Zombies And Sexuality Essays On Desire And The Walking Dead

by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones

Author Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones Isbn 978 0786479078 File size 1 4 MB Year 2014 Pages 224 Language English File format PDF Category Languages Since the early 2000s zombies have increasingly swarmed the landscape of popular culture with ever more diverse representations of the undead being imagined A growing number of zombie narratives have introduced sexual themes endowing the living dead with their own sexual identity The unpleasant idea of the sexual zombie is itself provocative

Publisher :

Author : Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones

ISBN : 978 0786479078

Year : 2014

Language: English

File Size : 1.4 MB

Category : Languages


Zombies and Sexuality

CONTRIBUTIONS TO ZOMBIE STUDIES
White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. Gary D. Rhodes. 2001 (2006, paperback)
The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. Peter Dendle. 2001 (2011, paperback)
American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise)
of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. Kyle William Bishop. 2010
Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero
Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times. Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr. 2011
Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead
in Modern Culture. Edited by Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz. 2011
Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations
of the Caribbean Tradition. Edited by Christopher M. Moreman
and Cory James Rushton. 2011
Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead.
Edited by Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton. 2011
The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, Volume 2: 2000–2010. Peter Dendle. 2012
Great Zombies in History. Edited by Joe Sergi. 2013 (graphic novel)
Unraveling Resident Evil: Essays on the Complex Universe
of the Games and Films. Edited by Nadine Farghaly. 2014
“We’re All Infected”: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead
and the Fate of the Human. Edited by Dawn Keetley. 2014
Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead.
Edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones. 2014

Zombies and Sexuality
Essays on Desire and
the Living Dead
Edited by Shaka McGlotten
and Steve Jones
Contributions to Zombie Studies

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Jefferson, North Carolina

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS C ATALOGUING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Zombies and sexuality : essays on desire and the living dead /
edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones.
p.
cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7864-7907-8 (softcover : acid free paper)
ISBN 978-1-4766-1738-1 (ebook)



1. Zombies—Social aspects. 2. Sex in literature.
3. Zombies in literature. 4. Queer theory.
5. Zombie films. I. McGlotten, Shaka, 1975–
editor. II. Jones, Steve, 1979– editor.
GR581.Z65 2014
398.21—dc23

2014030916

BRITISH LIBRARY CATALOGUING DATA ARE AVAILABLE

© 2014 Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
On the cover: poster art, Return of the Living Dead: Rave to
the Grave, 2005 (Denholm Trading Inc./Photofest)
Printed in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640
www.mcfarlandpub.com

Table of Contents
Introduction: Zombie Sex
Steve Jones and Shaka McGlotten

1

Take, Eat, These Are My Brains: Queer Zombie Jesus
Max Thornton

19

Victorian Values: Necrophilia and the Nineteenth Century
in Zombie Films
Marcus Harmes

36

A Love Worth Un-Undying For: Neoliberalism and
Queered Sexuality in Warm Bodies
Sasha Cocarla

52

For a Good Time Just Scream: Sex Work and Plastic
Sexuality in “Dystopicmodern Literature”
Denise N. Cook

73

Laid to Rest: Romance, End of the World Sexuality and
Apocalyptic Anticipation in Robert Kirkman’s
The Walking Dead
Emma Vossen

88

Queering and Cripping the End of the World: Disability,
Sexuality and Race in The Walking Dead
Cathy Hannabach

106

Re-Animating the Social Order: Zombies and Queer Failure
Trevor Grizzell

123

v

vi

Table of Contents

Gay Zombies: Consuming Masculinity and Community in
Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People
and L.A. Zombie
Darren Elliott-Smith

140

“I Eat Brains … or Dick”: Sexual Subjectivity and the
Hierarchy of the Undead in Hardcore Film
Laura Helen Marks

159

Pretty, Dead: Sociosexuality, Rationality and the Transition
into Zom-Being
Steve Jones

180

Bibliography

199

About the Contributors

213

Index

215

Introduction
Zombie Sex
Steve Jones and Shaka McGlotten
How would you respond to the onset of a zombie apocalypse? Given
only moments to live and faced with the prospect of shambling endlessly
through the world as one of the mindless undead, what activity would
top your “bucket list”? Luckily for the unimaginative procrastinators
among us, zombie narratives offer various helpful suggestions. For example, in Zombies vs. Strippers (2012), ecdysiast Jasmine elects to give
infected strip-club bouncer Marvin a final lapdance. Whether or not
this sounds appealing, Zombies vs. Strippers also presents a warning:
our desires are worth reflecting on in detail, since they might not play
out exactly as we hope they might. Moreover, as we move into undeath,
our desires may also mutate in unbidden and unforeseen ways. Marvin
and Jasmine’s misinterpreted exchanges exemplify such slippage. When
Marvin moans about his bodily failure (“I can barely see. I’m so stiff ”),
Jasmine thinks that he is “talk[ing] dirty.” As Marvin posits that he is “so
close” (to death), Jasmine assures him, “It’s okay baby, you can come.”
Amorousness and mortality meld. That amalgam finds its fullest expression when Marvin finally turns. Jasmine thinks it is “sweet” when Marvin
declares that he values Jasmine for her “braaaaains” rather than her
looks, but she does not bargain on Marvin proving it by immediately
biting her face off. The next time the couple are depicted, Jasmine (now
faceless and topless) continues to dry-hump the fully zombified Marvin.
In this instance, living sexual desire and the zombie’s carnal longings
are indistinguishable from one another. The motto of this particular
story may be that love transcends even death. Maybe Jasmine and Mar1

2

Introduction

vin’s tryst signals that once enflamed, our passions are unstoppable
forces. Alternatively, these gyrating sacs of viscera might underscore
that even grotesque ghouls need a little lovin’.
Whatever conclusion one reaches, the unpalatable combination of
zombies and sex is provocative, triggering a multitude of questions about
the nature of desire, sex, sexuality, and the politics of our sexual behaviors. Colleagues’ and friends’ varied responses to our proposal for this
volume attest to how stimulating (intellectually or otherwise) the idea
of zombie sex is. Their reactions ranged from polite curiosity to surprise,
from disgust to shock. Yes, zombies and sex. Is the juxtaposition really
so surprising? Zombies are increasingly ubiquitous cultural figures most
commonly associated with a decaying half-life and a mindless appetite
for human flesh (and/or brains). Sex is even more ubiquitous, manifesting as erotic attachments and practices that are variously reproductive,
fun, banal, troubling, and carnal. Whatever form sex takes, it is central
to virtually every human life and form of sociality. What is perhaps more
shocking than the combination of “zombies and sex” is how infrequently
this juxtaposition has been addressed in extant scholarship, not least
since our book proposal resonated with so many: we received nearly 50
abstracts in response to our call for papers. We were surprised by the
range of cultural texts—pornographic, straight, and queer—that our
contributors drew upon, by the multifarious ways in which zombies and
sex have been brought together in zombie texts, and by the latent sexual
themes zombie narratives explore. Zombies crystallize fears and desires
related to contagion and consumption, to the body and sociality, to
autonomy and enslavement. They represent a rarified drive that underpins our conscious desires: to consume. In zombie narratives, this drive
impels contagious forms of contact, sweeping up new bodies as it builds.
The result is that human sociality is fundamentally altered, taking form
as a collective comprised of individuals seeking connection with one
another, or a swarm of bodies devoid of individual subjectivity, for example. The essays in this book explore what happens in the wake of these
encounters, when sex and undeath are brought together.

