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Vampires and Zombies – Identity

Thatcher zombie

Human nature is stacked with contradiction.  The ruthless, people like Thatcher, summon hypocrisy and sweep it away.  Identity contains a paradox, the need to establish a sense of authentic self but a desire to belong.  We want to be independent yet require the group.  Thatcher, who preached individualism to defend her economic prejudices, mentioned the group when it suited.  ‘Is he one of us?’ she asked.  She believed that victors and the strong triumphed and that this was permanent.  Compassion should not be wasted on ‘them’.

But her revolution and its impact on modern identity undermined the notion of permanence.  Identity changes to suit the group and circumstances.  The authentic individual is obliged to be remote from others.

Victors impose their will.  Meanwhile, artists become obsessed about identity and retreat to isolation in search of authenticity.  The honest artists realise that, although we all die, nothing is as remote or as authentic as our individual death.  This is why death features in novels so much.   It permits philosophical suggestion but also attracts those interested in the remote and authentic self.

Most of us, though, settle for whatever identity is being defined for us at any particular point in history.  This will consist of politics, language, fashion, status and social and sexual behaviour.  Nobody should think he knows which is the most important.  Inevitably, many wonder if they are unlucky, that another point of history could have perhaps defined them better. The pragmatic will think that another day and another place and they may not have been defined at all.   Those who assume they are lucky, that they are well fed and have freedom denied other generations, still have cause for anxiety.  The group cannot be avoided but could they have responded differently to the group and become another person?   It is complicated and none of us know who we really are. This is what writers keep insisting.  No wonder that so many rail travellers prefer to play on their iPhone rather than read a book.  The iPhone consoles, insists that the present is the only option.  All is progress and you are who you should be.

But even non-readers have doubts.  Talk to any movie fan about their interest in the zombies and they will usually say, ‘It makes you curious as to whether you would survive, how you would be.’

Modern man and woman know that they have been shaped by society but are curious as to what they would be without the group. In the 60s, the alienated dreamt that a country cottage would help them discover their remote authentic self.  But the country cottage had TV and a fitted kitchen. Now we think that if we had to slaughter zombies, not only would we be redefined but the group would also change. This rather than the threat of the apocalypse is the drama and promise of a zombie story.  Something will prevail but who are the new ‘us’ and will they accept the rest of us when we are different?

 

Howard Jackson has had 3 books published by Red Rattle Books.  He has written 3 zombie stories for Zombie Bites, the new collection of zombie stories to be published by Red Rattle Books in October this year. If you want to read more horror click here

 

Film Noir – The Maltese Falcon and Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall is dead. Bacall would not have been surprised by old age. When she was 21, she looked as tough and as knowing as a forty year old. She was succeeded in the movies by innocents like Doris Day. Today, female film stars claim emancipation but pretend they are younger.

Throughout The Maltese Falcon, Brigid O’Shaughnessy pretends. She is the woman Bogart rejects so he can wait for Bacall in The Big Sleep. The subsequent film may be an adolescent fantasy but Bacall is mature and resolute. She is a woman fit for heroes. The rest of us are not worth her time.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy is different. She flutters her eyelashes and pouts, flatters the next stepping stone. If the stone is too high for a footstep, she blasts it away with a gunshot. Brigid O’Shaughnessy kills men and then lies. Brigid has something that Sam Spade wants, and it is not the Maltese Falcon. But, although sex is important, Sam is willing to send her to the electric chair.

The excitement in The Maltese Falcon is rooted in character. Sam Spade is an amoral hero. He is not even cool like Marlowe. He wears a silly watch chain and looks uncomfortable in his shirts.   But he does surprise.

‘By, gad, sir,’ says Gutman. ‘You are an astonishing fellow.’

And so he is. Spade is not a hero. He lacks moral principles. Spade is interested in money and is willing to have an affair with the wife of his detective partner, a woman who irritated him but provided an alternative to a relationship. But Spade has a professional code, which is important because it secures business and income.   It is this code and neither morality nor idealism that makes Spade surrender O’Shaughnessy to the police.

Both Mary Astor, who played Brigid, and Humphrey Bogart were actors capable of glamour. Yet when Spade admits that he will not let Brigid escape, Astor looks desperate and repulsive. Similarly, Bogart is tortured and talks through a twisted face.   This couple had known physical bliss. As they argue, these characters look ugly. The bliss was an illusion.

The Maltese Falcon is a tale told with great style. The style, though, serves what then was thought to be realism. This is a tough world with shabby people. Dashiell Hammett was a left wing misanthrope who hated capitalism but was wary of the revolution.   The good people in The Maltese Falcon are dependable and understand courtesies but are still selfish and have weaknesses.   The plot is contrived and depends like other Hammett plots on distant history for a mechanism to make it work. But this suits the mood of the film. The plots of Hammett remind us that the world has always been rotten. Hammett lacks idealism and refuses to embellish. His style is formed through method and integrity and rooted in audacious confidence in a great story and unforgettable characters. Everything feels inevitable so maybe didactic Hammett was being more political than some realise.

 

Howard Jackson has written three books, which have been published by Red Rattle Books.

 

Red Rattle Books will be publishing Mortal Shuffle by Jim Lawler this October, another great crime novel with an amoral detective.

 

For more information about crime and horror click here.