August 4, 2011

Erotic Undead: Explaining the Zombie / Sex Connection

"Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? You know, violently? And wonder, like, what would be the most horrible way to die? Mm. Well for me, the worst way would be for a bunch of old men to get around me, and start biting and eating me alive. First, they would tear off my clothes..."

- Trash (Return of the Living Dead)

Someone get a light  over here, Trash is taking off her clothes again
While zombies aren't the first creatures you may think of as sex symbols, there is a consistent, continuous, and curious connection between zombies and eroticism. In the world of zombie media, it is not surprising to find softcore zombie exploitation films (Erotic Nights of the Living Dead), pornographic zombie parodies (Re-Penatrator), zombie cheesecake photography (Zombie Pinups), and even increasingly revealing zombie Halloween costumes.

The zombie -- that paradox of walking death with an insatiable hunger to feed on human flesh -- inspires terror but also titillation. Why is it that this connection between the erotic and the necrotic persists? I believe that the idea of the zombie, although we don't like it admit it, is bound to our darker and most rebellious notions of the erotic.  I think there are two main ideas that account for the eroticism of zombies: (1) the link between sex and death symbolized by the zombie, and (2) the zombie's kinky challenge to notions of conventional beauty.

SEX, DEATH, AND HUNGER: A PSYCHOLOGICAL THREESOME


We don't like to admit it, but sex, death, and food are all linked in the human psyche. For generations, philosophers, poets, and thinkers have pondered this morbid association in the human imagination that manifests in our art and our language. In French, "la petite mort" or "little death" is a metaphor describing orgasm, an ecstasy akin to the release of the soul. In English, we use seemingly innocuous metaphors like "I could eat you up" or "You look delicious" to describe our attraction to someone despite the implication: "I want to consume you like meat." In the heat of the moment, we may let this desire for death and consumption reach more explicit heights when we talk dirty about how good a lover "tastes," how we "eat out" our partner, or when a lover comments on his or her partner's "meat." This jumble of sexual metaphor with the metaphor of consumption, which applied to a living animal is associated with death for the consumed, paints a complex picture of human sexuality in which eroticism and death are not so far apart.

Hans Baldung Grien, Death and the Maiden, 1518-20

Why is sex and death linked? Perhaps, just as "la petite mort" explains, both sex and death are an uncontrollable release. You can no more fight back from the brink of orgasm as you can from the brink of death. In this light, the orgasm can be a scary thing. The unconscious reactions of the body. The relinquishing of control to another force or stimulus. The obliteration of the consciousness that comes with a really "mind blowing" orgasm. All these things, in their own way, communicate the obliteration of the individual as he or she is swept up and carried away by another force, just as when our souls are swept up in the passage of death.

If death and sex weren't so scary, why would we spend so much time attempting to control them? Think of all the money and technology that goes into preventing aging, producing medicine, and creating new life-saving technology to keep death off our doorsteps. Then think about all the time spent by countries (past and present) that regulate and oppress the sexuality of its citizens. In places there are laws against fellatio, laws against gay and lesbian sexual unions, laws against the production, sale, and distribution of pornography and sexual aids. It seems clear to me that people not only fear death but also the dangerous, liberating, and uncontrollable drive of non-reproductive sex.

Then comes the zombie. The zombie manifests our fear of death by surrounding us with walking reminders of the inevitability of our demise and the fragile, weak constitutions of our bodies that rot and fall apart. Sigmund Freud described in his psychoanalytical theories the concept of a death drive that compels us to destruction and a life drive compelling us towards life-sustaining activities. In the image of the zombie, however, the death drive and life drive become one. A zombie is dead thing compelled to bring about death by a normally life-sustaining activity. And how do zombies usher us into death? By feeding on us.



Picture it: A writhing mass of bodies and hands -- grasping, groping, and pulling eagerly at clothes and flesh. Hot naked flesh explored by anonymous mouths and tongues -- mouths that push deeper and more intimately into the flesh, penetrating deeper and harder into the body. The release of hot, wet dripping fluids.

Am I describing a wild sexual orgy or the feeding frenzy of a zombie horde? The act of eating and feeding, especially in a sexual connotation, is an intimate and erotic act. Add to this the element of the zombie, a dead horde of bodies that overwhelm you, overpower you, and dissolve you into themselves, and you get a pretty good indication of how notions about the power of sex, the drive toward death, and the drive towards life become mixed together.

In some dark and taboo way, sex, food, and death are linked in the human psyche. This can make zombies erotic.

DO YOU WANT TO PARTY? EROTIC ZOMBIE PUNKS


Another reason zombies may be erotic lies in their kinky and overt challenge to concepts of beauty. Whereas zombies have become the pretty boys and girls of the undead world, in which their pale skin and preserved features capture the appearance of a cold, air-brushed eternal youth, zombies are far messier. They're bloody and gory and slimy and dirty and filthy, but you know what? They embrace it. Zombies are like the punks of the horror movie world. They're unconventional, anti-establishment, rebellious boys and girls who just don't give a fuck. Ultimately, the rebellion against society and the body that is associated with zombies can be, ultimately, sexy and attractive.


CONTINUES AFTER THE CUT

I call zombies punks because, like punks, zombies represent an anti-establishment philosophy. They are always tearing down and rising up in subversive ways. More so, zombies are like punks in the way they look. Punk fashion, especially of the 1980s, is characterized by a highly visual appropriation of conventional fashion that is then modified, subverted, and inverted with a DIY attitude. The ripped clothing, safety pins, patches, chains, and tape that make up punk fashion are, I think, analogous to the ripped, torn, bloody, and messy bodies of the zombie seen on TV and film. In a society that prides itself on individuality yet pressures people to meet higher and higher standards of bodily beauty and fashion, the zombie offers us an attractive and alternative.

There's something exciting, kinky, and unconventional about the confidence to be who you want to be. Zombies help us relieve our repressed desires and go wild and crazy. Everyone likes a bad boy or a naughty girl, and I think everyone wants to be a bad boy and a naughty girl too, at least some of the time. You don't get much more naughtier than zombies.


When people see zombies on TV or film, or when people dress up like zombies to participate in a Zombie Walk, I think people experience some of this release from sexual and body repression. As a zombie you don't have to worry about your hair or your skin or whether you are too fat or too old or too skinny or too WHATEVER. Zombies just are! With missing arms, holes in their heads, torn faces, and eviscerated guts, zombies embrace their bodies and go about fulfilling their desires regardless of what society thinks. They don't stop to check in the mirror. They don't stop to consider plastic surgery or liposuction. They don't stop to consider whether their shoe fetish, S&M fetish, diaper fetish, or any other kink is shameful, bad, or wrong. They're free of this guilt to just be. In a way, zombies are free from shame about their bodies and desires.


Zombies invite us to come get messy and dirty with them. All are welcome. No questions asked. Combined with the way zombies represent our human drive for sex, death, and food, this added element of their rebellious, punk-like confidence makes the zombie a very attractive and very sexy idea.

So you can keep your sparkly vampires, thank you very much. If you're looking for a really thrilling erotic rendezvous, you aren't going to find it with mainstream vampires anymore. The real hot, swinging parties these days are happening over at the crypt with all those sexy, shambling zombies.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, that was a very thought provoking post. Kinda' sick, yeah, but hell, most horror fans are a little twisted anyway. Nothing new under the blood-soaked Sun.

    I'm with you on the romantic vampire thing. That's for pansies and romantics. Give me the vamps from King's, "Salems Lot" or 30 Days of Night. Those are some scary vampires. The only thing scary about the Twilight idiots is that they're popular.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post,

    Patrick

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