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the Complete Review
the complete review - culutural studies

     

Living with the Living Dead

by
Greg Garrett


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Living with the Living Dead



Title: Living with the Living Dead
Author: Greg Garrett
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2017
Length: 215 pages
Availability: Living with the Living Dead - US
Living with the Living Dead - UK
Living with the Living Dead - Canada
  • The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse

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Our Assessment:

B : decent overview

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 6/3/2017 .
Times Higher Ed. . 17/8/2017 Marcus Leaning


  From the Reviews:
  • "Garrett’s accessible and insightful inquiry into our zombie zeitgeist finds surprising depth in a theme usually dismissed as simple entertainment." - Publishers Weekly

  • "It is the value of such stories to our understanding of our place in -- and the nature of -- the contemporary world that Greg Garrett’s accessible volume focuses on. Based primarily on a theological approach, the central thrust of the book is that the popularity of zombies can be attributed to a society-wide attempt to grapple with a sense of threat or risk." - Marcus Leaning, Times Higher Education

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Greg Garrett dates the modern-day cultural preoccupation with 'zombies' to: "1968 and [George] Romero's seminal film Night of the Living Dead [...] the ground zero of the Zombie Apocalypse". Here one finds the basics of the zombie-universe -- the relentless and mindless undead, motivated only by an undying hunger -- that continues to be employed in many contemporary books, TV shows, and films. In Living with the Living Dead, Garrett looks at these treatments of this modern phenomenon and what their popularity might say about contemporary society and what we might learn from them -- focusing especially on the Romero films, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (and the film versions), TV shows The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and films including Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later
       Zombies are interesting fictional creatures -- in no small part because they are so uninteresting: there's almost nothing to them, and specifically, as Garrett also, notes, nothing human to them. They resemble the living but lack everything -- except for the most basic hunger-instict -- that makes us human. The strongly religiously influenced Garrett suggests they don't have 'souls' (and that: "Their essence is now solely physical, not spiritual"), which is one way of seeing it; but in fact they lack everything but the most basic consciousness. If originally -- pre-Romero -- the zombie concept specifically addressed questions of the nature of being dead, contemporary zombie culture has less to do with questions of mortality than of a medical state of otherness: people become infected, and are transformed into this state of otherness, losing themselves -- or at least almost all aspects of what made them them -- to this disease. (Oddly, Garrett does not devote much space to contemporary medical issues: zombies are not exactly Alzheimer's de-mented, but certainly contemporary fear of the ravages of diseases from AIDS and Ebola to mind-robbing dementias play a significant role in the embrace of the zombie-genre.)
       Even more obviously than most horror-creatures, zombies are fictional -- yet just plausible enough to strike the proper fear, that maybe something like them is possible .... But, as Garrett repeatedly points out, zombie-stories really aren't about the zombies, but rather about the survivors, and how they deal with this extreme situation. The 'Zombie Apocalypse' is the ultimate us versus them, for the highest stakes -- an end-of-civilization showdown --, and pushes humans to the extremes. Garrett believes there are lessons to be learnt here: one chapter suggests: 'How Zombie Stories Encourage Community', while another considers: 'The Ethics of the Zombie Apocalypse'.
       Looking through his Christian-tinted glasses, Garrett tries to put a positive spin on much of the behavior these dire situations force people into; Christianly he can excuse much of the bad -- even horrific -- behavior; man is flawed, and so even as the extreme situation can occasionally bring out the best in the survivors, he's not surprised it often leads to the worst.
       Garrett suggests facing the Zombie Apocalypse often brings out a sense of community and self-sacrifice, a basic goodness -- which he sees as a positive -- even as his examples tend to show that bad actions and actors predominate. Certainly, facing zombies leads to interesting scenarios of people working together -- though presumably one of the reasons there are so few lone-ranger variations (I Am Legend being a rare exception) is that they simply are much more difficult to package entertainingly in stories (which is why, for example, even the TV show The Last Man on Earth is an ensemble show).
       Garrett does at least ask some of the harder questions -- "Can you do something monstrous in service of greater good ? And if you do, does that make you better or worse than the mosters you oppose ?" And he points out that most stories don't explore some of the alternative courses for narrative reasons -- "peacemaking may not be an effective story element", as the never-ending zombie-slaughter is arguably necessary because:

To refuse to kill them would subject audiences, readers, or gamers to hours of unnecessary tedium.
       Garrett also suggests the zombie template reflects a post-11 September 2001 world, with Americans' sense of a vague but terrible threat, an enemy bent only on destruction (and one which must and can be attacked by any means possible) so similar, in its basics, to the Zombie Apocalypse. Indeed, the simplistic nature of the zombie-as-enemy is deserving of more study: it's unsurprising that it's a particularly American phenomenon, the country of 'stand your own ground'-laws: an almost entirely unnuanced good-versus-evil conflict: Garrett is correct that the nuance, and the interesting stories, are all seen to be in the shades of good (which itself is often not very good ...) but of course the nature of the evil should be just as interesting, and it is noteworthy that it's rarely considered more closely.
       Living with the Living Dead is a fairly interesting look at some aspects of the incredibly popular zombie-phenomenon. Garrett does make an effort to at least point to many of the ethical issues and dilemmas beyond the obvious, but is somewhat hobbled by his through-and-through Christian worldview, which limits his perspective (despite the occasional Dalai Lama shout-out and occasionally trying to touch on atheist, Buddhist, and other perspectives). So also, his embrace of the virtues of self-sacrifice and ideas of community are strongly colored by his belief-system, tainting his analysis The extent to which the zombie-idea is an American phenomenon -- and not just post-11 September-influenced -- could also have been explored in greater depth, particularly as far as the nature of the enemy (and the relative indifference to it -- zombie bad is pretty much all there is to it) goes. Still, Garrett does at least touch on -- if not sufficiently probe -- many of the issues and questions, and though it is frustrating that so much isn't explored or considered more fully, at least there's considerable food for thought.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 July 2017

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Links:

Living with the Living Dead: Reviews: Greg Garrett: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greg Garrett teaches at Baylor. He was born in 1961.

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© 2017 the complete review

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