King of the Living Dead

Regular readers will know that we have a bit of a zombie obsession here at SLS, so I was sad to hear of the passing of George Romero, who, more than anyone, defined the undead aesthetic that underlies just about every modern zombie-themed film and video game.

Night of the Living Dead is a groundbreaking classic of course, but, for me, Romero’s masterpiece is Dawn of the Dead, which inserts its shambling horror into the all-too-recognisable mundanity of everyday life to truly terrifying effect. If it has a fault it is that it’s too terrifying; despite it being one of my favourite films I haven’t watched Dawn of the Dead for years, because I know that a viewing will give me vivid nightmares for days afterwards.

Anyway, here’s a link to our very first zombie post from 10 years ago, which I think is still relevant today, and some valuable tips for when the worst happens…

The blogging dead

I should have known that our obsession with the undead would end up turning us into a zombie blog – devoid of fresh content, but lurching on, in a grotesque parody of life.

The funny thing is we still get a respectable amount of traffic – a steady background buzz, with occasional inexplicable spikes. If I sold out my principles and put some advertising on the site I could just sit back and watch the fractions of a cent roll in.

Anyway, I’m feeling sorry what whichever low-level NSA analyst has been assigned the thankless task of trawling through our output looking for subversion, so I’ll try to make things a bit more interesting in the weeks ahead. Unless of course the sun appears, in which case we’ll be staying out for the summer….

2011: The year in review

2011 was a year of two halves here at SLS; we were posting regularly up until about June, but never really got started again after the summer break. Embarrassingly, we only managed eight posts in the last quarter, and two of those were apologies for inactivity. Unsurprisingly our traffic has fallen off a cliff in the last few months, and is now sitting around half of what is was this time last year.

Anyway, here are our top ten posts by traffic for the last twelve months:

  1. The Social Network
  2. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  3. On Second Life and addiction
  4. What’s up
  5. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  6. Virtual alchemy
  7. 2010: The year in review
  8. Second Life, with graphics, on the iPhone?
  9. Zombie Epidemiology
  10. Plunging Necklines

Only one of these, The Social Network, is from this year, but at least it is the top post, and one of our better ones too. I’d love to think its high ranking was due to the quality of the writing, but actually it’s because Google kindly chose to link it with the search term “Sean Parker Facebook” for a while over the summer. The addiction and demographics posts from last year continue to do well, probably because no one else can be bothered to write anything on those topics. There is always a steady interest in Second Life zombies, and Olivia’s 2009 Nosferatu-themed post Plunging Necklines made a welcome return to the chart, possibly on the back of the Lab’s promotion of SL as a platform for vampire role-play.

Of the other posts we managed to crank out this year my favourites were, in chronological order:

If I had pick one post of the year it would be The Solution, which I think encapsulates everything we try to do here at SLS; spare prose, literary and political allusion, self-conscious pretension, and all in the service of an utterly inconsequential point.

But what of the world beyond this blog? What of the Arab Spring, the war in Libya, the tsunami in Japan, the News International phone-hacking scandal, the death of Bin Laden, the UK riots, the Eurozone crisis, and everything else that has been going on this year? We did manage to comment on most of these events, but brief blog posts aren’t really the best medium for considering weighty issues, so it was all rather superficial. We might try to follow a couple of topics in more depth next year – perhaps the economy, and the US elections.

Back in January I promised that we would publish more book, film and music reviews, but this hasn’t really worked out. Part of the problem is that I’ve been trying to spread my output over too many projects; I have been doing a bit of critical writing, but I’ve published it in other places. (I could re-post some of my pieces here I guess, but I’m a bit paranoid that someone might Google a passage and link this blog with my other online identities.) The main thing though is that I’ve not been terribly well engaged with contemporary culture; I’ve been on a diet of classic literature and films from the 70s, and the world isn’t necessarily crying out for my belated impressions of The Mill on the Floss or McCabe and Mrs. Miller. At least I kept up with the music scene enough to be all excited ahead of the release of what turned out to be my favourite album of the year, the eponymous debut by Wild Flag, and I also liked Civilian by Wye Oak, Angles by The Strokes and Only in Dreams by The Dum Dum Girls; the latter record’s melancholy tone mirroring the slightly depressing arc of my personal life recently. Overall though I will have to try a bit harder on the cultural front next year.

