Dead Eroticism and the Zombie Body

By | 1 April 2010

Whoever said that zombies reinvented the spirit of sex appeal holds the key to the future of dead eroticism. There is a new wave of sexual lust sweeping modern entertainment, primarily concerned with rot, filth and a hunger of the deepest carnality. At the core of this fascination are two intimate human traits; the inability to look away from the grotesque and an obsession with sex.

Sexuality in a body classified as 'undead' is both a source of revulsion and curiosity. As diseased bodies, zombies disgust our sensibilities and send us screaming into the nearest safe haven. Their appearance alone is enough to incite flight but it is the danger to our own safety that drives us so passionately into retreat. We fear what we cannot see; there is nothing psychologically recognisable as human in a reanimated corpse. Bargaining and begging for mercy have no power in the face of their hunger. They lack complex human behaviours in favour of raw greed. They are not, however, sexless. It is the recognition of this basic attribute that disturbs us the most. Their's are bodies revealed to the deepest core as ultimately sexual. Often unclothed, regularly unskinned and running at the highest possible rate of activity, they epitomise the root of human physiology and exertion. Ironically, at their most active they are the textbook definition of health; able to run great distances without tiring and completely fatigue and injury free. The very image of a zombie is one of post coitus pleasure – sweat coated brow, open mouth, heavy breathing. Such actions in a living body attempt to slow the pulse and breath, returning to a calm state of being. Not so with a zombie. There can be no calm in a creature without a chance of satiation. Food must always be available and if the body is not in the midst of a feeding frenzy, it must desperately roam until more is found. They fill their stomachs in the same way a lover consumes a partner during intercourse. Their hunger translates to desire and the need to perpetuate life inside another‘s body. Whilst living bodies use sex to procreate and extend life, zombies eat flesh to sustain their own high-rate state of being. The end product is remarkably similar: to go on living.

In a society obsessed with youth and health, it seems impossible that bodies of death and decay could even illicit physical curiosity, let alone attraction, but perhaps it is our sexual desire to be inside another human being that leads us to such visceral fascination with a body's insides. Visible gore and entrails on a zombie become celebrations of flesh in its most basic form; cut, skinned, bleeding and completely unadorned or disguised. The beauty of a zombie is the honesty of its physicality. There is no hiding the dead. Their need is singular, unmasked and openly expressed, in much the same way sexual congress is approached by two consenting adults. This forwardness is a method of controlling the world and for the zombie body reanimation is the source of an overwhelming power absent from mortal bodies. Their strength, entirely communicated via brute, physical force, evolves into a visualisation of violent intercourse. Images of victims pinned to the ground, limbs splayed and throat or torso attacked, sexualises the flesh of the dead and enforces lust as a drive behind their action. Each representation of zombie aggression is rich in close body contact, some teetering on the verge of tender. Zombies searching a body for the weakest point of defence may touch a great deal of skin before attacking. Whilst the climax of these touches is violent, the act is one of savouring the flesh before imbibing its life-giving power. With these elements in mind, there is little difference between the lustful taking of meat from a body and the desire to enter one sexually. What better conduit for lust than the hungry zombie body?

What of the source of zombie weakness? If we are to believe the brain is the centre of all our emotional output, damage of this organ would lead to a complete shut-down of desire, drive and passion. Thus the classic method of attack in all zombie films: destroy the brain. However, is it as simple as turning off the power supply? If desire is the driving force behind zombie attacks, perhaps it is not destruction of the brain that kills the undead but the murder of desire. Is it possible to place such a romantic notion atop so ugly a beast? This romanticism may be the only psychological link between the minds of the living and the undead. If both figures share common ground in desire and need, there may be more of the zombie in the living than ever realised. There is great physical mirroring between the two during the zombie point of attack and the living locked in intercourse, suggesting the two are instinctually identical when in the midst of passion. It may be fair to say that what humankind see erotic in zombies are the same elements they recognise in themselves; greed, sex and fascination with the insides of their own bodies.


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