.PROGRAM __INITIATIVE FOR ART AND ARCHITECTURE COLLABORATIONS.
by Bernadette Corporation
In the age of the head count, the creation and control of crowds (the masses in mass production) position bodies as a space of operation. More than the total available land and natural resources, a population’s property is also the capacity to act and be acted upon. Influence is the degree to which this human capital can be stockpiled and channelled. To arrive at such a mass, refinements are needed. In the refinery there is a coherent and coextensive assortment of physical filters, metaphoric agents, symbolic containers, libidinal hoses, etc., enough to fabricate substances such as the clan, the nation, the family, the school, the marketplace, the factory, the office, the car, the computer, the circus, etc. Without these devices, bodies would be a useless prime material, unsuitable for such things as suicide bombers plunging into crowds, films taking-off or crashing on their box office figures, political parties mobilizing the voter competitions, pollsters culling approval ratings for presidents and policies, or demonstrations in the streets expressing the will of citizens. The “masses in mass production” is a way of articulating the integration of bodies that produce their conditions as much as being produced by them. Understood as such, mass activity necessitates mass organizing, embracing patterns of organization that are difficult to avoid let alone be emancipated from. There is money to be made from the mass, and the mass in turn makes money. Everyone is part of the crowd, even if the collective agreement on what defines an individual promotes self-serving competition, striving to make it, and never waiting on line. Therein lies the ambivalence of mass economics where everyone needs everyone else while pursuing an individualistic ideal that wants distinction and separation. Both the upper class family with a well-stocked home in a gated community and the embattled group of survivors fending off zombies from their enclave share the same perverse quest for privacy.
The modern anonymous zombie appears in books and films in the 1960s as an exponentially growing horde not only killing its victims but also turning them into zombies that overwhelm humanity. This notion of a viral undead cannibalism upgraded the zombie myth from the Haitian voodoo slave popularized in early 20th century, and it is worth noting that this modification was introduced at a time when overpopulation threatened to become a global catastrophe. By the mid 1970s, the human population of the Earth was rapidly approaching 4 billion whereas in 1927 it was around 2 billion, and in 1804 it was at 1 billion. The notion of an excess of bodies as the ruin of humanity took its place alongside nuclear annihilation as proof that modernization was equipped with a death drive. On the lighter, more positive side of things, capitalism was busy wiping out traditional diversity and replacing it with consumerist homogeneity, offering people convenience, affordability, and the ugly prospects of becoming a clone with the same desires and lifestyle as everyone else. That the popular imagination could be spooked by an army of zombies and not a herd of werewolves indicates something in general about the fears of a civilization that was well into its program of mass management and control, and specifically underlines the individualistic nightmare of being caught between dehumanizing work and bland leisure time. After a workweek of feeling like a machine or robot, one could watch too much television over the weekend and turn into a mindless, bored, and hungry monster.
An officially sanctioned alternative to suicide, becoming a zombie is now a legitimate option. From TV-zombies to Drug-zombies, Porno-zombies, Internet-zombies or Computer game-zombies, zombification is common enough to resemble a lifestyle choice. No longer tied to extraordinary circumstances such as being enslaved by a voodoo sorcerer, rising from the grave because of a radioactive meteor, or being bitten by another viral zombie, the contemporary ordinary zombie is an affective state resulting from a psychological impasse. Those susceptible are the ones left behind and exiled from a social life: the precarious, the excluded, shut-ins, the unemployed, prisoners, chronic depressives, teenagers, old folks in retirement homes, the homeless, the mentally ill. It is as if the ideal independence of personal competition carries with it a strong risk of real separation when the stress becomes too much. Left with a worthless individuality and no particular narrative or experience while still having to survive, these living dead are the masters of failure and the elites of rejection. Inassimilable and maladjusted, they provoke a counter-ideal, creating New Zombie Paranoia and fear of contamination. Self-estrangement from one’s proper zombie mass is a condition that hounds those who passionately dream of alternatives and a way out. Every utopia has been discredited, it seems, while bohemia and the seductive margins of urban life have vanished. For those who are extremely agitated and inflamed by their resolution to subvert the existing way of things, the dangers are quadrupled. No longer a hope for popular revolt and change, today’s mass is completely middle class. The proletariat is gone, and in its wake there is only proletarianization, a marginalization and poverty without communal identification, without class politics. The petty bourgeois mass represents a crushing norm, and at the tail end of that norm is the full weight of an economy and government with the one, true plan of organization that is in turn rationalized as the only way to manage so many people on the planet. Swept away and forgotten, the zombie persists in this circular logic, waiting to rise and walk the streets in broad daylight.
In the vestibules of capitalist conscience, where conservation rubs shoulders with conservatism, environmental disaster has elbowed out overpopulation for topicality and importance. This reckless depletion of natural resources indicates a serious shortfall of responsibility, all sides agree, but when the debates begin there emerges a daring, giddy, push-to-the-limit inclination that wants to bet on the pressure of disaster creating a technological innovation to save the day. Discipline and sober guilt take a backseat to the risk-taking dynamics essential to a free market wherein scarcity and surplus are not opposable terms but flexible units of measurement. A scarcity of merchandise can mean a runaway success for the manufacturer and a deadly blow against the retailer just as a surplus of eligible workers can spell doom for consumer spending while serving the boon of a discount labour pool. Depletion and greed are as necessary as overproduction, the production of excess, warehouses full of goods that will rot, entire sections of society that are left to rot. Products that quickly become waste and will never go away are zombie plastics. The medieval precursor to the zombie, the revenant, was a nasty neighbour or relative who would rise from the dead and return to continue tormenting the family or community, a local nuisance. Unemployment is the number one enemy from within today, a revenant return of the repressed. What is repressed is the mass desire for happiness and escape from its self-organized social system. Buried in the unconscious, this desire can only return as the negation of being unemployed, the fact of having an endless supply of free time without the money to enjoy it.
No longer limited to apocalyptic scenarios and fantasies, today’s zombie is a process zombie whose threat lies more in evolution than the threat of extinction. It is a metaphor for the control going out of control, the devices unchained, the flood of the subjects going back negatively into the devices that produced them. A crowd that is thwarted in its pursuit of a desire and doesn’t know what to do with itself begins to test its own massness, begins to walk on powerful zombie legs. The horror of a mass uncontrolled has replaced the terror of the popular revolution because if revolt happens today it has the character of something irrational and unconscious. The scientific view of the unconscious sees a non-thinking site of instinctive reflex and urges. The unconscious, they say, is already a zombie, held back by the reasoning of the human mind. But then the psychoanalytic view of the unconscious sees not only a lair of drives, but also the only possible/impossible source of human pleasure. Frustration of reality cannot destroy the unconscious; dreams and zombie symptoms are proof of desire as the unsubdued, indestructible element in the human. The sub-human is also super-human, and what is most frightening for the rational mind is the fact that mental illness, like physical illness, is not static. The repressed condition can evolve, so that somewhere along the opaque process of the unconscious, the zombie’s great leap can happen. A leap forward or a leap backward? It doesn’t matter, for this is a decadent, mediocre age when any change will do. We have every reason to be friendly with the zombie, which, as parody of the human condition, as subconscious physical sewage clogging up the social matrix, makes the whole concept of the human-subject-in-a-body seem hollow and ridiculous. It could be the reckless solution to the looming social energy crisis, an evolutionary spark of life unbound by the resurrection of the dead body.