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21st Century Zombies: New Media, Cinema, and Performance


This project began with a desire to define and articulate what I have termed cinematic performance, which itself emerged from an examination of how liveness, as a privileged performance studies concept, functions in the 21st century. Given the relative youth of the discipline, performance studies has remained steadfast in delimiting its objects as those that are live--shared air performance--and not bound by textuality; only recently has the discipline considered the mediated, but still solely within the circumscription of shared air performance. The cinema, as cultural object, permeates our lives--it is pervasive and ubiquitous--it sets the bar for quality acting, and shapes our expectations and ideologies. The cinema, and the cinematic text, is a complex performance whose individual components combine to produce a sum greater than the total of its parts. The cinema itself is a performance--not just the acting--participating in a cultural dialogue, continually reshaping and challenging notions of liveness, made more urgent with the ever-increasing use of digital technologies that seem to further segregate what is generally considered real performance from the final, constructed cinematic text.

Liveness and presence have remained defining forces within the field. In her now-canonical Unmarked (1993), Peggy Phelan assertively concludes, "Performance's only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance" (146). At the end of the same decade, however, Philip Auslander begins to play devil's advocate in Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (1999) by troubling what he sees as a "reductive binary opposition of the live and the mediatized" (3). Through a genealogical consideration of live and mediated forms of performance, Auslander concludes that the live cannot be considered outside of or as separate from the mediated (7).

With the rise of digital products, and the ever-increasing incorporation of the digital into our daily lives, Auslander's initial troubling of the traditional concept of liveness expands and becomes more complex. The cinema, as an art and as an analytical object, continually foregrounds its absent presence, its present absence. By the turn of the 21st century, cinema studies had firmly established claims of indexicality in the relationship of the cinematic text to reality: the celluloid captures the light, is imprinted by the profilmic event. Yet, the rise of new media and digital technologies at the end of the 21st century have allowed for the creation of photorealistic scenes created wholly outside the images captured with the camera, requiring no relationship to the profilmic event.

At the same time that cinema seemed to be losing its indexical relationship to reality, and as digital technologies increasingly permeated the fabric of daily existence, zombie cinematic production witnessed a renaissance in popularity and surge in quantity. It is no small coincidence that zombie cinema also rose in popularity during film's transition to sound (1930s-1940s), again during the proliferation of televisions into every American home (1960s), and then again most recently with the explosion of digital technologies. In each of these moments zombie cinema thematizes presence, absence, and liveness. Combining performance theory, film theory, new media studies, and zombie popular culture, this project seeks to account for the most recent surge in zombie cinema and zombie culture, arguing that 21st century zombie cinema performs new media.

The introduction provides a theoretical background, outlining the beginnings of this project and providing some initial grounding in the theoretical terminology that structures the project. In Chapter One, I provide the historical and genealogical grounding, surveying the history of zombie cinema. Chapter Two, "Inaugurating the 21st Century Zombie: Embodying Biomedia and Liminality in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002)," begins my analysis of new media--in this case, Eugene Thacker's concept of biomedia--and how it emerges within and is represented by zombie cinema, leading to an assertion of zombie liminality. I continue to expand upon new media and zombie cinema in "Liveness and Living Dead: Remediation and Intermediality in George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (2007)," introducing the concept of remediation and demonstrating some of the potentialities of liminality. Chapter Four, "Networked Dispersal: Performance Process, Multiplicity, and Connectivity in 21st Century Zombie Cinema," expands from the single film examination to a larger consideration of 21st century zombie cinema and how it performs network connections. In the last chapter, Visceral Viewing: Zombies "In Real Life" (IRL), I step away from screened representations of zombies to a consideration of zombies embodied in real life: zombie walks, zombie theater, and community formations. I conclude by returning to the beginning: cinematic performance. And here I offer a continuation of the project, a new branch, taking-up another aspect of cinematic performance and considering how digital post production creates performance and is its own performance.

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