The Zombies Are Coming
Since the early 2000s, zombies have become an increasingly significant presence in the landscape of popular culture. They have flourished in their customary locale: the horror film (28 Weeks Later [2007];

Zombie Sex

3

Survival of the Dead [2009]), and they have also found success in genre
mashups, where horror merges with comedy (Zombieland [2009]; Juan
of the Dead [2011]; Cockneys vs. Zombies [2012]). Zombies even make
appearances in family fare like 2012’s animated ParaNorman. They have
spread beyond film into stage musicals (Fleshed Out [2012]; Musical of
the Living Dead [2012]); videogames (Dead Island [2011]; Left 4 Dead
[2008–2009]); and comics (Chaos Campus [2007–present]; Marvel
Zombies [2005–present]). That same ethos of amalgamation is evident
in transmedia manifestations of the zombie myth, such as videogame/
film adaptations (Resident Evil [1996–present/2002–present]; House of
the Dead [1997/2003]), literature/film crossovers (Warm Bodies
[2012/2013]); World War Z [2006/2013]), and television/graphic novel
adaptations (The Walking Dead [2003–present/2010–present]). The
mixed-media remake Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009) and
the literary mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) further
exemplify the zombie’s transmedia circulation. Indeed, as Max Thornton
observes in his contribution to this volume, the zombie offers a bridge
between an iconic object of print media (the Christian Bible) and contemporary Internet meme culture.
The zombie’s ubiquity also underscores its theoretical applications.
As monsters that straddle the gulf between life and death, zombies disturb established ontological and epistemological categories, as well as
hegemonic norms. Those disruptions are frequently associated with an
assortment of social anxieties: about viral contagion, biological warfare,
neoliberal and totalitarian securitization, environmental collapse, and
capitalist end-times. Unsurprisingly, our contributors evoke some of
these themes, either implicitly or explicitly; Emma Vossen’s analysis of
The Walking Dead concentrates on the apprehension and anticipation that
follow in the wake of global economic crisis. In this regard, Vossen’s essay
reiterates that in the horror genre zombies commonly symbolize apprehension over social precariousness and radical change. Zombies expose
the abject physiology beneath human skin, either because they rip into living tissue, or because their flesh is falling apart. Zombies also reveal what
bodies are capable of, and what they can endure. Yet the zombie’s presence
outside of horror signals that the undead are not limited to reflecting collective fears. As Vossen’s essay elucidates, the zombie renaissance offers
a multitude of new insights into the zombie’s capacity to reflect our erotic
and even political desires. Contemporary zombie narratives also expose
an array of truths about our shared global present, especially those that
are tied to automation, disposability, and new collectivities.

4

Introduction

The zombie boom is a mass culture trend that is fueling a diverse
body of new scholarly work. As Steve Jones observes in his contribution
to this volume, although the zombie is foremost a movie-monster, the
living dead’s significance has been contemplated outside of film studies,
particularly in the philosophy of consciousness (see Heil; Kirk; Locke).
Additionally, since the early 2000s zombies have become increasingly
visible in a wider variety of scholarly disciplines. Neuropsychologists
have drawn on the zombie in discussions of automated bodily functions
(Rossetti and Revonsuo; Aquilina and Hughes; Behuniak). The zombie
appears in computer scientists’ deliberations over artificial intelligences
and hacks (Gray and Wegner; Kari Larsen). Posthumanists have evoked
the zombie when debating the failures and possibilities of impersonal
or pre-personal subjectivity (Christie and Lauro). Marxists have utilized
the living dead in metaphors regarding the deadening effects of late capitalism and the turmoil and violence that results from ongoing global
economic crises (Giroux; Harman; McNally).

Necro-Sociality
Importantly these various approaches are all rooted in concepts of
sociality—the relationships and forms of reproduction that organize
associations between people, social systems, and non-human others.
Zombies are social monsters, and their monstrosity is a reflection of
our own. Lone zombies are ineffective, comical rather than frightening. En masse, however, the zombie swarm is terrifying. Zombies reproduce sociality itself as a kind of latent zymotic disease that threatens
humanity’s existence. This trait, what we might call the zombie’s necrosociality, illustrates ways in which zombies metaphorically capture anxieties about identity, embodiment, and agency that resonate with contemporary and historical social contexts. As Marcus Harmes observes
in his contribution to this volume, one important context that has been
largely under-theorized in zombie scholarship to date is Victorian social
attitudes towards dead bodies. Drawing on the quasi- necrophilic
imagery of European zombie-horror set in the nineteenth century,
Harmes exposes the fetishistic, sexual overtones of cultic Victorian
mourning practices.
A tandem socio-historical context has received far more attention
in zombie studies; numerous thinkers have drawn upon the zombie’s
origins in Haitian folklore to understand histories of racism and racial-

Zombie Sex

5

ized labor (Moreman and Rushton; Castronovo). Many cinematic depictions of zombies are overtly racialized. For instance, zombies have been
treated as somnambulistic slave figures in White Zombie (1932) and I
Walked with a Zombie (1943), or monstrous cannibals pitched against
white westerners in Zombie Flesheaters (1979), Zombie Holocaust (1980),
and Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980). These texts illustrate specific anxieties (and fantasies) about race and colonialism. White Zombie and I
Walked with a Zombie make these links explicit via their Gothic postcolonial Caribbean settings, anxious miscegenation fantasies,1 and zombie laborers. In African traditions, zombies are not undead creatures
hungering after the flesh of the living, but ordinary people who have
been victimized by a witch or sorcerer who then forces them to work
against their will. As Lars Bang Larsen observes, “The origin of the zombie in Haitian vodoun has an explicit relationship to labor, as a repetition
or reenactment of slavery. The person who receives the zombie spell
‘dies,’ is buried, excavated, and put to work, usually as a field hand.” These
themes were explored, as Larsen points out, by Wade Davis in his controversial book The Serpent and the Rainbow, in which the ethnobotanist
sought a pharmacological explanation for zombies. Davis’s social analysis
is more compelling than his pharmacological insights, however; for people of African descent in the post-colony, zombies represent “the loss of
physical liberty that is slavery, and the sacrifice of personal autonomy
implied by the loss of identity” (qtd. in Lars Bang Larsen; see also
Thomas). In these traditions, zombies are terrifying not because they
are consumptive or contagious, but because they evoke enslavement to
the will of another. More recently, thinkers have drawn upon the zombie
to comprehend the apparently magical accumulation of wealth under
postcolonial neoliberalism (Comaroff and Comaroff ) and widespread
experiences of social precariousness.
Although it is now largely forgotten, the paradigmatic image of the
zombie as a looming, murderous horde also derives from the Caribbean,
and especially the Haitian revolution, which was perceived by the West
as mindless, rapacious destruction (Sibylle 2). The contemporary zombie
likewise almost always appears as a horde that threatens existence as we
know it. The zombie swarm is an inverted fantasy. Like contemporary
capitalism, it represents destruction through voracious, insatiable consumption. Simultaneously, zombies represent that which could deliver
us from that self-same death drive. Thus, zombies might appear as a
revolutionary multitude—faceless, inexorable, forcing a global transformation toward a genocidal absolute war—or they might catalyze a per-

6

Introduction

manent détente, in which humans band together regardless of ethnonational and religious differences. By dwelling on themes of collective
power and revolution, zombie narratives typically reduce the social
world to its day zero, providing opportunities to re-envisage society.
However, a number of our contributors point out that in some narratives
zombie futures bear a striking resemblance to our political present.
Moreover, as Sasha Cocarla argues in relation to Warm Bodies and both
Cathy Hannabach and Vossen argue in relation to different iterations of
The Walking Dead, many zombie narratives reproduce or even celebrate
norms tied to romance, gender, ability, and heterosexuality.

