“Great tits huh?”, “Yes, but what does it mean?”
Last year I watched Zombie Strippers with a few friends and was amused by its extravagant combination of nudity, gore and philosophy. Some might consider this a pretentious B-movie, but that assumes that the philosophical content of this flick are mere sound bites and not a coherent philosophical statement. In this post I will argue that Zombie Strippers is a celebration of life by demonstrating that our fear of death is irrational.
The mood of the movie is set when a scientist, watching a group of rampaging zombies in a laboratory, says: “Behold, a pale horse”. This quote is taken from The Book of Revelation (6:8): “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death …” (emphasis added). In the great tradition of zombie movies, this is a story about the survival of the human race. Four Canadian students have recently described the mathematics of zombie attacks and conclude that: “it is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble.” At last, the central theme of all great zombie movies has been scientifically proven.
The scientists’ motivation for developing a virus that “reanimates dead tissue and jump starts the brain’s motor function”, turning people into zombies, is that “after one experiences death, fear is more or less gone” and soldiers can become super soldiers.
Fear of death is a leading motivation in human life and controls our behaviour more than anything else. Being able to foresee the future and realise that we will all one day die is a basic aspect of the human condition. Many see death as the greatest evil, preventing anything in life from being meaningful. After death nothing matters any more and there is thus no point to life as everything we achieve will disappear and become meaningless.
Roman philosopher Lucretius argued 2000 years ago that fear of death is irrational. He assumes that past and future are symmetrical and that as such, not being born and being dead are equivalent. Not being born can not be feared so, if not being born and being dead are equivalent that there is nothing to fear in death.
The argument brought forward in Zombie Strippers is similar to that of Lucretius. Those whose become zombies are effectively dead and alive at the same time. They have thus no more fear of death and can live life to the fullest.
Kat, played by former pornstar Jenna Jameson, is reading The complete works of Nietzsche and quotes to her fellow exotic dancers from Fröhliche Wissenschaft (Gay Science):
“All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity.”
A typical Nietzsche quote that some people might see as an implicit endorsement for tyranny. Kathleen Higgins tries to explain Niezsche’s statement as an attempt to humour – but she needs to work very hard at explaining the joke. In the context of Zombie Strippers, I think this quote relates to our fear of death. The idea of dying is “terrifying and monstrous”, but those who have died and subsequently become zombies and are able to tell us about their feelings, fear death no longer.
After Kat has become a zombie, she sits in the dressing room and reads Nietzsche again. Laughing out loud she says: “It makes so much more sense now … I never felt more alive”. She then goes back on stage and performs for the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy.
Second stripper to become a zombie is Lilith. When she is asked what death feels like, she says:
“… I remember once lying in the snow under a clear blanket of stars, there were so many stars. Couldn’t comprehend what it was like; a vast and noble void. But now, I understand it. I feel I am a part of it, that infinite nothingness. … Death is good!”
Lilith has in her mind solved an existential problem because she is dead. As living people we often fear the nothingness that is the universe. Some try to fill the void with religion, but that is another discussion. The movie shows that by removing the fear of death, the fear of nothingness is removed.
To counterpoint Lilith’s assertions, when another stripper, who is not a zombie stripper goes on stage the audience does not like her. Only after she has been turned into a zombie and has shed her fears, she is popular with the punters again.
One after another, the strippers of the Rhino club decide to succumb to the zombies and become un-dead in order to approve their appeal to the men. As in any zombie flick, the situation gets out of control and zombies appear everywhere.
Our ability to add meaning to life is closely related to our attitude to death. Eugene Burger writes that death is what gives live urgency because none of us have forever to achieve our ambitions. If there was no death, life would be meaningless. To use a well known Nietzsche quote in slightly changed form: What does kill us makes us stronger.
As I am writing this I am enjoying a break in Port Douglas, Australia. Walking around town I found some graffiti, perfect to close this post: “Zombies are also people”.