Finally, what about our core task, the mission to, in the words of our very first post, “wander around the likes of Second Life and report back on what I find, enlightening readers with erudite comments on the interaction that occurs there”? We have been rather remiss in this too. I know why; just about everything interesting there is to say about the psychology of Second Life we have already said in previous years, and I haven’t had the energy to try to put a new gloss on it. The promise that virtual worlds would open up a new understanding of the human psyche has, sadly, turned out to be hollow. There was for a while some interest in watching the dynamics of the conflict between the corporate goals of Linden Lab and the aspirations of the more committed residents, but even that has turned dull since the boringly efficient Rodvik Humble took over at the top. It seems unlikely that this will change in the immediate future, but I will keep an eye on the academic literature in case anyone has any novel ideas.

What does this mean for the year ahead? Perhaps I should accept that this project has run its course, and let it bow out gracefully, but we have been going for nearly five years, an epoch in blog terms, so it would seem a shame to give up now just because things have been a little quiet of late. Politics, culture, psychology; I should be able to make something interesting out of that if I apply myself a little more.

So I guess I’ll be seeing you next year…

It’s Summertime

Readers may have noticed that we’ve gone into our summer recess a little early this year. This is mainly because I am easily distracted by fair-weather pursuits like getting stoned and lying in the park, but also because I have a couple of other projects on the go at the moment that have seduced me away from the virtual world.

So, in lieu of actually writing a proper post, I’ll link to some topics that I would have covered in more depth in the last couple of weeks if I weren’t such a slacker.

In the wake of the Ryan Giggs super injunction fiasco, the attorney general for England and Wales has warned Twitter users that they could face legal action if they breach privacy orders. This may sound like an empty threat, since most Tweeters, myself included, are outside the jurisdiction of the English courts, but I suspect that the authorities may try to restore respect for the law by launching some selective prosecutions, especially now that Twitter have shown a willingness to hand over user details without much resistance. (To be fair to Twitter, their TOS have always made it clear that they will rat you out if the Man comes calling). It’s another reason to believe that social media is perhaps not the unstoppable force for change that its most vocal advocates would have us believe.

On a related subject, the BBC have just finished screening All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace, a trio of documentaries by Adam Curtis critically examining the effect that computers and their associated ideology have had on popular consciousness. It’s excellent stuff; if you’re quick you might catch it on the iPlayer, otherwise look out for a repeat.

And finally, as we’ve noted before, proof that our municipalities are woefully unprepared for zombie attack.

The holidays are looming, so that might be your lot until July, unless it rains a lot.

Brainy Dead

We haven’t had a zombie story for a while, so here’s a good one; Baltimore University is offering a course in Zombie Studies, which gives students the chance to “get … ready for a zombie apocalypse.”

“[Students] think they’re taking this wacko zombie course,” says Jonathan Shorr, chairman of the university’s school of communications design, “But on the way, they learn how literature and mass media work, and how they come to reflect our times.”

This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I was a student again; it sounds considerably more interesting than any course in my undergraduate curriculum, and, if the worst happens, it may turn out more practical too.

(For more academic commentary on the living dead see this post from our crypt).

Zombie Glamour


As you can see I’m still trying to re-register SLS with Technorati – the process has dragged on for months, and now they seem to have lost my claim, so I’m having to start over. I wouldn’t bother, but I want to keep our place in the big list of Second Life blogs, and a Technorati rating was a condition of inclusion last year.

Anyhow, it gives me an excuse to link to a site I’ve been wanting to feature for a while; the rather wonderful, and only slightly disturbing, Zombie Pinups.

Back from the dead



[If you’re wondering why we’re making even less sense than usual, we have to publish these codes to let Technorati know that we’re not a zombie blog. We could delete this post after the job was done, but why miss the chance to drop in another intellectual zombie link?]

Flogging a dead zombie

I know; enough already with the zombie shtick. But I was thinking that we hadn’t done a Second Life-themed post for a while, and it would be nice to round off our undead week with a look at ghoul culture on the grid.