The Promise of a Zombie Future
The leveling of social difference, and of society itself, is paradoxically facilitated by the zombie’s lack of subjective agency. The zombie
represents humanity in a pre-conscious state. Thus, the zombie’s revolution is not only social: it also represents day zero for human identity,
and the imbricated experiences of individuality and interdependence on
which sociality is founded (see also Lauro and Embry). As SheetsJohnstone observes, animate corporeality is the foundation of lived experience. In this view, our bodies tie us to the world prior to the formation
of identity. In Mel Chen’s recent articulations of “animacies,” the liveliness of an identity, body, or idea depends on its place within ordered
hierarchies and specifically its relationship to forms of matter considered
dead or insensate. Chen argues that these hierarchies are profoundly
relational. What makes one body appear dead or alive has to do with
how it affects or is affected by others. The zombie—animated flesh evacuated of identity and agency—enlivens concepts of life or of humanity
in which the human is unconstrained by social or cultural limits. Zombies are freed of any obligations, other than to their own hunger. As
Trevor Grizzell explores in his analysis of The Walking Dead television
series in this volume, the displacement of excess onto zombies underscores
human efforts to exercise forms of purity and control—to erect animate
hierarchies that guard humanity from forms of consumption or violence
that are deemed beyond the pale. To draw upon a famous example, that
unconstrained drive to excess leads zombies to return to the suburban
mall where they once shopped in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead
(1978). Although driven by a quest for comforting familiarity, the zombies are disoriented in the mall’s terrain: they fail to find peace, because

Zombie Sex

7

their new state is incompatible with their previous existence. Romero’s
interests in social politics are explicitly critical, as is elucidated by the
ways the “normal” human social world of conspicuous consumption is
echoed in the zombie’s insistent, insatiable hunger. For the audience and
the living protagonists, the zombie’s presence in the mall is disquieting,
not only because they are incongruous with the setting. Firstly, the
wastage involved in consumer capitalism is personified by the zombies,
who are humans-as-waste. Secondly, the zombie’s fruitless desire and
resultant confusion replicate the emptiness of living human desires.
Zombies are evacuated of self, but they also reveal that for the living,
autonomous will is empty. In his essay, Steve Jones examines the gradual
erosion of the human will and rationality in zombie transition narratives.
Zombie metamorphoses, Jones suggests, highlight the tenuousness of
our claims to rationality, as well as illustrating tensions in different
philosophies of the self and sociality. The zombie’s body is post-mortal
excess, standing in for the ugly, blind needs that are left after our jobs,
relationships, life-plans, and cherished personalities are excised. Since
the zombies reveal that our needs are aimed towards false, unsatisfying
goals (the mall, consumption), those needs are not constituted by anything substantial. We are insubstantial, animated by powerful but opaque
desires.
This is Romero’s most significant contribution to zombie lore, and
one that is developed by allowing the zombie to explicitly evolve into
consciousness from Day of the Dead (1985) onwards. Also in 1985,
Return of the Living Dead transformed the zombie inasmuch as it
employed post- modern humor to develop the evolution of zombieconsciousness. In this instance, zombies are relatively articulate. They
are also able to mobilize and plan their cannibalistic assaults; “send more
paramedics,” one zombie requests, in preparation for an ambush. These
changes mean that the zombie clearly attains subjective existence, far
removed from the lumbering, irrational beings offered in many earlier
entries into the zombie canon. The prospect of zombie consciousness
is of concern because the paradoxes of the oxymoron “living-dead” and
“motorized instinct” (as the doctor phrases it in Dawn of the Dead )
unhinge foundational ontological suppositions. The monsters are
uncomfortably akin to their apparently rational, living human brethren.
As Webb and Byrnand note, “there is always something ‘nearly me’ about
the monster” (84). The social horror at hand is exacerbated precisely by
the human-zombie parallel offered in these films; these monsters are
uncanny doppelgängers.

8

Introduction

Zombie Love
Not all undead beings were treated as mindless entities prior to the
1970s; The Mummy (1932), Dracula (1931), and Frankenstein (1931) all
feature central “living dead” figures that display conscious motivation.
Interestingly, these monsters are driven by explicitly human concerns—
in particular, the quest for sexual companionship (although Frankenstein’s creation does not find his partner until Bride of Frankenstein
[1935]). These films pivotally present living dead beings not as mechanized husks, but as individuals who lay claim to sexual identity (even if
that identity is impersonal, distasteful or disaffected).
What is at once central and strangely absent from current debates
about the zombie is any detailed consideration of sex and sexuality. This
oversight is startling, not least since sex is arguably the most intimate
form of social engagement, and is a profound aspect of human social
identity. What makes the omission even more remarkable is how appositely the zombie reflects socio-sexual desires and fears. Zombies are
fundamentally reproductive, attaining power through violent, interpersonal and contagious contact. In tandem, zombie texts typically feature
a band of survivors, families or their analogues, who must struggle to
endure the zombie apocalypse, and presumably repopulate the world.
In zombie narratives, human sex is symbolically powerful: it is an anxious reprieve to dystopian threat, and a promise that future generations
of the living will still inherit the earth. In one sense, sex might be envisaged as buttressing heteronormative fantasies, then. Allegorically, the
nuclear family closes ranks and is arrayed against an encroaching horde
(of foreigners or queers), and heterosexual propagation is presented as
the ultimate goal that might save humanity. On the other hand, zombie
procreation represents a powerful alternative to heterosexual breeding,
one that de-naturalizes the relationship between heterosexual intercourse and propagation. In the zombie narrative, heterosexual reproduction is superseded, and what Lee Edelman dubs “reproductive
futurism” is upended. In his essay here, Grizzell argues that such upendings, and especially the failures represented by zombie propagation, offer
useful queer re-conceptualizations of culture.
Where the zombie-film’s sexual politics have been addressed by
academics, feminist methodologies have typically been used to examine
the living characters’ gendered relationships (Grant 200–212; Greenberg
86; Paffenroth 59–66; Patterson 103–118). Subsequently, there are two
major oversights in the body of existing literature. First, sex and love

Zombie Sex

9

play crucial roles in numerous zombie narratives. That is, sex is important to the plots and meanings of many zombie films, and manifests in
a multitude of ways. For example, Shaun of the Dead’s (2004) zombie
plague is a backdrop for a romantic narrative that drives towards lead
protagonist Shaun being happily reunited with his lover Liz. However,
the film’s pivotal relationship is a “bromance” between Shaun and his
best friend Ed, who is more pertinently Shaun’s partner in the narrative.
Although Ed becomes infected, the film closes not with a heterosexual
coupling, but with a merging between heterosexual and homosocial,
between living and dead: Shaun, Liz, and the now undead Ed live
together in a “happily ever after” union. In the Japanese film Wild Zero
(1999), lead protagonist and wannabe rocker Ace is initially distressed
to discover that his “damsel in distress” beau (Tomoe) is male. However,
the zombie plague is the film’s only crisis: Ace’s momentary confusion
is swiftly overturned when Ace has a vision of his rock’n’roll hero Guitar
Wolf, who proclaims, “Love has no borders, nationalities, or genders!
DO IT!!!” The romance unfolds in accordance with Guitar Wolf ’s enthusiastic assertion. Further indications that zombie-narratives are not
exclusively focused on heterosexuality are exemplified by Noble
Romance’s “Zombies versus Lesbians” novellas, such as Amber Green’s
Dead Kitties Don’t Purr. The series uses zombie outbreaks as complications in gay romance stories. Given that sex and love are driving forces
in so many zombie narratives, it is surprising that they have been disregarded by scholars in favor of other less prominent themes. In her
essay for this volume, Sasha Cocarla explores the queered normativity
of R, the zombie protagonist of Isaac Marion’s novel, Warm Bodies. R
engages in a three way relationship with Perry, whose brain he has
devoured and whose feelings he subsequently experiences, and Julie,
Perry’s former love interest. Cocarla links R’s quest toward greater liveliness to the affective aspirations interpellated by neoliberal notions of
freedom, rationality, and the salvific couple form.2
The second element overlooked in current academic discussion is
zombie sexuality: the fact that the undead have sex with each other and
with humans in many contemporary zombie narratives. Since the late
1990s, zombies have been increasingly represented as sexual figures.
Frequently, the results have seemingly reiterated normative sexual hierarchies, in which certain bodies and modes of existence are subordinated
to others. Denise N. Cook’s contribution to this volume evokes precisely
these problems. Critiquing Giddens’ “plastic sexuality” paradigm, Cook’s
dissection of short-stories about undead sex-work demonstrates that

10

Introduction

although zombie sexuality represents versatility and freedom on one
hand, such imaginings are typically anchored by restrictive norms that
fetter sexual liberty.

