Patricia Saldarriaga and Emy ManiniFeb 23, 2023
Rutgers University Press 2022
Let’s talk about zombies! Scholars Patricia Saldarriaga and Emy Manini have produced an engaging and important analysis of the idea of zombies, and how and why these particular monsters are omnipresent in American popular culture, especially these days. Zombies both represent and present ideas about the world in which we live, and Infected Empires: Decolonizing Zombies (Rutgers UP, 2022) examines these connections, helping us consider our relationship to this vision of the “undead” and why these monsters are indigenous to the Americas.
Zombies reflect the colonial experience in the Americas, not only those who settled in both North and South America, but also in the approach taken to labor and those who labored. Saldarriaga and Manini examine the zombie as a representation of chattel slavery, which used the human body as a commodity like the other exploited resources in “the new world.” Those who were enslaved were essentially dead labor, according to Marxian conceptions, and the continued exploitation and disposability of workers continues this idea of the use of the undead in the modern world. Zombies as a concept can be seen within neoliberalism as corpses made into commodities, just as other commodities are valued or devalued based on supply and demand.
Another avenue of exploration is how zombies live in an ablest world where they have very limited abilities—thus making us consider our own toggling between ableism and disability. In a sense, zombies push on the idea that disability itself is the norm. They represent the way that bodies should not look, with all the insides missing, or on the outside. They also reproduce in rather unique ways—not in the biologically expected way, but in the consumption of others to create more zombies. Thus, in a world with zombies, the patriarchal form of reproduction is replaced, erasing binary sex roles along the way. While we usually consider zombies as horror staples, they are, in fact, science fiction entities, since they are really a kind of futurity.
Infected Empires: Decolonizing Zombies explores these myriad ways that zombies are symbolic of so much of what surrounds us in our everyday lives, but also what scares us. Zombies, if we think of them as a future, cause us a great deal of anxiety, since they demonstrate a post-human existence. Zombies regularly show us how we are literally eating ourselves. With the existential threat of global climate change, and the antagonism between humans and the nature world, zombies as metaphor and popular culture trope highlight our fears about the future as well as the long shadow of a colonial and enslaving past. Saldarriaga and Manini systematically explore the many dimensions of why zombies are so entrenched in our imaginaries and what these monsters are teaching us about ourselves and our fears and anxieties.
Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), Email her comments at email@example.com or tweet to @gorenlj.