I haven’t been able to track down video for the hepatitis PSA that played on Phoenix TV stations in the 1970s. But I did find a couple cover versions, both of which include the full verse. (I only sang the chorus this morning.)
Behold the powers of music as an educational tool:
And here’s this lovely family, including “baby” and everything:
I’m reminded as I’m thinking about Zone One this week of an op-ed, written by Amy Wilentz, a UC-Irvine journalism prof, that ran in the New York Times back around Halloween. It had to do with the origins of zombies in the context of New World slavery. Some highlights:
Most people think of them as the walking dead, a being without a soul or someone with no free will. This is true. But the zombie is not an alien enemy who’s been CGI-ed by Hollywood. He is a New World phenomenon that arose from the mixture of old African religious beliefs and the pain of slavery, especially the notoriously merciless and coldblooded slavery of French-run, pre-independence Haiti. In Africa, a dying person’s soul might be stolen and stoppered up in a ritual bottle for later use. But the full-blown zombie was a very logical offspring of New World slavery.
Wilentz asks, near the end of her piece, why we see such a resurgence of zombies in popular culture in recent years (at least in Europe and the US) and offers this explanation:
Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.
It would be interesting to put her theory in conversation with the essay on Defoe and zombie films I gave you earlier this week, or perhaps with this longish review of Zone One, which places the novel indirectly in the kind of context Wilentz invokes by addressing what the novel does–and doesn’t–say about the history of race in America.
What A Journal of the Plague Year doesn’t have is zombies—at least not explicitly. Still, the numberless, suppurating victims are apt to behave like the undead at every turn, crowding the novel with “walking putrefied carcasses, whose breath was infectious and sweat poison.” These abject and degenerating bodies, disfigured by the “tokens” of disease that look like “small Knobs…of callous or Horn,” can turn on others, even running through the streets actively seeking to infect people impressed “with a kind of Rage, and a hatred against their own Kind,” as if the sickness itself were filled with an “evil Will” determined “to communicate it self.” Thus babies kill their mothers, and men tackle women in the street hoping to infect them with a deadly kiss. Others manage to dodge the disease, only to be disfigured by the weight of madness or grief.
Granted, there is none of the urgent panic attendant on hacking one’s way through a shambling horde only to turn around and see the second wave. This lends the novel a kind of studious detachment as H.F. traverses the city in an effort to comprehend the scope of the visitation through a process of quantification and statistical computation—tallying the bills of mortality, measuring the size of the municipal grave pits, and delineating the necrotic geography of ravaged neighborhoods. Even in this, H.F. is thwarted, as the plague outruns information, spreading faster than the news, eroding actionable knowledge into useless nubs of hearsay.
Ultimately, as with all these narratives, the real plague is modern life. Physicians trace the disease to a package of silks imported from Holland that originated in the Levant, spreading the infection through the ports, mills, marketplaces and manufactories that form the early-modern economy. Quarantines and barricades prove useless against the commodity’s voyage; but while the products themselves may be infectious, it’s the appetite to possess them that truly kills. In this, A Journal of the Plague Year presages the lurching mallrats of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, who continue the puppetry of consumption into the undead afterlife, a theme that is similarly taken up in Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Zone One, where the post-apocalyptic reconstruction of New York provides opportunities for branding and product placement, and where the “Ambassadors of nil” evoke nothing so hellish as Times Square tourists, boring girlfriends, and the hollow communications of sitcoms and social media.
Some thoughts to help us begin talking about what we might consider this novel’s zombie economy.
It’s a game called Rebuild, where your goal is to expand your city block by block (or zone by zone, eh?) by eliminating zombies, collecting food, and recruiting survivors each day. It seemed to fit in perfectly with the premise of the book (and it has totally kick-ass music too, so…).