Dead Straight/Dire Straights
In an extension of the associations made between zombies and
racialized identities then, it may appear that sexual zombies are utilized
to support the notion that male heterosexuality, for example, is the dominant standard against which other forms of sexual expression, identities
or genders are judged. It is clear why one might reach this conclusion.
In the case of Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space (2013), for example,
female homosexuality is tallied with zombidom, and therefore implied
to be monstrous. Indeed, lesbianism is presented as an object of heterosexual desire rather than as an autonomous identity within this context.
As the film’s trailer proposes, a world of lesbians is “one man’s fantasy”
which “becomes a nightmare” only because the women in question are
undead. The audience is interpellated into that presumed position of
heterosexual privilege via the tagline: “They want you, but not in a sexual
way … hang on to your Johnson.”3
The trend of sexualizing zombies is largely aimed at straight men.
Both the Adult Swim Flash Game Zombie Hooker Nightmare (2009) and
Edward Lee’s comic book Grubgirl (1997) depict only female zombie
prostitutes and heterosexual male patrons. Since 2000, the website zombiepinups.com, for instance, has drolly exhibited portraits of “undead
vixens” as gruesome sex symbols. Playfully evoking the iconography of
1950s pinup modeling as a “dead” form of pornography, these images
make light of the incongruity between cadavers and erotic photography.
More recently, the marketing for Nintendo’s Wii game ZombiU (2012)
utilized the same discrepancy in relation to contemporary glamour modeling. The print advertisement presents a model stripping off her bra,
accompanied by the leading question, “She’s got a body to die for …
wanna see?” On turning the page, the viewer is greeted with an undead
version of the model (“We did warn you”). In both cases, humor arises
from a presumed incompatibility between rotting, animated corpses and
erotic desire. However, this maneuver involves treating zombies as sex
objects by placing them in contexts typically associated with the sexual
objectification of women. Zombies become a logical extension of the
visual tropes and practices of looking that render women’s bodies as frag-

Zombie Sex

11

mented objects of male desire. Zombie Strippers! (2008), for instance,
presents the undead in a context synonymous with heterosexual male
voyeuristic desire.4 In this case, the living clients respond to the zombie
dancers with greater enthusiasm than they do the living ecdysiasts. In
this case, the zombies are treated as sex symbols in their own right,
being dubbed “beautiful” by the customers who summarily reject the
living strippers.
Such interchanges between sexual voyeurism and zombies throw
doubt over the presumed lines between “disgusting” and “desirable.” The
decaying corpse epitomizes disgust (Menninghaus 1).5 In usurping living
bodies that are indicative of conventional sexiness and debunking the
structures that institutionalize those conventions, the apparently
dichotomous division between desire and disgust becomes blurry at
best. This ideological collapse is not just concerned with why some bodies are deemed un/desirable, but also the desirer’s motives. In some
recent films such as Doghouse (2009), gender difference is hypostatized
as a binary opposition: all females are transformed into flesh hungry
ghouls who attack the living (men). In Stripperland (2011) a similar division is created, with an added degree of sexualization: women are transformed into undead strippers. What is notable in these cases is not male
heterosexual dominance, however. These films depict sexual objectification as both oppressive and absurd. The notion that heterosexual men
might see all women as mindless strippers is a damning indictment of
the former rather than the latter. In these cases—particularly in Doghouse—men that stubbornly stick to sexual stereotyping are painted as
laughable. At best, such men are ill-equipped to survive the onset of
change. At worst, such men are limned as more monstrous than the
anthropophagic cadavers that threaten them.
Numerous films take the logic of objectification further by depicting
human heterosexual men using female zombies as sexual receptacles.
The film Deadgirl (2008), for instance, portrays a group of ordinary
young heterosexual men who become fixated on sexually violating an
imprisoned female zombie (see Jones, “Gender Monstrosity”). Such fantasies are stark reflections of prevalent desires and fears at the outset of
the 21st century: an era in which consumption is deeply tied to sexualized desires for control, and in which necrophilic “extreme” pornography
has been the subject of legal enquiry (see Aggrawal 180; Attwood and
Smith 178). In cases such as Deadgirl, however, the zombie is not a monster: the undead’s blankness evokes powerlessness. In contrast, the
human males are ghoulish abusers. Being associated with sexual

12

Introduction

deviancy (Downing 168; Canter and Wentink 491; Gutierrez and GinerSorolla 854–55), necrophilia underscores how morally disgusting the
males’ actions are. Harmes’ and Cook’s essays in this volume offer
nuanced dissections of this necrophilic dynamic. It should also be noted
that zombies are not always victims of sexual violence. In The Necro Files
(1997) and its sequel (2003), and Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead (2012),
for example, zombies rape the living. In these cases, zombies are portrayed as sexually active beings whose cravings for living flesh are not
limited to anthropophagy.

Queer Eye for the Dead Guy
Even when it is straight, then, sex between zombies and humans is
inherently queer. Elsewhere, the figures involved are queer. Queer interventions in zombie lore allegorize gay male sexuality run amok (often
humorously), but they also underscore the political potential represented
by zombie sexuality. A few examples include VidKid Timo’s parody At
Twilight Come the Flesh-Eaters (1998), Michael Simon’s Gay Zombie
(2007), and Chris Diani’s campy homage to 1960s horror films, Creatures
from the Pink Lagoon (2006). These films all play with the idea that gay
male sex and mindless zombie hunger have something in common. In
Creatures, for example, a group of gay men at a beach house fight off a
group of undead gay men, who had become infected by radioactive mosquitos at a cruisy rest stop. Gay Zombie follows a gay zombie through
the difficulties of dating in the clonish West Hollywood scene. In both,
gay male sexuality is represented as comically repetitive, and a little
dumb. Creatures plays with stereotypes of gay “man-eaters,” while Gay
Zombie suggests that with the right attitude even the dead can fit in
among Los Angeles’ clones.
Bruce LaBruce’s queer interventions offer other, more politically
engaged, perspectives, which are probed at length by Darren ElliottSmith in this volume (see also McGlotten; McGlotten and VanGundy).
In Otto; Or, Up with Dead People (2008) and L.A. Zombie (2008), the
Canadian independent filmmaker upends the zombie mythos. In these
films, the zombies are gay outsiders for whom their zombie difference is
figured as a queerness that is at once enlivening and deadening. In Otto,
the titular character is a young amnesiac zombie, who is new to his
undeath. His existential quest for an identity brings him into contact with
Medea Yarn, an experimental filmmaker who is completing a political-

Zombie Sex

13

pornographic film about gay zombies called Up with Dead People. Yarn
is intrigued by Otto’s authenticity—although she (like the viewer) is
unsure whether he really is a zombie or just a messed up kid—and
decides to make a documentary about him, a study of alienated queer
difference. In Yarn’s film, an explicitly gay zombie army rises up to combat the banalities of late capitalism and deadened living. Otto’s own
quest is less revolutionary or dramatic, however. Rather than discovering
his will-to-power, Otto models forms of impersonal subjectivity that
refuse the lure of a destructive jouissance or the revolutionary multitude.
All living beings seem like the same person to him, a person he “doesn’t
like very much.” In the end, Otto opts out, enacting what Halberstam
(The Queer Art of Failure) and others have dubbed a queer politics of
refusal, leaving Berlin to head north, hoping to discover a “whole new
way of death.” In Darren Elliott-Smith’s reading, Otto provides LaBruce
with a means to critique both the violence of homophobia and the bourgeois homonormativity of contemporary gay cultures. Otto himself is a
fundamentally ambivalent character, and one who serves to satirize gay
male sexual politics of top/bottom—he is both an object and a reluctant
consumer.
L.A. Zombie (2010) likewise presents a gay zombie protagonist,
although this film is explicitly sexual, co-produced by porn companies
Wurstfilm and Dark Alley Media. In L.A. Zombie, an alien zombie rises
from the Pacific Ocean and then roams through Los Angeles’ violent
sexual underworld. Again, LaBruce upends zombie conventions. In this
film, the zombie is a lone wanderer who re-animates rather than devours
his objects of desire. He seems less motivated by a consuming hunger
(for sex or brains) than by a melancholic and compassionate desire to
undo the effects of violence. When he encounters a dead young man,
their sexual congress and specifically his black, oil-like ejaculate brings
him back to life. In L.A. Zombie, LaBruce extends his critique of gay
culture as dead or boring, and he also ambivalently offers sex as both
effect and remedy to what queer critics like Lisa Duggan have called the
new homonormativity (The Twilight of Equality?), a gay culture rooted
in an assimilationist ethos and oriented toward consumption and domesticity. Sex, LaBruce suggests, is one possible route toward an aesthetic
and political reanimation of gay culture. Yet Elliott-Smith also underlines
the film’s critique of gay male sexual publics, which values hypermasculine forms as yet another capitalist “meat” byproduct. The sexual politics of gay zombies may be as alienating as they are empowering.
In her essay for this book, Cathy Hannabach likewise offers a skep-


