Monday, 10 August 2009

Zombie Boot Camp

This clip I've posted here is from Pink Tentacle. It's very easy just to laugh and dismiss it as trivial, but I'm more inclined to the view that there may be an undercurrent of telling satire in this publicity stunt. So what kind of a logical extreme in biocultural planning could be relevant according to current theorists? Moreover, what about actual policies the Japanese government has considered implementing? Even if there is an element of hyperbole to such a reading strategy, sometimes I think that is ok, in the same way that science fiction can serve as a form of social theory, a yardstick to measure prospects for dystopia, or the progressive spirit of utopia.

It follows that the idea of the "bootcamp" is actually not far removed from recent plans devised to deal with Japan's growing population of "shut ins" (which I've blogged about previously) and NEETS (Not in Employment Education or Training). Apparently the asocial/non productive must be subject to the utilitarian calculus; the decommodified must be recommodified, given that they mark the failure of the liberal subject to pull itself up by its own bootstraps.

Perhaps this might be considered as further ratification of Nick Turse's thesis in The Complex that military culture is threatening to increasingly colonise everyday life (here though in response to the global recession, as Turse's book preceded this event)? To begin thinking of camps also logically leads to consideration of Agamben's dystopic thesis of "the state of exception" and its connections to the biosocial management of a population. To be deprived of your autonomy, a hallmark of what it means to be a living human being, is on a continuum with the zombie laborers familiar from films such as I Walked With a Zombie. But we should be attentive to a historical shift to more accurately capture the biopolitical dimension I've introduced here. William Bogard in his Empire of the Living dead (published in: journal Mortality, Volume 13, Issue 2 May 2008 , pages 187 - 200) describes it thus:

"The corpse is no longer a dominant organizing figure of power and knowledge in postmodern network society. Limited by its own corporeality and tied to modern notions of the individual, its utility in controlling life has been superseded by technologies that control birth. This essay draws a line from Foucault's analysis of the dead body as an object of biopower to Baudrillard's and Deleuze's vision of control societies, in which the body disappears and biopower becomes a function of information and genetic modification. It uses the popular film image of the “living dead” to trace this evolution of biopower from the dissection of bodies at the end of life to the pre-programming and simulation of life at its inception: an evolution from the corpse to the clone, from the individuated dead body to the hybrid, dividualized body".

So before getting to zombie boot camp specifically, the broader social context in Japan should be taken into account. Were the dystopia to ever be more fully realised then, these "disciplinary techniques" would, if we take on board Bogard's perspective, mark only the beginning of a more efficient form of "pre-programming":

"The ruling LDP is contemplating a plan which would see hikikomori, NEETs, the unemployed and other undesirables bundled off to army boot camps to learn such useful trades as tree felling and ditch digging.

The issue of the supposedly endemic hikikomori (socially isolated people typically not in conventional employment) and NEET problems has vexed politicians desperate to shore up tax revenues for some time; a recent law ensured they would get help whether liked it or not, but this new proposal goes a step further.

The plan will see unemployed from throughout the nation gathered up and collected in military camps, where they will live for six month periods.

The state will there feed and house them, and they will be drilled in the sort of pork barrel schemes which have been so successful in lifting Japan out of its economic malaise; they will work tending forests and abandoned farmland, as well as gain qualifications useful in the construction industry, such as in the operation of heavy machinery.

The politicians proposing the measure all happen to be leading figures involved with the military, agriculture, or construction. It will be tacked on to an upcoming economic stimulus bill.

The scheme is modeled directly on the organisations formed by President Roosevelt to attempt to combat the impact of the Depression.

There is at this stage apparently no talk of making the scheme compulsory, although just how they will get notoriously recalcitrant hikikomori into the camps is not clear. Miruku may not be enough…"

Via Asahi.

Suffice to say, I will continue to test the theoretical application of biopower to social policy by referring to concrete examples if, (as seems likely), and when, they arise. With a gentle smile, I can now turn to the zombie boot camp in question:

"The Saikyō Senritsu Meikyū (”Ultimate Horror Maze”) — a 900-meter-long zombie-infested labyrinth at Japan’s Fuji-Q Highland amusement park — is billed as the world’s longest and scariest house of horror.

However, at a “press conference” staged last month, organizers announced they had temporarily shut down the facility because the zombie staff had lost their edge and were not frightening people enough. While the haunted house was closed, the undead employees were put through a rigorous training program designed to upgrade their zombie skills.

Here’s some video showing the treatment they had to endure...."

The horror house has since reopened and the camp-hardened zombies are reportedly as scary as ever.

[More zombie training camp videos]

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