Dalhousie English professor Jason Haslam addressed how the zombie is a symbol of the fear of the “other” at The Meaning of Monsters panel at this year’s Hal-Con.
“[Monsters] are popular and address a lot of social and political issues throughout the period of the modern age,” said Haslam.
He recruited Dal English professor Julia Wright and Mount Saint Vincent English professor Karen Macfarlane to speak alongside him on the panel. The Meaning of Monsters was his second yearly Hal-Con panel.
Wright spoke of the haunted house, going all the way back to the first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Macfarlane spoke about the monstrous horde of Lady Gaga’s fans.
Haslam was inspired to speak about the zombie as the embodiment of the fear of the other because recent blockbuster film World War Z’s used the zombie to symbolize the dominant culture’s bigotries. In the movie, the zombies eventually destroy a wall outside Jerusalem (it and North Korea are the only places that haven’t succumbed to the zombie pandemic) and take over the city.
Haslam also addressed that zombies almost never speak, unless to say “brains,” or ask for more paramedics so they can eat them.
“Maybe the image of the zombie is what the dominant culture fails to do,” Haslam said, “understand the other and open up to communication in interesting ways.”
Haslam had never attended Hal-Con before he was invited to speak at it, but he is a fan of science fiction authors such as Samuel Delany and China Miéville, and Arrow, the TV show based on the Green Arrow. He often sports a Firefly shirt.
“I think that science fiction, the fantasy, the gothic, all these non-realist things, are all about challenging our perceptions of what it is to be real, of what is real,” he said. “And I think often what we think of is real is simply our own blinders, our own inability to perceive beyond the end of our own nose.”
Hal-Con’s design standards director, Travers Milo, contacted Haslam last year about creating a panel of professors to speak about a Hal-Con-related subject. Haslam and other professors from Dal, King’s and Saint Mary’s then organized and presented Kill All Humans, which focused on robots.
Hal-Con attendees positively received Kill Them All, and with a talk this year, Haslam sees that people outside the university are interested in what it does, and vice versa. Haslam believes that many people have a false perception that the university is separate from the rest of the community. By taking material from their classes, his fellow presenters and he are bringing the university to the real world.
“I think that something Hal-Con shows is that there are these interrelations that culture, both the enjoyment of it and the study of it, are things that are significant to not just the social fabric, but to the enjoyment of people’s lives.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last names of Travers Milo and Karen Macfarlane. The story has since been amended online. The Gazette regrets the error and any confusion it may have caused.