Back with the first post of the new semester, and true to form it’s late and hurried and rushed. Some things never change. Rather apropros given the nature of our course. These sentences are blatant padding. I am going to obligatorily bitch and moan about how far behind I am on things and how overworked I am. I’m starting up a theatre company. Its hard work.
Unfortunately I didn’t go to the lectures, so I’m working from a place of (relative) ignorance, particularly regarding the connection between Northanger Abbey and Shaun of the Dead (Shaun with a ‘u’!).
I found Northanger Abbey to be a complete slog. Like it was a total chore, I couldn’t get through it. There’s something particularly alienating about Jane Austen’s narration style. I talked in seminar a while ago how reading The Kingdom of This World was strange after not reading a novel for so long; that the novel had become defamiliarized, and alienating for me. I find it particularly amusing that I found this novel in particular alienating because we always talked about the High Victorian concept of a novel, which is probably very much typified by Austen.
I get that Austen’s works rely on subtlety and parody, and that they’re comedies of manners, and that Northanger Abbey says some interesting things about the relationships between the real and the fictional, but for the life of me I can’t bring myself to care. Everything is so dull, and flat. The characters are boring and unlikable, and I just don’t care about what the novel is saying. I don’t even think the things it says are particularly interesting. Other works take up similar subjects and do it better, in my opinion. At one point reading the novel I actually fell asleep.
In my mind, the most interesting part is Austen’s lengthy digression at the end of Chapter 5 on the public opinion on novels. I feel like there’s a lot to be read into that passage but I haven’t the inclination to do so.
Shaun of the Dead on the other hand is one of my favourite films ever. It’s well-written, excellently paced, inventively shot, and excellently plays with its own genre conventions. I love the whole Cornetto Trilogy, really.
Zombies are such a great monster, because like all good monsters, they’re reflections of ourselves. Probably why they are both so disturbing and fun to kill. They’re us with the likable bits taken out. The savage other. They stand in for every dehumanizing force we’re afraid of.
A lot of the inspiration for the movie comes from an episode of Spaced (the TV show that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost all previously worked on) where Pegg’s (who plays Shaun in the film) character takes amphetamines and hallucinates he’s in Resident Evil 2. The very same media panic we talk about in the context of romanticism. Even Wright’s hyper-kinetic directing style lends itself to this, bombarding you with cuts, information, dialogue, etc. News reports are always cutting, music is always playing, there are loud arcade noises and videogames, Shaun works in a consumer electronics store. At one point in the film when Ed and Shaun are drunk and singing a Grandmaster Flash song, they mistake a zombie as some drunk sod singing along with them. Throughout the first half of the film Shaun fails to notice all the very clear signs of the zombie apocalypse. A case of media-induced ‘savage torpor’, or are the zombies simply indistinguishable from the people? At the end of the film, the zombies are just another media trend to be exploited.
A blog post from another seminar said that at the end of the film, Shaun is back where he started, and I have to disagree. Shaun is actually the only character in the entire film who changes (everyone else is dead, though). He survives the zombies, and in them sees the reflection of his own life. At the end of it, he’s matured, taken responsibility for his life instead of cruising through on auto-pilot. What’s interesting though, is that the rest of the world doesn’t change.