Zombies and Sexuality

CONTRIBUTIONS TO ZOMBIE STUDIES
White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. Gary D. Rhodes. 2001 (2006, paperback)
The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. Peter Dendle. 2001 (2011, paperback)
American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise)
of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. Kyle William Bishop. 2010
Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero
Zombie Films as Markers of Their Times. Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr. 2011
Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead
in Modern Culture. Edited by Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz. 2011
Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations
of the Caribbean Tradition. Edited by Christopher M. Moreman
and Cory James Rushton. 2011
Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead.
Edited by Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton. 2011
The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, Volume 2: 2000–2010. Peter Dendle. 2012
Great Zombies in History. Edited by Joe Sergi. 2013 (graphic novel)
Unraveling Resident Evil: Essays on the Complex Universe
of the Games and Films. Edited by Nadine Farghaly. 2014
“We’re All Infected”: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead
and the Fate of the Human. Edited by Dawn Keetley. 2014
Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead.
Edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones. 2014

Zombies and Sexuality
Essays on Desire and
the Living Dead
Edited by Shaka McGlotten
and Steve Jones
Contributions to Zombie Studies

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Jefferson, North Carolina

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS C ATALOGUING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Zombies and sexuality : essays on desire and the living dead /
edited by Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones.
p.
cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7864-7907-8 (softcover : acid free paper)
ISBN 978-1-4766-1738-1 (ebook)



1. Zombies—Social aspects. 2. Sex in literature.
3. Zombies in literature. 4. Queer theory.
5. Zombie films. I. McGlotten, Shaka, 1975–
editor. II. Jones, Steve, 1979– editor.
GR581.Z65 2014
398.21—dc23

2014030916

BRITISH LIBRARY CATALOGUING DATA ARE AVAILABLE

© 2014 Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying
or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
On the cover: poster art, Return of the Living Dead: Rave to
the Grave, 2005 (Denholm Trading Inc./Photofest)
Printed in the United States of America

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
Box 611, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640
www.mcfarlandpub.com

Table of Contents
Introduction: Zombie Sex
Steve Jones and Shaka McGlotten

1

Take, Eat, These Are My Brains: Queer Zombie Jesus
Max Thornton

19

Victorian Values: Necrophilia and the Nineteenth Century
in Zombie Films
Marcus Harmes

36

A Love Worth Un-Undying For: Neoliberalism and
Queered Sexuality in Warm Bodies
Sasha Cocarla

52

For a Good Time Just Scream: Sex Work and Plastic
Sexuality in “Dystopicmodern Literature”
Denise N. Cook

73

Laid to Rest: Romance, End of the World Sexuality and
Apocalyptic Anticipation in Robert Kirkman’s
The Walking Dead
Emma Vossen

88

Queering and Cripping the End of the World: Disability,
Sexuality and Race in The Walking Dead
Cathy Hannabach

106

Re-Animating the Social Order: Zombies and Queer Failure
Trevor Grizzell

123

v

vi

Table of Contents

Gay Zombies: Consuming Masculinity and Community in
Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up with Dead People
and L.A. Zombie
Darren Elliott-Smith

140

“I Eat Brains … or Dick”: Sexual Subjectivity and the
Hierarchy of the Undead in Hardcore Film
Laura Helen Marks

159

Pretty, Dead: Sociosexuality, Rationality and the Transition
into Zom-Being
Steve Jones

180

Bibliography

199

About the Contributors

213

Index

215

Introduction
Zombie Sex
Steve Jones and Shaka McGlotten
How would you respond to the onset of a zombie apocalypse? Given
only moments to live and faced with the prospect of shambling endlessly
through the world as one of the mindless undead, what activity would
top your “bucket list”? Luckily for the unimaginative procrastinators
among us, zombie narratives offer various helpful suggestions. For example, in Zombies vs. Strippers (2012), ecdysiast Jasmine elects to give
infected strip-club bouncer Marvin a final lapdance. Whether or not
this sounds appealing, Zombies vs. Strippers also presents a warning:
our desires are worth reflecting on in detail, since they might not play
out exactly as we hope they might. Moreover, as we move into undeath,
our desires may also mutate in unbidden and unforeseen ways. Marvin
and Jasmine’s misinterpreted exchanges exemplify such slippage. When
Marvin moans about his bodily failure (“I can barely see. I’m so stiff ”),
Jasmine thinks that he is “talk[ing] dirty.” As Marvin posits that he is “so
close” (to death), Jasmine assures him, “It’s okay baby, you can come.”
Amorousness and mortality meld. That amalgam finds its fullest expression when Marvin finally turns. Jasmine thinks it is “sweet” when Marvin
declares that he values Jasmine for her “braaaaains” rather than her
looks, but she does not bargain on Marvin proving it by immediately
biting her face off. The next time the couple are depicted, Jasmine (now
faceless and topless) continues to dry-hump the fully zombified Marvin.
In this instance, living sexual desire and the zombie’s carnal longings
are indistinguishable from one another. The motto of this particular
story may be that love transcends even death. Maybe Jasmine and Mar1

2

Introduction

vin’s tryst signals that once enflamed, our passions are unstoppable
forces. Alternatively, these gyrating sacs of viscera might underscore
that even grotesque ghouls need a little lovin’.
Whatever conclusion one reaches, the unpalatable combination of
zombies and sex is provocative, triggering a multitude of questions about
the nature of desire, sex, sexuality, and the politics of our sexual behaviors. Colleagues’ and friends’ varied responses to our proposal for this
volume attest to how stimulating (intellectually or otherwise) the idea
of zombie sex is. Their reactions ranged from polite curiosity to surprise,
from disgust to shock. Yes, zombies and sex. Is the juxtaposition really
so surprising? Zombies are increasingly ubiquitous cultural figures most
commonly associated with a decaying half-life and a mindless appetite
for human flesh (and/or brains). Sex is even more ubiquitous, manifesting as erotic attachments and practices that are variously reproductive,
fun, banal, troubling, and carnal. Whatever form sex takes, it is central
to virtually every human life and form of sociality. What is perhaps more
shocking than the combination of “zombies and sex” is how infrequently
this juxtaposition has been addressed in extant scholarship, not least
since our book proposal resonated with so many: we received nearly 50
abstracts in response to our call for papers. We were surprised by the
range of cultural texts—pornographic, straight, and queer—that our
contributors drew upon, by the multifarious ways in which zombies and
sex have been brought together in zombie texts, and by the latent sexual
themes zombie narratives explore. Zombies crystallize fears and desires
related to contagion and consumption, to the body and sociality, to
autonomy and enslavement. They represent a rarified drive that underpins our conscious desires: to consume. In zombie narratives, this drive
impels contagious forms of contact, sweeping up new bodies as it builds.
The result is that human sociality is fundamentally altered, taking form
as a collective comprised of individuals seeking connection with one
another, or a swarm of bodies devoid of individual subjectivity, for example. The essays in this book explore what happens in the wake of these
encounters, when sex and undeath are brought together.

The Zombies Are Coming
Since the early 2000s, zombies have become an increasingly significant presence in the landscape of popular culture. They have flourished in their customary locale: the horror film (28 Weeks Later [2007];

Zombie Sex

3

Survival of the Dead [2009]), and they have also found success in genre
mashups, where horror merges with comedy (Zombieland [2009]; Juan
of the Dead [2011]; Cockneys vs. Zombies [2012]). Zombies even make
appearances in family fare like 2012’s animated ParaNorman. They have
spread beyond film into stage musicals (Fleshed Out [2012]; Musical of
the Living Dead [2012]); videogames (Dead Island [2011]; Left 4 Dead
[2008–2009]); and comics (Chaos Campus [2007–present]; Marvel
Zombies [2005–present]). That same ethos of amalgamation is evident
in transmedia manifestations of the zombie myth, such as videogame/
film adaptations (Resident Evil [1996–present/2002–present]; House of
the Dead [1997/2003]), literature/film crossovers (Warm Bodies
[2012/2013]); World War Z [2006/2013]), and television/graphic novel
adaptations (The Walking Dead [2003–present/2010–present]). The
mixed-media remake Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009) and
the literary mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) further
exemplify the zombie’s transmedia circulation. Indeed, as Max Thornton
observes in his contribution to this volume, the zombie offers a bridge
between an iconic object of print media (the Christian Bible) and contemporary Internet meme culture.
The zombie’s ubiquity also underscores its theoretical applications.
As monsters that straddle the gulf between life and death, zombies disturb established ontological and epistemological categories, as well as
hegemonic norms. Those disruptions are frequently associated with an
assortment of social anxieties: about viral contagion, biological warfare,
neoliberal and totalitarian securitization, environmental collapse, and
capitalist end-times. Unsurprisingly, our contributors evoke some of
these themes, either implicitly or explicitly; Emma Vossen’s analysis of
The Walking Dead concentrates on the apprehension and anticipation that
follow in the wake of global economic crisis. In this regard, Vossen’s essay
reiterates that in the horror genre zombies commonly symbolize apprehension over social precariousness and radical change. Zombies expose
the abject physiology beneath human skin, either because they rip into living tissue, or because their flesh is falling apart. Zombies also reveal what
bodies are capable of, and what they can endure. Yet the zombie’s presence
outside of horror signals that the undead are not limited to reflecting collective fears. As Vossen’s essay elucidates, the zombie renaissance offers
a multitude of new insights into the zombie’s capacity to reflect our erotic
and even political desires. Contemporary zombie narratives also expose
an array of truths about our shared global present, especially those that
are tied to automation, disposability, and new collectivities.

4

Introduction

The zombie boom is a mass culture trend that is fueling a diverse
body of new scholarly work. As Steve Jones observes in his contribution
to this volume, although the zombie is foremost a movie-monster, the
living dead’s significance has been contemplated outside of film studies,
particularly in the philosophy of consciousness (see Heil; Kirk; Locke).
Additionally, since the early 2000s zombies have become increasingly
visible in a wider variety of scholarly disciplines. Neuropsychologists
have drawn on the zombie in discussions of automated bodily functions
(Rossetti and Revonsuo; Aquilina and Hughes; Behuniak). The zombie
appears in computer scientists’ deliberations over artificial intelligences
and hacks (Gray and Wegner; Kari Larsen). Posthumanists have evoked
the zombie when debating the failures and possibilities of impersonal
or pre-personal subjectivity (Christie and Lauro). Marxists have utilized
the living dead in metaphors regarding the deadening effects of late capitalism and the turmoil and violence that results from ongoing global
economic crises (Giroux; Harman; McNally).

Necro-Sociality
Importantly these various approaches are all rooted in concepts of
sociality—the relationships and forms of reproduction that organize
associations between people, social systems, and non-human others.
Zombies are social monsters, and their monstrosity is a reflection of
our own. Lone zombies are ineffective, comical rather than frightening. En masse, however, the zombie swarm is terrifying. Zombies reproduce sociality itself as a kind of latent zymotic disease that threatens
humanity’s existence. This trait, what we might call the zombie’s necrosociality, illustrates ways in which zombies metaphorically capture anxieties about identity, embodiment, and agency that resonate with contemporary and historical social contexts. As Marcus Harmes observes
in his contribution to this volume, one important context that has been
largely under-theorized in zombie scholarship to date is Victorian social
attitudes towards dead bodies. Drawing on the quasi- necrophilic
imagery of European zombie-horror set in the nineteenth century,
Harmes exposes the fetishistic, sexual overtones of cultic Victorian
mourning practices.
A tandem socio-historical context has received far more attention
in zombie studies; numerous thinkers have drawn upon the zombie’s
origins in Haitian folklore to understand histories of racism and racial-

Zombie Sex

5

ized labor (Moreman and Rushton; Castronovo). Many cinematic depictions of zombies are overtly racialized. For instance, zombies have been
treated as somnambulistic slave figures in White Zombie (1932) and I
Walked with a Zombie (1943), or monstrous cannibals pitched against
white westerners in Zombie Flesheaters (1979), Zombie Holocaust (1980),
and Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980). These texts illustrate specific anxieties (and fantasies) about race and colonialism. White Zombie and I
Walked with a Zombie make these links explicit via their Gothic postcolonial Caribbean settings, anxious miscegenation fantasies,1 and zombie laborers. In African traditions, zombies are not undead creatures
hungering after the flesh of the living, but ordinary people who have
been victimized by a witch or sorcerer who then forces them to work
against their will. As Lars Bang Larsen observes, “The origin of the zombie in Haitian vodoun has an explicit relationship to labor, as a repetition
or reenactment of slavery. The person who receives the zombie spell
‘dies,’ is buried, excavated, and put to work, usually as a field hand.” These
themes were explored, as Larsen points out, by Wade Davis in his controversial book The Serpent and the Rainbow, in which the ethnobotanist
sought a pharmacological explanation for zombies. Davis’s social analysis
is more compelling than his pharmacological insights, however; for people of African descent in the post-colony, zombies represent “the loss of
physical liberty that is slavery, and the sacrifice of personal autonomy
implied by the loss of identity” (qtd. in Lars Bang Larsen; see also
Thomas). In these traditions, zombies are terrifying not because they
are consumptive or contagious, but because they evoke enslavement to
the will of another. More recently, thinkers have drawn upon the zombie
to comprehend the apparently magical accumulation of wealth under
postcolonial neoliberalism (Comaroff and Comaroff ) and widespread
experiences of social precariousness.
Although it is now largely forgotten, the paradigmatic image of the
zombie as a looming, murderous horde also derives from the Caribbean,
and especially the Haitian revolution, which was perceived by the West
as mindless, rapacious destruction (Sibylle 2). The contemporary zombie
likewise almost always appears as a horde that threatens existence as we
know it. The zombie swarm is an inverted fantasy. Like contemporary
capitalism, it represents destruction through voracious, insatiable consumption. Simultaneously, zombies represent that which could deliver
us from that self-same death drive. Thus, zombies might appear as a
revolutionary multitude—faceless, inexorable, forcing a global transformation toward a genocidal absolute war—or they might catalyze a per-

6

Introduction

manent détente, in which humans band together regardless of ethnonational and religious differences. By dwelling on themes of collective
power and revolution, zombie narratives typically reduce the social
world to its day zero, providing opportunities to re-envisage society.
However, a number of our contributors point out that in some narratives
zombie futures bear a striking resemblance to our political present.
Moreover, as Sasha Cocarla argues in relation to Warm Bodies and both
Cathy Hannabach and Vossen argue in relation to different iterations of
The Walking Dead, many zombie narratives reproduce or even celebrate
norms tied to romance, gender, ability, and heterosexuality.

The Promise of a Zombie Future
The leveling of social difference, and of society itself, is paradoxically facilitated by the zombie’s lack of subjective agency. The zombie
represents humanity in a pre-conscious state. Thus, the zombie’s revolution is not only social: it also represents day zero for human identity,
and the imbricated experiences of individuality and interdependence on
which sociality is founded (see also Lauro and Embry). As SheetsJohnstone observes, animate corporeality is the foundation of lived experience. In this view, our bodies tie us to the world prior to the formation
of identity. In Mel Chen’s recent articulations of “animacies,” the liveliness of an identity, body, or idea depends on its place within ordered
hierarchies and specifically its relationship to forms of matter considered
dead or insensate. Chen argues that these hierarchies are profoundly
relational. What makes one body appear dead or alive has to do with
how it affects or is affected by others. The zombie—animated flesh evacuated of identity and agency—enlivens concepts of life or of humanity
in which the human is unconstrained by social or cultural limits. Zombies are freed of any obligations, other than to their own hunger. As
Trevor Grizzell explores in his analysis of The Walking Dead television
series in this volume, the displacement of excess onto zombies underscores
human efforts to exercise forms of purity and control—to erect animate
hierarchies that guard humanity from forms of consumption or violence
that are deemed beyond the pale. To draw upon a famous example, that
unconstrained drive to excess leads zombies to return to the suburban
mall where they once shopped in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead
(1978). Although driven by a quest for comforting familiarity, the zombies are disoriented in the mall’s terrain: they fail to find peace, because

