Do zombies represent the white collar criminals from the financial crisis? That is the question I was asking myself after reading Torie Bosch’s article “First, Eat All the Lawyers.” zombies highly populate our pop culture. From movies to novels to television our world has become seemingly overflowing with zombies. Surprisingly sometimes there are even more zombies than there are vampires. Bosch tries to persuade us that the zombie craze is pop culture’s device to help us deal with the economic crisis. If the economic crisis has brought us zombies in our entertainment, does that mean the zombies are the white collar criminals? Examples of Bosch’s use of comparison, metaphor, irony, and understatements as rhetorical devices in order to evaluate the hypothesis are discussed below.
The comparisons Bosch uses to great effect include the following historical settings of zombies in culture, comparison of her skills to what would be necessary to survive that set the living apart from the living-dead, comparisons of professional class to blue-collar class in terms of survival skills, types of apocalypse crisis entertainment, comparison of zombies to robots. Most of these comparisons have been discussed as well as her use of irony, metaphors and understatement to persuade us that her argument is valid. And then my discussion continues by considering the hypothesis: If the economic crisis has brought us zombies in our entertainment, does that mean the zombies are the white collar criminals? The argument to prove the validity of the hypothesis is passed on a metaphor where zombies represent modern-day white collar criminals.
Bosch’s article appeared in Slate an online magazine that offers a mix of journalism, news, book reviews, and entertainment and sports articles. The magazine is free to read online because it is supported by advertising. The articles in Slate seem to have a common pattern of rhetorical organization or style which is demonstrated by the serious tone but lightened by their syntactic patterns and the use of metaphor; an important device used to persuasion. Tuen A. Van Dijk (28) author of the book News as Discourse has pointed out that all rhetoric has an element of persuasion but that two other important elements of rhetoric as discourse are “formulation and context.”
Bosch reviews a new television show titled “The Walking Dead” using a mix of humor and irony. The most obvious rhetorical device she uses is metaphor. She argues that zombies must represent something important to American because the zombie craze is ongoing. Van Dijk explained that “metaphor may involve partial meaning identity and referential identity of expressions.” This describes how Bosch uses the audiences’ association of zombie events to link to their daily lives and in this way gain meaning.
Ironically television review portion of the article does not make a strong argument for watching “The Walking Dead” was not very positive. Bosch describes the show as “not terribly compelling television” and that “Bad-ass zombies aside, the plot is slow, the characters flat.” Therefore she argues another reason must exist for the popularity. In fact, she tells us that she enjoys watching the program. The popularity of zombies she tells us has a “white-collar shine.” (Bosch, 2011) The history of zombies is explained as popular in contemporary times to the “erudite” whereas before it has been the domain of teen-aged boys. Then Bosch makes her argument using her personal point-of-view as an example to convince the reader.
Bosch uses several comparisons to help us understand the contemporary context of zombies. The first discussed above is the change of the historical context. a second is a comparison to other apocalypse-type narratives that have trended in the United States pop culture including nuclear disaster and disease pandemics. These are the devices she uses to lead up to her argument that “zombies make for true white-collar horror.” (Bosch, 2011) Zombies are worse that vampires or killer viruses because zombies do not appear as a one-time event that can be vanquished. She argues that even if humans win the battle with the zombies “any lengthy period of zombie chaos also means that should the humans retake the land, the infrastructure will have been roundly destroyed.” (Bosch, 2011)
Perhaps the weakest link in her argument is that only zombies destroy the infrastructure because earlier she has mentioned disasters involving “nuclear holocaust.” (Bosch) And she writes “after a nuclear strike, the dead are the dead, and the living can focus on rebuilding while avoiding fallout.” “A nuclear disaster will also destroy the infrastructure as well as human life. that is true but after a nuclear strike there are serious radioactivity problems. On the other hand maybe it strengthens her argument because she means that zombie only totally destroyed the infrastructure but did not destroy the environment. In fact if she had strengthened that point her argument would have been stronger. The working class can fix the world if it is only the infrastructure that needs fixing. No one else is equipped with the same skills and talents.
Professionals who work in offices all day do not have the skills needed to survive in nature let alone to live a long time in nature according to Bosch. She gives a humorous and telling example of what professionals can do well “contract negotiation and SEO-optimization” (Bosch, 2011). Throughout the article comparisons are made between white collar workers and blue collar workers. Remember the professional white collar workers who have degrees in law so they can spend their day at a job negotiating contracts. Some professionals work at optimizing their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in order to receive the maximum amount of hits on their company’s website. But the need for college degrees does not help a person in a world where their skills are no longer valued or practical.
Van Dijk (82) has discussed the use of “semantic operations such as comparison, metaphor, irony or understatements” in the news discourse. Bosch used comparison in order to compare the historical attitude towards zombies as being an entertainment for teenage boys while on the other hand the contemporary attitude towards zombies is from a well-read, knowledgeable portion of the society. Adults can cheer for the working class who have the skills not only protect their loved ones from the zombies but who also can rebuild society once the zombie attack has ended. Bosch also combines the use of metaphor and comparisons very well.
The most convincing metaphor she uses, I would argue, is that the zombies represent the perpetrators of the white collar crime that caused the global economic crisis. The reason the zombies have that “white-collar shine” (Bosch, 2011) Bosch has pointed out that in her example of “The Walking Dead” the most likely to survive are working class members. Because it is the members of the working class that have the problem solving skills of cops, the hunters’ ability to shoot for food and the ability of mechanics to make things work whereas the professional workers are dependent on people who have practical skills. “For blue-collar workers, the zombie stories are tales of comeuppance, of triumph: skills in auto maintenance, farming, plumbing, and electrical work – not to mention marksmanship – land blue-collar folks at the top of the new social order” (Bosch) This is a fundamental observation for her argument that the zombies are linked to the economic crisis in the minds of viewers.
