A few months ago I wrote about the use of zombies to represent crowds in films like World War Z. My basic point being that zombies are a shorthand for portraying the irrationalism of mass assemblies which threaten the social order.
Leaving aside the sheer socio-political weirdness of this bit of the film, it also left me thinking about the aesthetics of the crowd which characterised the film as a whole. The film portrays, in its own terms, the beginning of a world war – an established global order, represented throughout by the United Nations, suddenly finds itself under siege by an internal threat and, I’m sad to say, all looks lost, at least until some heroic figures are able to leverage scientific knowledge and military resources into temporary survival and the onset of total war. Who are the enemy? The sheer mass of the human population, those who formerly contributed to the reproduction of the social order each and every day but are now gripped by an inexplicable destructive urge, constituting an existential threat to the established order through their sheer numbers and violent reaction to the remaining organs of power. How terrifying a spectacle, to see a crowd so blood thirsty, plagued by such malevolent demons that too much contact with soldiers can leave the security forces equally consumed by the nihilism of the mob! Who are the heroes? Special forces, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the IDF and the US Military. The thought that kept returning to me through the film was the extent to which it portrayed the mirror image of what China Mieville describes as ‘floating utopias’ – in a kinder and gentler age of pre-austerity neoliberalism, the libertarian imaginary found its expression in fantasies of liberation from the state in floating paradises of consumption and free enterprise. In an age of austerity, this utopian impulse finds it counter-image in nightmares of being eaten alive by a feral crowd, with dark hopes of malthusian salvation necessitating a militarization of social life and total war against the mass of humanity. Only through embracing death and destruction (by literally internalising it in the form of the viruses which render one oblivious to the teeming destructive hoards) can the forces of social order stand a chance against the nihilistic fever which has gripped the mass of humanity and eviscerated the capitalist world system
It seems that the Department of Homeland Security agree with me: