Denial of (Security) Service Attacks & Zombie Film History Lesson

by John Holbo on February 17, 2011

Just listened to an interesting bloggingheads exchange between our Henry and Robert Farley on Egypt and zombie international relations.

Two responses: Robert Farley reads a WSJ piece on Egypt and suggests, in effect, that the effect of internet social networking might not be to allow for more connections between protesters – ‘just connect’, as the slogan might be – but to enable aggregate overwhelming of the security response; which, in the end, couldn’t be quite ‘dexterous’ to be in enough places, with enough force, at once. I have no idea whether this is right or not but, as a thesis, it deserves a name, which will obviously be ‘Denial of Service Attack’, DoS for short. Denial of Security Service, that is.

Then they are on to zombies, and Drezner’s book. Farrell and Farley consider whether there is a history of supernatural approaches to political theory – Marx and vampires and a certain amount of para-zombie theory of the market, so forth. Any good Soviet-era socialist zombie political theory? They miss an important data point which, in fact, all historians of the zombie film, and zombie literature have also missed. The ‘modern’ zombie genre does not start with Romero, in 1968. It starts with one of my pet favorite sf films: the 1936 Menzies/Wells film, Things To Come. And it starts as emblematic political theory allegory. You read that right, kids: the modern zombie film genre was born as an explicit exercise in pedagogically illustrating the strengths and weakness of IR realism.

The internet archive has a copy, so I can conveniently link to the short segment in which we get the bare-bones zombie story. (It’s only about 2:45 minutes long.) After a catastrophic war, the ‘wandering sickness’ breaks out as an epidemic. Technically, these people aren’t dead, so they aren’t zombies. But if you watch the clip you see that they are being played as zombies. Arms out, unseeing stare, staggering slowly around. They are the ‘walking dead’ in that the film takes pains to explain that no one who gets to this stage recovers. They don’t actually eat anyone, but they are vectors of spreading the infection, so everyone flees from them. We see the earnest ‘liberal’ pleading that they not be shot (also, it’s his sister). And the hard-nosed realist – the character who will become known as The Boss – saying ‘Shoot, I tell you! Shoot! That’s the way to do it!’ The Boss (the Chief) then rises to power as the warlord of his tiny little Everytown statelet because he and his ruthless methods provide security. Here the Boss’s girlfriend discusses, frankly, the Boss’s attractions and limits. “Every woman finds him strong and attractive.” But he’ll never open up the wide world to you. He’s a tinpot Mussolini. Later his temporarily ascendant ‘realist’ approach to politics is superceded by the superior efficacy and attractiveness of the socialist, internationalist ‘Brotherhood of Efficiency’: Wings Over The World! That is, you may need a realist if you have an immediate zombie problem. And often you will. But eventually socialism and science will relegate him to the dust heap, providing a more optimal solution. While The Brotherhood of Efficiency is building new airplanes and expanding, the Boss is forever waging stupid war with ‘the people of the hills’, i.e. his former neighbors, in a collapsed former British Empire. (And then the Air Dictatorship of the Brotherhood of Efficiency, which is necessary for dealing with the likes of the Boss, is replaced by a still better, still more humane successor regime. But that takes us beyond the zombie issue.)

Before Things to Come [amazon], zombie films – like White Zombie [amazon] – were about zombies as slaves. It was an anxiety of control, not an anxiety of anarchy. (Of course there needs to be a breakdown of control, so you have a story. But zombies are by nature slaves, that’s the trope.) Wells gave us exactly what Romero did, set-up-wise. Only in Romero there isn’t any Boss figure. No realist hero who gets it together and just shoots all the zombies until there aren’t any more and thereby solves that problem. That’s because the film would be boring. But if your goal is, instead, to illustrate the advantages of disadvantages of different theories of politics and international relations – Wells’ purpose, as it is Drezner’s – then zombies can work great. They truly do have a natural affinity for brains, insofar as they get our intuitions and hearts pumping.

An interesting sidenote: as I’ve noted before, the film is quite relevant to political theory as it was intended to illustrate, as well, Wells’ pet notion of ‘liberal fascism’. The Air Dictator is supposed to represent an intermediate phase between the zombie-fighting, IR realist likes of The Boss, and genuine ‘liberty’ – internationalist socialism, really. Of course, since liberalism did not exactly go down the Air Dictator road – liberals hated the notion of ‘liberal fascism’, then as now – the films is only an example of what Goldberg is talking about in an ‘if it weren’t for counter-examples, some people wouldn’t have any examples at all’ sense.



Jacob 02.17.11 at 8:40 am

The first Things to Come link (“the short segment”) points at the wrong place (to bloggingheads).


John Holbo 02.17.11 at 8:51 am

Link fixed. Thanks.


andrew 02.17.11 at 10:42 am

So how does the potential Nazi zombie army of Revenge of the Zombies fit into things?


Metatone 02.17.11 at 5:05 pm

Surely it’s DDoSS? Distributed Denial of (Security) Service…


John Holbo 02.17.11 at 6:39 pm

Yes, DDoSS. We apologize for the inaccuracy.


Norwegian Guy 02.19.11 at 4:16 pm

“The Air Dictator is supposed to represent an intermediate phase between the zombie-fighting, IR realist likes of The Boss, and genuine ‘liberty’ – internationalist socialism, really.”

Don’t know too much about Wells’ politics, but this sounds more similar to the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition society before reaching the communist stage. Fascists didn’t see their regimes as something temporary that would eventually wither away.


John Holbo 02.20.11 at 7:32 am

Yes, that’s sort of why ‘liberal fascism’ went over like a lead balloon.

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