Many people would say that, with their awkward posture, lumbering gait and blank expressions, regular SL avatars are zombie-like enough for most purposes, but if you really want to get into the living-dead lifestyle, a quick search for “zombie” at Xstreet brings up a range of avatars, skins and AO’s for the full “reanimated corpse” effect.

Cheap bastard that I am I went for a free skin from Bloody Hell, though I did pay L$100 for the t-shirt (from CC’s), and L$190 for the zombie walk (from Azumi):


There are dozens of zombie role-playing sims, so I chose Zombie Valley at random, and teleported in to lurch around for a spell:


I was rather hoping that some Buffy-style chick would leap out of the shadows to rough me up a bit, but, this being Second Life, the place was entirely deserted. I tried the Zombie Crypt, and Zombie Island, but they were devoid of the living too, so my putrefying body remained unmolested.

I decided to try a different tack, and headed over to a reliably busy place, the Fermi Sandbox, to see if my unhealthy pallor would elicit any concern there. No one seemed particularly alarmed by my appearance though; certainly no one felt moved to destroy my brain, which, as we all know, is the recommended course of action when faced with the living dead. While this bodes ill for SL‘s chances in the event of a full-scale zombie invasion, it does say something about the tolerant nature of the average resident that he or she doesn’t let a little decomposition get in the way of social discourse.

I eventually started just teleporting around at random, to see if I could find a place I felt at home. I was right into the zombie mindset by now, and it felt strangely relaxing to shuffle around the mostly empty suburbs and shopping malls, gaping mindlessly at the virtual recreation of our consumer culture.

Perhaps I’ve been too quick to dismiss our undead brethren as mere senseless flesh-eaters. Maybe we can learn something from their unhurried attitude, and delight in the simple pleasures of living death, like groaning incoherently or snacking on fresh brains. I’m just grateful that Second Life has given me the chance to embrace my inner zombie.

Zombie Bites

Further to the mathematical analysis of zombie infestation, here’s some more undead-themed academic enquiry:

Dr. Steven C. Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written a paper on zombie neurobiology. It turns out that zombies have exactly the brain lesions one would expect in an ataxic, insatiable cannibal with impulse-control problems and poor social skills – underactive frontal lobes, a dysfunctional anterior cingulate cortex, cerebellar/basal ganglia problems and a misfiring hypothalamus.

Some time ago I offered a brief psychoanalytic interpretation of zombie-phobia; for more in this vein read “Saving Ourselves: Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill by Marc C. Santos and Sarah White. Through a Lacanian deconstruction of the games’ dynamic the paper analyses the role of the player/avatar in maintaining symbolic order in the face of the “impossible, cataclysmic infinity of existence”, represented by the zombies, with their “near-sexual drive for consumption a constant reminder of the discursive construction of our own desire”. The authors conclude that “Resident Evil establishes a more conservative (Freudian) position that Silent Hill playfully (Lacanian-ly) problematizes”

There is more psychoanalytically-informed zombie literature around than you might think – “Zombie Trouble: A Propaedeutic On Ideological Subjectification and the Unconscious”, for example, or “Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory and Film”. If you like all this undead-psychoanalysis stuff, why not make your own Zombie Freud?

Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis wrote about his experiences with the Vodou practitioners of Haiti in his 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow. Davis’ theory that zombies are created using a powder containing, among other things, tetrodotoxin is not widely accepted, but his account of the hidden power structures of the Vodoun secret societies is certainly fascinating.

Columbia College in Chicago runs a course on “Zombies in Popular Media“; the reading/screening list is a good starting point for further zombie study.

And finally – Let me tell you ’bout the way she looked…

Zombie Epidemiology

Confirmation, if any were needed, that zombies pose a grave threat to the future of humanity comes in the paper “When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical modelling of an outbreak of zombie infection” published by Robert Smith? (sic) and his team at the University of Ottawa.

Using advanced mathematical modelling the authors come to a conclusion that will be no surprise to students of zombie behaviour; civilisation is likely to collapse rapidly in the face of the undead onslaught, with aggressive eradication the only strategy that might save mankind.

Readers will recall that I am somewhat paranoid about the risks of zombie attack, and this paper has only heightened my state of anxiety. It’s just as well that we have the internet, so that we zombie-phobes can prepare for the doomsday scenario.

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