The Return of the Dead: Fears and Anxieties Surrounding the Return of the Dead in Late Postmodern Culture

Michael, Bethan (2019). The Return of the Dead: Fears and Anxieties Surrounding the Return of the Dead in Late Postmodern Culture. In: Michael-Fox, Bethan; Dixon, Izabela and Doran, Selina E.M. eds. There's More to Fear than Fear Itself: Fears and Anxieties in the 21st Century. Oxford and Leiden: Inter-Disciplinary Press and Brill, pp. 31–45.




Diverse depictions of zombies, vampires, ghosts and other manifestations of the dead permeate late postmodern culture. Like Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein or George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, which reflected, respectively, fears and anxieties about science and religion and political and economic upheaval, 21st Century representations of the undead are steeped in contemporary concerns. They appeal to fears about viral outbreaks, globalisation and population control, as well as the technologisation and medicalisation of death that make immortality and resurrection appear; whilst they remain questionably desirable, increasingly plausible. The inarticulate and insatiable postmodern zombie in particular can be read as emblematic of the anxieties of a media culture increasingly aware of global conflict, ecological disasters, disease and terrorism. Amongst the profusion of narratives that resuscitate the dead in the 21st Century, an emergent strand negotiating arguably more enduring concerns about death can also be identified. In a culture that, as Zygmunt Bauman argues, tends towards the ‘squeezing of meditation on death out of daily life pursuits’, the 2012 French television series Les Revenants and British dramas, the 2013 In The Flesh and 2011 series The Fades, embark on sustained and elegiac explorations of death depicting a highly articulate resurrected dead. In a secularised West in which, as Sandra Gilbert suggests, ‘the intransigent blankness of terminations that lead nowhere and promise nothing’ can be desolating, these series convey an explicit concern with the psychology and experience of loss and engage with abiding philosophical questions about the human condition.

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