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Zombie Media

Posted: March 8, 2011 by zombieacademy in Academy, Brains, discussion, Links, Media, Politics, Video

Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka’s ‘Zombie Media‘ project proposes media archaeology as an art practice, merging two of this writer’s obsessions: zombies and technological obsolescence (recently refreshed from watching an endless line of on CRT TVs emerge on the suburban streets of East Melbourne awaiting the annual council pickup).

Hertz and Parikka look to the life after death of old new media, both its reuse and its refusal to go away. They consider ‘Zombie Media’ as the living dead of media history, where the discarded waste of old new media that is of inspirational value to artists but also the real death of nature due to its ongoing toxicity.

The project has five main points:

1. Opposition to dead media. Media never dies, it decays and rots, and is reformed and remixed but always “stays as a residue in the soil”.

2. Opposition to planned obsolescence, which is an “unsupportable death drive” in the political media consumption and media ecology of the circulation of desires.

3. Depunctualisation of media, by promoting the open hacking and understanding of ‘black box’ systems.

4. Media archaeology as artistic methodology – the remixing of technology from textual material to material methodology

5. Reuse is an important dynamic of contemporary culture, an open and remix culture should be extended to physical artifacts.

Points 1., 2., and 4. are crucial to the revolutionary significance of points 3. and 5., and points to an everyday practice that goes beyond the reuse of obsolescent technologies in visual art and music production.

The term ‘black boxing’ refers the methods used to obscure the inner workings of information and communication technologies. Black boxing is often layered and a result of an interaction of multiple black boxes hidden before the user in their devices that enforce the incomprehensibility of technologies. Yet no black box is perfect, and this is where Hertz and Parrikka are let down somewhat by the focus on the “scientific gaze on the circuits of technology”. They do indicate the importance of following the circuits of technology beyond the immediate technical ones, but the overall focus in the project presentation is on hardware: “media archaeology is material, monumental’ and the expression of the technology and not its historical narrative. This approach needs to expand to survey of circuits to account for ‘soft’ technologies that govern the hardware; the production of code that has just as much significance on the life after death of new media technologies, and impact on ecologies of use and nature as the mineral politics and disposable designs of the hardware engineers.

Soft technologies, include software but also refer to the legal technologies like federal laws and intellectual property (including patents, trade secrets and copyrights) that are are necromantic: they enforce one type of enlivened death – the movement of new media to old refuse, but also stop the individual from resurrecting old new media to serve as a zombie beyond the confines of the obsolescence cycle. Digital Rights Management (DRM) software and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention provisions are just are reprehensible as non-rechargeable batteries, built-in defects, and cases that won’t allow the user to crack them open and tinker with what is inside. Zombie media is a bifurcated zombie – the horror of its toxicity as a living environmental death but also the promise of its life after death – and the everyday consumer needs to be empowered as the Voodoo Master over their undead slaves.

Remix and reuse should be more than art practice, hardware hacking and the reusing and reintroducing dead media into new cycles of life, new constructions and new iterations in the everyday should be the goal of the Zombie Media project – one that takes it’s lead from art practice, but integrated in the everyday practices of the home, school, the office and the street.

Zombie RoundUp

Posted: February 16, 2011 by zombieacademy in Academy, discussion, Links, Media, News, T-shirt

A few zombie highlights this week, first is the article ‘Dead Man Walking: What Do Zombies Mean?’ by Mark Dery at True/Slant. I don’t know how I missed this article last year, but it is worth a read, if only for the description of  the zombies as “a polyvalent revenant, a bloating signifier”. I want that on a t-shirt.

Next up is a how to identify your “mutant zombie democracy” comic over at Crickey, personally I like the Theocracy, he seems like a nice guy.

Finally, and not to be missed, is the Whirlpool forum discussion page of Whelan and Gora’s article, Invasion of aca-zombies. Some really interesting comments and well thought out discussion points that oddly seems to devolve into a debate about law degrees.


Dr. Steven Schlozman, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, gave a fascinating account of the neurobiology of the Romero zombie as part of his introduction to the classic Night of the Living Dead, shown as part of the ‘Science on the Screen’ at the Coolidge Corner Theater in the US last year.

Go watch this movie or download the podcast for a great introduction to neurobiology, and a clear scientific explanation for what might be going on with the Romero zombie. The distinction between the Romero zombie and the Rage zombie is made clear in Dr Schlozman’s talk, with attention to the different parts of the brain that would distinguish between the two versions of the zombie.

I really enjoyed this public lecture, especially at about 30 minutes in when Dr Schlozman suggests why it is that we find zombie films (and games) entertaining as he talks about Mirror Neuron theory and the ‘wiring’ of the human brain to form strong emotional responses to other’s displays of emotions – a wiring of connectivity. He suggests that we enjoy zombie movies because they give us permission to look at things that appear human, but are easily understood as being categorically non-human, and then blow their heads off. This ultimately starts to feel uncomfortable – for the protagonist and the audience – and we are forced to consider how eager or willing we are to forsake our own humanity in giving up attempting to make that empathic connection with the zombie. He draws attention to that critical question of zombie narratives, like the Walking Dead: at what point do we throw in the towel, when is it not enough simply to survive?

Another great observation Dr Schlozman’s makes is in response to the question about the recent exponential growth of the popularity of zombies. He suggest that because we live in ‘scary times’ the popularity has to do with what animates the dead being that which scares us the most at the time: in the 1960s it was radiation, in the 1970s/1980s it was biowarfare and the plague, in the 1990 and 2000s it’s is contagion and viral outbreak.

The best defense against these fears is humour, the zombie movie lets us see this fear written large on the screen and typically to find humour in the situation. Humour is the best defence against the loss or disconnection of empathy represented by the zombie. In the movie Pontypool, language become the vector for the zombie outbreak, and the survivors attempt to switch language, avoid contractions and words that have lost their meaning through overuse, but perhaps humour might have worked just as well as a defense against the zombiefication and destruction of empathy.

Too many zombies is just getting started.

Posted: September 15, 2010 by zombieacademy in Brains, discussion, Media
Tags: ,

The zombie trope’s doubling of content and contagion is one of the reasons I’m so interested in them. Everything is better with zombies in it. Case in point is Pride and Prejudice, I’d read it before but I’d never really been interested in thinking about the gender or class relations at the core of the story until there were ‘unmentionables’ in it. The zombie infects, it contaminates biologically but also contextually as content. Just look at the proliferation of zombie movies, zombie merchandise and especially zombie games. The apple app store is brimming with zombie related games, and even the successful triple A console titles like Red Dead redemption, get to have their zombie fills.

It’s like the linguistic game you can play where you add “…in your pants” to movie titles:

The Lord of the Rings… in your Pants!
I Am Legend… in your Pants!
Up… in your pants!
The Village… in your pants!
Spaceballs… in your pants!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind… in your Pants!
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in your Pants!
Meet Joe Black… IN YO PANTS.

(thanks Cara)

So what is it about the undead that means everything gets better with zombies?

… even Julia Roberts