exploitative system, as Marx exhorts them to do: ‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries unite!’ (Marx 1992). The band of survivors are fighting against consumption and live in a world of political and social freedom. As we see in the majority of zombie apocalypse literature and movies, the survivors always regress to a more primitive society.

In Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, the survivors form their own societies within a farm. Living off the land is imperative to their survival. We see small communities such as Alexandria and The Hilltop striving to build a small society where there is no forced labour. Those who work, work to build up a community. They know if mankind is to genuinely prosper, it must be as a collective. Rather than compete with one another, members of these societies work for the benefit of all. The idea of this communal living is in stark contrast to the culture of individualism we find ourselves in today. Although it is the survivors who are judged to be living the primitive lifestyle, the pernicious all-consuming ideology rife in today’s society is arguably more primitive as it highlights selfishness, not befitting a social animal such as man. What makes a society a peaceful and righteous one is its return to communal living, where people live in small communities without forced labour. The democratic societies that profess a belief in the modern notion of freedom, free speech and free will are the very societies that enslave us into the mass of mindless controlled zombies, that society has become.

Degeneration: The All American Nightmare – Photo shoot (x)

A full album of the photo shoot can be found here (x)

Reference List
MARX, K., ENGELS, F., MOORE, S., & MCLELLAN, D. (1992). The Communist manifesto. Ox-ford, Oxford University Press.

Marx, K Mandel, E (1976). Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 1 . London: Penguin Books Ltd.

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