Zombie Sex

7

their new state is incompatible with their previous existence. Romero’s
interests in social politics are explicitly critical, as is elucidated by the
ways the “normal” human social world of conspicuous consumption is
echoed in the zombie’s insistent, insatiable hunger. For the audience and
the living protagonists, the zombie’s presence in the mall is disquieting,
not only because they are incongruous with the setting. Firstly, the
wastage involved in consumer capitalism is personified by the zombies,
who are humans-as-waste. Secondly, the zombie’s fruitless desire and
resultant confusion replicate the emptiness of living human desires.
Zombies are evacuated of self, but they also reveal that for the living,
autonomous will is empty. In his essay, Steve Jones examines the gradual
erosion of the human will and rationality in zombie transition narratives.
Zombie metamorphoses, Jones suggests, highlight the tenuousness of
our claims to rationality, as well as illustrating tensions in different
philosophies of the self and sociality. The zombie’s body is post-mortal
excess, standing in for the ugly, blind needs that are left after our jobs,
relationships, life-plans, and cherished personalities are excised. Since
the zombies reveal that our needs are aimed towards false, unsatisfying
goals (the mall, consumption), those needs are not constituted by anything substantial. We are insubstantial, animated by powerful but opaque
desires.
This is Romero’s most significant contribution to zombie lore, and
one that is developed by allowing the zombie to explicitly evolve into
consciousness from Day of the Dead (1985) onwards. Also in 1985,
Return of the Living Dead transformed the zombie inasmuch as it
employed post- modern humor to develop the evolution of zombieconsciousness. In this instance, zombies are relatively articulate. They
are also able to mobilize and plan their cannibalistic assaults; “send more
paramedics,” one zombie requests, in preparation for an ambush. These
changes mean that the zombie clearly attains subjective existence, far
removed from the lumbering, irrational beings offered in many earlier
entries into the zombie canon. The prospect of zombie consciousness
is of concern because the paradoxes of the oxymoron “living-dead” and
“motorized instinct” (as the doctor phrases it in Dawn of the Dead )
unhinge foundational ontological suppositions. The monsters are
uncomfortably akin to their apparently rational, living human brethren.
As Webb and Byrnand note, “there is always something ‘nearly me’ about
the monster” (84). The social horror at hand is exacerbated precisely by
the human-zombie parallel offered in these films; these monsters are
uncanny doppelgängers.

8

Introduction

Zombie Love
Not all undead beings were treated as mindless entities prior to the
1970s; The Mummy (1932), Dracula (1931), and Frankenstein (1931) all
feature central “living dead” figures that display conscious motivation.
Interestingly, these monsters are driven by explicitly human concerns—
in particular, the quest for sexual companionship (although Frankenstein’s creation does not find his partner until Bride of Frankenstein
[1935]). These films pivotally present living dead beings not as mechanized husks, but as individuals who lay claim to sexual identity (even if
that identity is impersonal, distasteful or disaffected).
What is at once central and strangely absent from current debates
about the zombie is any detailed consideration of sex and sexuality. This
oversight is startling, not least since sex is arguably the most intimate
form of social engagement, and is a profound aspect of human social
identity. What makes the omission even more remarkable is how appositely the zombie reflects socio-sexual desires and fears. Zombies are
fundamentally reproductive, attaining power through violent, interpersonal and contagious contact. In tandem, zombie texts typically feature
a band of survivors, families or their analogues, who must struggle to
endure the zombie apocalypse, and presumably repopulate the world.
In zombie narratives, human sex is symbolically powerful: it is an anxious reprieve to dystopian threat, and a promise that future generations
of the living will still inherit the earth. In one sense, sex might be envisaged as buttressing heteronormative fantasies, then. Allegorically, the
nuclear family closes ranks and is arrayed against an encroaching horde
(of foreigners or queers), and heterosexual propagation is presented as
the ultimate goal that might save humanity. On the other hand, zombie
procreation represents a powerful alternative to heterosexual breeding,
one that de-naturalizes the relationship between heterosexual intercourse and propagation. In the zombie narrative, heterosexual reproduction is superseded, and what Lee Edelman dubs “reproductive
futurism” is upended. In his essay here, Grizzell argues that such upendings, and especially the failures represented by zombie propagation, offer
useful queer re-conceptualizations of culture.
Where the zombie-film’s sexual politics have been addressed by
academics, feminist methodologies have typically been used to examine
the living characters’ gendered relationships (Grant 200–212; Greenberg
86; Paffenroth 59–66; Patterson 103–118). Subsequently, there are two
major oversights in the body of existing literature. First, sex and love

Zombie Sex

9

play crucial roles in numerous zombie narratives. That is, sex is important to the plots and meanings of many zombie films, and manifests in
a multitude of ways. For example, Shaun of the Dead’s (2004) zombie
plague is a backdrop for a romantic narrative that drives towards lead
protagonist Shaun being happily reunited with his lover Liz. However,
the film’s pivotal relationship is a “bromance” between Shaun and his
best friend Ed, who is more pertinently Shaun’s partner in the narrative.
Although Ed becomes infected, the film closes not with a heterosexual
coupling, but with a merging between heterosexual and homosocial,
between living and dead: Shaun, Liz, and the now undead Ed live
together in a “happily ever after” union. In the Japanese film Wild Zero
(1999), lead protagonist and wannabe rocker Ace is initially distressed
to discover that his “damsel in distress” beau (Tomoe) is male. However,
the zombie plague is the film’s only crisis: Ace’s momentary confusion
is swiftly overturned when Ace has a vision of his rock’n’roll hero Guitar
Wolf, who proclaims, “Love has no borders, nationalities, or genders!
DO IT!!!” The romance unfolds in accordance with Guitar Wolf ’s enthusiastic assertion. Further indications that zombie-narratives are not
exclusively focused on heterosexuality are exemplified by Noble
Romance’s “Zombies versus Lesbians” novellas, such as Amber Green’s
Dead Kitties Don’t Purr. The series uses zombie outbreaks as complications in gay romance stories. Given that sex and love are driving forces
in so many zombie narratives, it is surprising that they have been disregarded by scholars in favor of other less prominent themes. In her
essay for this volume, Sasha Cocarla explores the queered normativity
of R, the zombie protagonist of Isaac Marion’s novel, Warm Bodies. R
engages in a three way relationship with Perry, whose brain he has
devoured and whose feelings he subsequently experiences, and Julie,
Perry’s former love interest. Cocarla links R’s quest toward greater liveliness to the affective aspirations interpellated by neoliberal notions of
freedom, rationality, and the salvific couple form.2
The second element overlooked in current academic discussion is
zombie sexuality: the fact that the undead have sex with each other and
with humans in many contemporary zombie narratives. Since the late
1990s, zombies have been increasingly represented as sexual figures.
Frequently, the results have seemingly reiterated normative sexual hierarchies, in which certain bodies and modes of existence are subordinated
to others. Denise N. Cook’s contribution to this volume evokes precisely
these problems. Critiquing Giddens’ “plastic sexuality” paradigm, Cook’s
dissection of short-stories about undead sex-work demonstrates that

10

Introduction

although zombie sexuality represents versatility and freedom on one
hand, such imaginings are typically anchored by restrictive norms that
fetter sexual liberty.