Or, if you’d rather be a zombie and try to infect the world…:
I remember one of us asked Ben about the process of book cover-making. Here is a brief interview with the designer of the Flame Alphabet book jacket. You can hear about the materials used, how it was initially planned, and how the plan was modified at last. I also found an interesting article about this process in a blog named “talkingcovers.” I was surprised when I read that Mendelsund, the designer, started with an attempt to invent typographic characters, mirroring Sam who tries to invent new semantic forms. Then my question arises regarding the role of a book design and a book designer. Is it only a tool to boost the selling? Does it have to be symbolic? Should it give a kind of a summary to the readers? Can it be irrelevant? and do book designers usually finish the book before designing the cover?
Here is a short film version of Black Hole by Director Rupert Sanders. Following our discussion in class today, I think we could talk about the way the short film tackles the page in the graphic novel with the juxtaposed images of the frog being dissected, the cut on Chris’ foot, Chris’ skin coming apart on her back, and Eliza’s hand covering her genitals.
Also, a friend sent me a link to this webpage about astronomers who have captured sound waves from a black hole. Not exactly what I imagined a black hole would sound like…
I mentioned in class today Anthony Appiah’s effort to rehabilitate the notion of “contamination,” to use it without negative connotation. Some of you are probably familiar with his book Cosmopolitanism, which tends to make the rounds at NYUAD, but here’s a nice concise version of his argument from the New York Times Magazine in 2006.
The point about culture and “contamination” has to do with how futile it is, in Appiah’s view, to “preserve” something like “cultural purity.” Culture just doesn’t work like that, he says:
Living cultures do not, in any case, evolve from purity into contamination; change is more a gradual transformation from one mixture to a new mixture, a process that usually takes place at some distance from rules and rulers, in the conversations that occur across cultural boundaries. Such conversations are not so much about arguments and values as about the exchange of perspectives. I don’t say that we can’t change minds, but the reasons we offer in our conversation will seldom do much to persuade others who do not share our fundamental evaluative judgments already. When we make judgments, after all, it’s rarely because we have applied well-thought-out principles to a set of facts and deduced an answer. Our efforts to justify what we have done — or what we plan to do — are typically made up after the event, rationalizations of what we have decided intuitively to do. And a good deal of what we intuitively take to be right, we take to be right just because it is what we are used to. That does not mean, however, that we cannot become accustomed to doing things differently.
He brings the term up again in conclusion:
The ideal of contamination has few exponents more eloquent than Salman Rushdie, who has insisted that the novel that occasioned his fatwa “celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotch-potch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.” No doubt there can be an easy and spurious utopianism of “mixture,” as there is of “purity” or “authenticity.” And yet the larger human truth is on the side of contamination — that endless process of imitation and revision.
A tenable global ethics has to temper a respect for difference with a respect for the freedom of actual human beings to make their own choices. That’s why cosmopolitans don’t insist that everyone become cosmopolitan. They know they don’t have all the answers. They’re humble enough to think that they might learn from strangers; not too humble to think that strangers can’t learn from them. Few remember what Chremes says after his “I am human” line, but it is equally suggestive: “If you’re right, I’ll do what you do. If you’re wrong, I’ll set you straight.”
Note how closely the quotation from Rushdie resembles Belize’s imagined heaven in Angels:
Belize: Hell or heaven?
[Roy indicates “Heaven” through a glance]
Belize: Like San Francisco.
Roy Cohn: A city. Good. I was worried… it’d be a garden. I hate that shit.
Belize: Mmmm. Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, fierce gusts of gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens.
Roy Cohn: Isaiah.
Belize: Prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths.
Roy Cohn: And a dragon atop a golden horde.
Belize: And everyone in Balencia gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome. And you ain’t there.
Roy Cohn: And Heaven?
Belize: That was Heaven, Roy.
Does it make sense to think of Belize’s description as another example of the kind of cosmopolitanism Appiah describes? Does Belize’s emphasis on impurity, confusion, and mixing relate in some way to other elements of the play we’ve talked about — the decision to cast actors in multiple roles, for instance?
Speaking of heaven, I always think of this song when I read this play: