social commentary

BBC's Angsty Gay Yorkshire Zombies

How the British Broadcasting Corporation imagines a zombie post-apocalypse society
by T.J. Nelson


A couple years ago, just after the zombie craze died out here in the States, the BBC gave us its take on zombies in a show called In the Flesh. Despite a clever concept and some great acting by Emily Bevan, who played a sexy female zombie, the show revealed a lot about what kind of world the establishment Left on the other side of the pond would like to create for us.

In the show, a town in the north of England is filled with a mixture of survivors of a zombie apocalypse and former zombies (the P.C. term being “partially deceased syndrome”) who are now social outcasts. They all have strong northern accents. The show was filmed in West Yorkshire.

For Americans, the north of England around Yorkshire is an exotic, unfamiliar, and beautiful part of the world. It was once a thriving industrial center, but apparently the unions destroyed much of the industry in the 1970s, so now it's full of abandoned factories with broken windows, and ugly apartment buildings called flats, which are styled like American elementary schools, but 6 or 7 stories high. In December the Sun rarely gets more than 14 degrees above the horizon. Gray satellite dishes, pointed almost horizontally, adorn many of the houses.

The townspeople in the show hate the zombies' guts, calling them ‘rotters,’ which is a derogatory, racist term the townspeople are made to feel ashamed for using. The rotters are under strict supervision by government bureaucrats, who force them to attend indoctrination seminars, take drugs that keep them from changing back, and wear contact lenses and makeup to conceal the color of their skin. The bureaucrats continually humiliate and insult the rotters, creating what looks like a setup for a zombie revolution.

Yes, it's the BBC, so the show is really about prejudice, racism, discrimination, and zombies. Unlike the American media, the BBC isn't obsessed with race. But they are terminally PC, and their concept of how society works gets through. It provides an interesting contrast with the American concept.

The rotters are racked with guilt for all the carnage they committed, and it drives them to drug use, prostitution, and suicide; but it's clear that deep down some of them yearn to become undead again because of the sense of freedom it gave them. This creates a lot of tension, as the townspeople suspect as much, and they racially discriminate against the rotters. The rotters have to fill out lots of forms certifying their acquiescence to the new anti-zombie laws and reporting their daily activities to the government. Many scenes are about zombies being chastised and browbeaten by self-important, obnoxious bureaucrats for missing their indoctrination meetings and for filling out those forms incorrectly.

US Immigration and Naturalization Service genocide question no. 8
The infamous US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) genocide question, updated to the Age of Zombies

Maybe our Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement should update their immigration forms just in case.

Imagine the drama of watching dead people filling out tax forms—and having to erase their mistakes! According to Wikipedia, viewership dropped by 41% by the 2nd episode; by the middle of series 2 it had dropped by 83%. By this time, apparently, only the undead and gay viewers (of which there were many) remained.

Of course, this being the BBC, predictably many of the rotters are gay. In one scene, two male zombies kiss each other after a long day filling out forms. Of course, for the enlightened 21st century sophisticated man, it is not permitted to criticize such things, but it raises an interesting question: when dead people have sex with each other, is it necrophilia?

After that ... well, unfortunately I missed the rest of that one, having discovered an amazing documentary about vacuum cleaners on another channel. These vacuum cleaners are pretty amazing: they utilize a high-powered induction motor, which makes them really quiet, and the airflow has a really interesting cyclonic action.

Apparently BBC Three (at last count there were four channels of BBC in Britain: BBC 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus an HD channel) is planning a new one called I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse. It's a game show where the contestants are trapped in an abandoned shopping center and must escape being eaten by zombies. It seems that zombie shows never really die—they keep coming back to life, more horrible than ever.

In the Flesh makes a interesting contrast to the American show Walking Dead. Zombie fiction shows us how we might treat our political adversaries, by letting us imagine they're already dead. In America we blast their heads off. In England zombies are all gay and they make them fill out tax forms. If I were a zombie, I'm not sure I'd know which is worse.

mar 03, 2015

See also:

Book Reviews

The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven C. Schlozman, M.D.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise


to top