BRRAAAIIINSS! (Use ‘em if you got ‘em.)

Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on February 4, 2008

Today, February 4th, is my birthday, which I’m lucky enough to share with the filmmaker George Romero, the father of the modern zombie movie.  “Wait, zombies?,” you ask.  “Isn’t this blog supposed to be about animals?”  I know, I’m getting there.

A few of us from ALDF got together recently to watch Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, two of the finest zombie movies ever made.  More than just blood and guts (but certainly those too), these films are also incredibly poignant social commentaries.  Night of the Living Dead, released in 1968, has strong racial undertones, raising serious questions about how interpersonal racism can undermine solidarity in the face of a collective threat (such as that posed by the undead).  Dawn of the Dead, released in 1978, uses mindless zombies to satirize American consumerism and alienation.  The film takes place, of course, in a mall.

Watching these films, I was struck with how easily they can be translated into the context of animal ethics (though this may not have been Romero’s intent).  Of course, the most defining characteristic of the cinematic zombie is his or her insatiable drive to feast on flesh, regardless of the terror this hunger inflicts on the victims.  Zombies stagger mindlessly after their prey, utterly oblivious to the screams, the fear, and ultimately the gore involved in their meals.  The suffering of their food simply does not register.  Remind anyone of the meat industry?

Not unlike zombies, many people think nothing of tearing flesh from bone, despite the fact that the leg they hold in their hand once belonged to someone.  Someone with a family, a life, a story, a desire to live.  When watching zombie movies, most of us root for the food!  We want the human prey to get away, to survive, to return to her family or friends.  We cringe at the blood and the gore.  Are we mindful enough to do the same when it comes time to sit down for our own meals?  Or will we be as mindless as the zombies, deaf to the ethical dimension of who we eat?  Even some zombies are (ahem…) waking up to the possibilities of foregoing flesh!

The brilliance of Romero’s movies, and what makes them so provocative when it comes to their social insights, is the metaphoric potential of zombies, their ability to represent all sorts of mindless behaviors we humans have.  Whether it’s racism, consumerism, speciesism, or some other -ism, the automation of the zombie calls attention to the daily ways in which we are all capable of either shuffling on or choosing otherwise.

So, happy birthday, George.  Here’s hoping for a little less mindlessness in this world.