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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

"They're US": Representations of Women in George Romero's 'Living Dead' Series by Stephen Harper

"They're US": Representations of Women in George Romero's 'Living Dead' Series is an essay by Stephen Harper which analyses the feminist views on the Living Dead series. The essay itself is well written, well informed and well evidenced, concluding in a persuading argument for Romero as a feminist film maker. Not only does this persuade readers that Romero is a feminist film maker but that he has represented women in not just binary passive/ active or positive/ negative but questions "the ability of binary categories of gender to comprehend the fluidity and diversity of images of women."

In Night of the Living Dead (1968) his representations of women are as passive, inactive characters who do little to help the cause. Whilst that would seem incredibly negative Harper flips this around in a few ways. The strongest proof for Night as a feminist text is the argument that the females passivity is the fault of the overly aggressive patriarchal males who force them down, thus making Night not a critique of weak women but a critique of patriarchal society. This is evidenced first by Johnny's playful teasing "They're coming to get you Barbra" which Harper argues is not a reference to the zombies but "playfully foreshadows the aggression of all the men at various points in the film.". The other main piece of evidence is a piece of speech from Tom who says "if all three of us were working together" things would be easier, Harper points out the important people Tom is talking about are the three male characters. This is a little weaker in my mind as it is Tom is trying to force Ben and Mr Cooper to get along, the women aren't involved in the conversation, however maybe the point is that they should be involved. The final evidence for a feminist reading of Night is the character of Mr Cooper who is an extreme stereotype of a controlling patriarchal male, however his constant fight for control is evident and it is worth noting the young female character fights back against him finally devouring his body. Harper argues it is Mr Coopers "authoritarian personality" that epitomises the male oppression within Night and excuses the female characters passive behaviour. Finally another possibility is that "Night might be read as a satirical comment on traditional representations of women in horror cinema" this is definitely a possibility when you consider the satirical content ofDawn of the Dead (1978).

Harper than moves over to an analysis of Dawn of the Dead (1978) in which the heroine is much more active but not an opposite to the passive feminine character of Barbra. Fran is a more complex character she is a professional in her field and is a strong character who is "consummately articulate and aware of the men's sexist assumptions about her". She is also pregnant and feminine and often takes on typical gender rolls such as nursing, home making and mothering. There are two specific scenes Harper analyses one being the scene in which Fran sits opposite a zombie, a pane of glass separating them and the other a scene in which she succumbs to capitalist desires making herself up with expensive lipstick and mascara. The first scene, with the 'softball zombie' shows Fran's "commendable sensitivity as she sees it as both her unborn child and identifies with is an oppressed and forgotten woman. The second scene sees Fran as a "mannequin" who "applies her lipstick" and "adopts the vacant gaze of the stereotypical consumer". Whilst it would be easy to read this scene as an anti-feminist scene showing a woman steeped in capitalism, make up and stereotype that is only what is on the very basic surface. A closer reading of the scene shows that "Romero refrains from criticising Fran for her participation in the makeup ritual and focuses instead on the social pressures that work to turn intelligent women into consuming mannequins." Harper concludes this section by fairly summing Dawn up as a film in which Romero "critically examines the many possible images of femininity available to women in the 1970's"

Day of the Dead (1984) and the remake of Night of the Living Dead (1990) written by Romero and directed by make up artist guru Tom Savini. In Day, Sarah is the most active female of the series, she flips the roles of Night as she acts as "protector for her emotionally shattered partner". Haper notes that Day offers the clearest parallel between humans and zombies through Professor Logan and Captain Rhodes; "Professor Logan's objective is to 'condition and control' these unruly creatures, just as Captain Rhodes seeks to control (both professionally and sexually) the ungovernable Sarah". The main point of Day is a continuation of the theme in Dawn that Sarah is a strong and active female that "also acts in a caring stereotypically motherly fashion towards her partner". Harper's analysis of the remake of Night is interesting however I don't personally count it as one in the series. Harper sums Night up as a representation of the limitations of feminism as well as a visual parallel of the differences between women in the 60's and in the 90's.

Harper sums the whole series up as positive towards women and as feminist texts that don't just show women as active and passive. The development of women in the films is clear and the fact that Romero has managed not to fall into the pit holes of strong sexist action heroes and over sexualisation is commendable. When I personally analyse Romero's thee most recent zombie films I will keep this article in mind and see if Romero has continued to fight for feminist values.

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