Bosch has an interesting personalized understanding which she shares as another foundational part of her argument. Here point of view is from the perspective of a white collar worker. She is a professional concerned about what happens if society as it is now structured should fall. Bosch noted that there will be an abundance of storytellers which she does best. In contrast she could not start “a fire without a lighter.” Here she introduces humorous irony when Bosch writes “Realistically, I’d be one of the brain devouring hordes, not a scrappy, fighting human.” The tip-off that is speaking ironically is the use of ‘realistically’ at the very beginning of the sentence, because a scenario in which the writer would become a zombie is totally imaginative and not at all realistic. Her descriptions of the two opposing combatants, the zombies versus the humans, are exaggerated and funny.
Van Dijk noted the use of understatement in rhetorical news discourse and Bosch uses understatement very subtly which is totally appropriate. Bosch has described a zombie invasions as “It’s the zombie invasion) the existential fear of the economy writ large: I sometimes wonder what I would do if I lost everything. Move in with my mother? Crash on a generous friend’s couch?” Bosch seems to be speaking in hyperbole to any reader who is not familiar with the negative impacts of the economic crisis in the U.S. In fact, the worst case scenarios she describes are not even the worst of what can happen to individuals and whole families when they find themselves living in their cars or having lost all their retirement savings forcing them back to work at the age of 80. Having a mother’s home or a friend’s couch to soften the blow of hard economic times is a best-case scenario.
This essay has discussed the rhetorical devices the writer Torie Busch used in her Slate article titled “The Walking Dead.” She successfully uses humor, understatement, irony, metaphors and comparisons to make her argument that the zombies are white collar professionals who cannot survive in a world where only blue-collar skills are needed. Bosch clearly argues that the zombies are America’s white-collar economic class who could not survive in any other societal structure than the one in which they operate now. She also substantiates her argument with quotes from other sources such as from the fiction novelist Colson Whitehead. Whitehead is the author of the first “literary zombie novel” Zone One. Arguably describing a book as in the - literary zombie – genre seems ironic especially because Bosch encloses it in quotation marks. That does not lessen the honesty of the observation she quotes from his book “In short, they (highly educated white-collar professionals) had been honed and trained so thoroughly by that extinguished world that they were doomed in the new one.” The purpose of pointing these qualities out is to firm up her argument that the economic crisis has made the future unpredictable for everyone, especially for highly educated workers who have never developed practical working skills.
The hypothesis offered stated ‘If the economic crisis has brought us zombies in our entertainment, does that mean the zombies are the white collar criminals?’ The hypothesis develops Bosch’s premise one step further. If the adversaries of the zombies are middle class blue-collar workers and most professionals fear the zombies then a question remains: who exactly comprises the troops that initiated the zombie problem in the first place? I argue that Bosch’s argument that the zombie invasion can be seen as a metaphor for the economic disasters that have been rolling around the world causing a crisis in both the U.S. and across the globe. The result of attacking zombies results in loss of infrastructure according to Bosch, but the infrastructure can be rebuilt only by the working class is her argument. The working class would not destroy the infrastructure that supports their lifestyle, their families, and their ability to hold a secure job. Therefore it would be highly unlikely they would perpetuate a crisis that would cause such a destruction to take place. On the other hand, unscrupulous professionals who feel entitled to make a profit regardless of society’s ethical boundaries seem to be good candidates for the role of starting a zombie insurrection.
The comparisons to the economic crisis and the zombie attack offer quite similar features. The infrastructure has been destroyed by the economic crisis just as it is in zombie themed entertainment. In the real world the infrastructure has not been physically torn down but instead has been ignored, neglected and left to decay although a few million people would be happy to improve and build a strong American infrastructure. A cynical real world example is the closing of the national post office so that unscrupulous politicians and business investors can cash in on the mail service by purchasing portions in order to privatize bits and pieces a well-organized, functioning American institution. Again that is not an example of the physical destruction of a real world institution but instead it is the destruction by manipulating the capitalist system to turn nationally successful services into private profit makers. The stakeholders in the privatization of the post office, at least, hope to make money off their business venture which was at one time a successful piece of the public infrastructure.
Notice that the unprincipled politicians and business investors are doing very well although the middle and lower economic classes in the U.S. are struggling for decent housing, health care and even enough to eat each day. Globally the banking practices of unethical Wall Street banks have destroyed the infrastructure (and hopes and dreams) of people not only in America but also in many other countries. So even as one percent of people in the States gain more money and improve their financial status the rest have less money, no financial status and deteriorating access to the essential commodities necessary for daily life. This is a parallel situation to the havoc the zombies cause on individuals and infrastructure in zombie pop culture. As more and then more people are changed into zombies the lives of the living become more precarious. Just as in the real world when the greedy one percent suck up more and more financial ‘opportunities’ and money; the rest of the world is left with less and less money, infrastructure and quality of life.
This essay has argued that Bosch uses metaphor, irony, understatement and comparisons very well in order to offer her rhetorical discourse on pop culture zombies. The metaphor used as an example is that zombies to not only demonstrate the effects of infrastructure breakdown (and the modern day economic crisis) but also represent the cause for the economic crisis (the wealthiest one percent).The argument presented to evaluate the original hypothesis: if the economic crisis has brought us zombies in our entertainment, does that mean the zombies are the white collar criminals? has been found to be valid.
Bosch, Torie. “First, Eat All the Lawyers” Slate Online, 25 Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2011/10/zombies_the_the_zombie_boom_is_inspired_by_the_economy_.html
Van Dijk, T.A. News as Discourse. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1988.