Every time I go back home to Brooklyn, NY, I am amazed at how much I cannot recognize neighborhoods I grew up in. I now have a Pilates’ studio, and at least six cafes and coffee shops within a five-block radius. Fulton mall no longer has the cheap boutique shops that were essential to families that could not afford department store prices. Instead, there is a Barney’s CO-OP, Starbucks, and Banana Republic. Sky-rises block the entire downtown skyline. If you were blindly placed on to the Brooklyn Bridge, I guarantee that you might second-guess which way was Brooklyn and which way was Manhattan.
The physical appearance of my borough is not the only thing that I cannot recognize. I do not recognize the bodies that pass me by on a daily basis. Whether if it is because these bodies have physically left or because they have changed, the aura is completely different. The owner of the bodega store isn’t the same character I knew before his entire world was turned upside down. There is a complete culture shift that I either have to adapt to or get lost in.
As different as the topics may seem, gentrification and housing disposition have a strong correlation to zombie rhetoric in the sense that they both shows the means of survival taken by people when placed in certain situations. There is the constant battle of survival between those who are rich and those who are poor, those whose life is valued and those who are seen as disposable. There is also the battle of survival of human vs. nature or what is naturally supposed to happen. To understand the relationship between zombie rhetoric and gentrification and how it correlates to survival, one must first understand how survival functions in the life of people.
With threats made to our spaces (the many places our bodies take up, whether metaphorically or physically), people are in a constant fear of how they are going to survive. It is important to note here, there are two types of survival, one performed by the zombie and one performed by the normal human being. Different threats affect different people at different levels. For example, global warming or overcrowding due to a growing population might be a major threat to someone, while gun violence or a food desert is a major threat to someone else. It also depends on how close to home the threat hits, although all things will eventually affect all people.
Even though there are different measures of threats and how it may affect someone individually, there are certain basic necessities that can pose as immediate threats if taken away from someone, regardless of who they are and where they are in life. Such necessities would be food, water, shelter, oxygen, sleep, and human interaction. Without these basic necessities, it becomes an arduous task to simply live. In this day and age, some people have more of an abundance of these necessities than others. However, this does not measure how people view how much or how little they may have of these means. Meaning for example, someone who has access to water compared to someone who does not, may still believe that their lack of water compared to someone else who has more than them is just as bad and just as much of a threat compared to the person who has no water at all. For some people, survival is efforts to make it from day to day (those who are poor, minorities who are impoverished and marginalized), while for others survival is efforts to make it in the long term (old money that don’t like to spend or white collar workers who plan out their money/investments for their family/financial successes).
The battle to survive and the different means of survival is best explored in zombie rhetoric. For one thing, there is a strong distinction between regular human beings and zombies. From physical features, to clothing, to the speech, there is great attention made to being able to distinct human from the “other”. In The Night of the Living Dead for example, zombies are characterized as being sluggish, their clothes ripped and dirty, and their eyes in a daze and unable to speak or communicate with normal human beings. The human automatically becomes the protagonist, while the zombie is seen as the criminal, whether or not the zombie is engaging in a criminal activity or not. The rhetoric starts to become the same – it is not enough to just survive and live amongst the zombies, you need to kill them off in order to ensure a stable life. The zombie is always seen as “less than”.
The film also portrays how one never completely understands how “the other” survives, although more often than not, the modes of survival are very similar. Again in The Night of the Living Dead, there is not that much difference from the zombie and the living human. For one, they both are put into a new world/environment and are trying to figure life out. One must live off of humans, while the other must live by simply trying to stay alive. This survival mode becomes vicious on both parts (in The Night of the Living Dead, people are killing and zombies are performing cannibalism), but only will the zombie be looked at as doing something wrong.
Doesn’t this rhetoric sound familiar?
If we use the conversation of survival in zombie rhetoric to examine gentrification of urban cities, there are many similarities. The zombies of course are the urban poor who are displaced out of their communities for the benefit of humans, or simply put property developers looking to cater to rich white America. The biggest distinction of telling who is a zombie and who is not is by who can afford to live in these newly developed spaces. The zombies are usually minorities who live in poverty. With poverty come a slew of issues like education disparities, lack of access to healthy foods and water, crime etc. They, for being poor, are already “zombified”. Minorities are targeted as threats and criminals from the get go – look at cases like Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. The poor, the zombies, already live in survival mode, trying to make something out of nothing or little to nothing. Poverty poses them as the antagonist of the story. Gentrifiers, normal human beings, come into these areas looking for vacant spaces that are open. And one by one, they “kill” certain cultures, certain people off. They “recreate” spaces and give “hope” to certain areas. The zombie must face a new threat added on to their fight to survive – erasure.
Sadly however, the “hero”, ends up winning the battle of survival, while no one really knows or really cares what happens to the zombies.