Dead Straight/Dire Straights
In an extension of the associations made between zombies and
racialized identities then, it may appear that sexual zombies are utilized
to support the notion that male heterosexuality, for example, is the dominant standard against which other forms of sexual expression, identities
or genders are judged. It is clear why one might reach this conclusion.
In the case of Lesbian Zombies from Outer Space (2013), for example,
female homosexuality is tallied with zombidom, and therefore implied
to be monstrous. Indeed, lesbianism is presented as an object of heterosexual desire rather than as an autonomous identity within this context.
As the film’s trailer proposes, a world of lesbians is “one man’s fantasy”
which “becomes a nightmare” only because the women in question are
undead. The audience is interpellated into that presumed position of
heterosexual privilege via the tagline: “They want you, but not in a sexual
way … hang on to your Johnson.”3
The trend of sexualizing zombies is largely aimed at straight men.
Both the Adult Swim Flash Game Zombie Hooker Nightmare (2009) and
Edward Lee’s comic book Grubgirl (1997) depict only female zombie
prostitutes and heterosexual male patrons. Since 2000, the website zombiepinups.com, for instance, has drolly exhibited portraits of “undead
vixens” as gruesome sex symbols. Playfully evoking the iconography of
1950s pinup modeling as a “dead” form of pornography, these images
make light of the incongruity between cadavers and erotic photography.
More recently, the marketing for Nintendo’s Wii game ZombiU (2012)
utilized the same discrepancy in relation to contemporary glamour modeling. The print advertisement presents a model stripping off her bra,
accompanied by the leading question, “She’s got a body to die for …
wanna see?” On turning the page, the viewer is greeted with an undead
version of the model (“We did warn you”). In both cases, humor arises
from a presumed incompatibility between rotting, animated corpses and
erotic desire. However, this maneuver involves treating zombies as sex
objects by placing them in contexts typically associated with the sexual
objectification of women. Zombies become a logical extension of the
visual tropes and practices of looking that render women’s bodies as frag-

Zombie Sex

11

mented objects of male desire. Zombie Strippers! (2008), for instance,
presents the undead in a context synonymous with heterosexual male
voyeuristic desire.4 In this case, the living clients respond to the zombie
dancers with greater enthusiasm than they do the living ecdysiasts. In
this case, the zombies are treated as sex symbols in their own right,
being dubbed “beautiful” by the customers who summarily reject the
living strippers.
Such interchanges between sexual voyeurism and zombies throw
doubt over the presumed lines between “disgusting” and “desirable.” The
decaying corpse epitomizes disgust (Menninghaus 1).5 In usurping living
bodies that are indicative of conventional sexiness and debunking the
structures that institutionalize those conventions, the apparently
dichotomous division between desire and disgust becomes blurry at
best. This ideological collapse is not just concerned with why some bodies are deemed un/desirable, but also the desirer’s motives. In some
recent films such as Doghouse (2009), gender difference is hypostatized
as a binary opposition: all females are transformed into flesh hungry
ghouls who attack the living (men). In Stripperland (2011) a similar division is created, with an added degree of sexualization: women are transformed into undead strippers. What is notable in these cases is not male
heterosexual dominance, however. These films depict sexual objectification as both oppressive and absurd. The notion that heterosexual men
might see all women as mindless strippers is a damning indictment of
the former rather than the latter. In these cases—particularly in Doghouse—men that stubbornly stick to sexual stereotyping are painted as
laughable. At best, such men are ill-equipped to survive the onset of
change. At worst, such men are limned as more monstrous than the
anthropophagic cadavers that threaten them.
Numerous films take the logic of objectification further by depicting
human heterosexual men using female zombies as sexual receptacles.
The film Deadgirl (2008), for instance, portrays a group of ordinary
young heterosexual men who become fixated on sexually violating an
imprisoned female zombie (see Jones, “Gender Monstrosity”). Such fantasies are stark reflections of prevalent desires and fears at the outset of
the 21st century: an era in which consumption is deeply tied to sexualized desires for control, and in which necrophilic “extreme” pornography
has been the subject of legal enquiry (see Aggrawal 180; Attwood and
Smith 178). In cases such as Deadgirl, however, the zombie is not a monster: the undead’s blankness evokes powerlessness. In contrast, the
human males are ghoulish abusers. Being associated with sexual

12

Introduction

deviancy (Downing 168; Canter and Wentink 491; Gutierrez and GinerSorolla 854–55), necrophilia underscores how morally disgusting the
males’ actions are. Harmes’ and Cook’s essays in this volume offer
nuanced dissections of this necrophilic dynamic. It should also be noted
that zombies are not always victims of sexual violence. In The Necro Files
(1997) and its sequel (2003), and Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead (2012),
for example, zombies rape the living. In these cases, zombies are portrayed as sexually active beings whose cravings for living flesh are not
limited to anthropophagy.

Queer Eye for the Dead Guy
Even when it is straight, then, sex between zombies and humans is
inherently queer. Elsewhere, the figures involved are queer. Queer interventions in zombie lore allegorize gay male sexuality run amok (often
humorously), but they also underscore the political potential represented
by zombie sexuality. A few examples include VidKid Timo’s parody At
Twilight Come the Flesh-Eaters (1998), Michael Simon’s Gay Zombie
(2007), and Chris Diani’s campy homage to 1960s horror films, Creatures
from the Pink Lagoon (2006). These films all play with the idea that gay
male sex and mindless zombie hunger have something in common. In
Creatures, for example, a group of gay men at a beach house fight off a
group of undead gay men, who had become infected by radioactive mosquitos at a cruisy rest stop. Gay Zombie follows a gay zombie through
the difficulties of dating in the clonish West Hollywood scene. In both,
gay male sexuality is represented as comically repetitive, and a little
dumb. Creatures plays with stereotypes of gay “man-eaters,” while Gay
Zombie suggests that with the right attitude even the dead can fit in
among Los Angeles’ clones.
Bruce LaBruce’s queer interventions offer other, more politically
engaged, perspectives, which are probed at length by Darren ElliottSmith in this volume (see also McGlotten; McGlotten and VanGundy).
In Otto; Or, Up with Dead People (2008) and L.A. Zombie (2008), the
Canadian independent filmmaker upends the zombie mythos. In these
films, the zombies are gay outsiders for whom their zombie difference is
figured as a queerness that is at once enlivening and deadening. In Otto,
the titular character is a young amnesiac zombie, who is new to his
undeath. His existential quest for an identity brings him into contact with
Medea Yarn, an experimental filmmaker who is completing a political-

Zombie Sex

13

pornographic film about gay zombies called Up with Dead People. Yarn
is intrigued by Otto’s authenticity—although she (like the viewer) is
unsure whether he really is a zombie or just a messed up kid—and
decides to make a documentary about him, a study of alienated queer
difference. In Yarn’s film, an explicitly gay zombie army rises up to combat the banalities of late capitalism and deadened living. Otto’s own
quest is less revolutionary or dramatic, however. Rather than discovering
his will-to-power, Otto models forms of impersonal subjectivity that
refuse the lure of a destructive jouissance or the revolutionary multitude.
All living beings seem like the same person to him, a person he “doesn’t
like very much.” In the end, Otto opts out, enacting what Halberstam
(The Queer Art of Failure) and others have dubbed a queer politics of
refusal, leaving Berlin to head north, hoping to discover a “whole new
way of death.” In Darren Elliott-Smith’s reading, Otto provides LaBruce
with a means to critique both the violence of homophobia and the bourgeois homonormativity of contemporary gay cultures. Otto himself is a
fundamentally ambivalent character, and one who serves to satirize gay
male sexual politics of top/bottom—he is both an object and a reluctant
consumer.
L.A. Zombie (2010) likewise presents a gay zombie protagonist,
although this film is explicitly sexual, co-produced by porn companies
Wurstfilm and Dark Alley Media. In L.A. Zombie, an alien zombie rises
from the Pacific Ocean and then roams through Los Angeles’ violent
sexual underworld. Again, LaBruce upends zombie conventions. In this
film, the zombie is a lone wanderer who re-animates rather than devours
his objects of desire. He seems less motivated by a consuming hunger
(for sex or brains) than by a melancholic and compassionate desire to
undo the effects of violence. When he encounters a dead young man,
their sexual congress and specifically his black, oil-like ejaculate brings
him back to life. In L.A. Zombie, LaBruce extends his critique of gay
culture as dead or boring, and he also ambivalently offers sex as both
effect and remedy to what queer critics like Lisa Duggan have called the
new homonormativity (The Twilight of Equality?), a gay culture rooted
in an assimilationist ethos and oriented toward consumption and domesticity. Sex, LaBruce suggests, is one possible route toward an aesthetic
and political reanimation of gay culture. Yet Elliott-Smith also underlines
the film’s critique of gay male sexual publics, which values hypermasculine forms as yet another capitalist “meat” byproduct. The sexual politics of gay zombies may be as alienating as they are empowering.
In her essay for this book, Cathy Hannabach likewise offers a skep-

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