Essays on the Common Man (Part II)

Food for the Machine

Don’t feed the system, fight it.

Hear the screams?
The voracious fiend,
When it sets its sights on you,
You become food for the machine.

Don’t feed the system, fight it.

The American Dream, the illustrious pie in the sky,
Satellites, the all-seeing eye in the sky,
Supervision, celestial superstition,
Meanwhile, on Earth, there’s terrestrial schism:
Domestic racism, exacerbated, aggravated,
And elevated by increased terrorism overseas,
Distractions from the dismal fiscal rotaries,
Treading over rough waters, like the economy,
Like teeter-tottery,
Homelessness and poverty,
Declining values of property,
Foreclosure forces some into welfare,
And many fall sick on rising costs of health care,
While every other week presents another health scare,
A perfect storm mixing the right cocktail of conditions,
The exotic recipe appeases the system.

The experts rile feathers, push the right buttons,
Politicians, pundits, say things like it’s all redundant,
Party loyalty, constituents don’t seem to matter,
Just another rung on the political ladder,
Cut budgets while their pockets get fatter.
I’m getting tired of these screaming voices,
Outside noises, media personalities trying to influence choices,
The more you watch, the more you step inside the box,
And you might find it too much to handle, constant scandal,
“If it bleeds it leads,”
Tragedy, corruption, greed,
Murders, robberies, rape,
Sound bites, audio, video tape,
And you might find yourself in far too deep to escape,
Far too deep, in the complex of this prison,
You might find yourself in far too deep, in the bowels of the system.

Hear the screams?
The voracious fiend,
When it sets its sights on you,
You become food for the machine.

Hear the screams?
The voracious fiend,
When it sets its sights on you,
You become food for the machine.

Don’t feed the system.

It is said that no wealth equals knowledge,
And no poverty rivals ignorance.
But education is under-funded,
Teacher salaries slashed, resources hashed,
Under-performing schools leaves communities trashed,
Rising costs of books and supplies, student debt,
Tuition, dormitory and rent, all of it spent,
Trying to stay afloat,
Feel those hands around your throat?
It devours everything it touches,
The system has you in its hungry clutches.

Chasing the cheese, dodging obstacles in the maze,
A rat race, the cheese is overrated but every rat wants a taste,
9–5, 24–7 in the work economy, fast-paced, haste,
But it beats unemployment, or it seems,
Dead-end pay, too many blues, not enough green,
Don’t feed the machine.

Hear the screams?
The voracious fiend,
When it sets its sights on you,
You become food for the machine.

‘28 Days Later’ and the Zombie as a Political Metaphor

Some films occupy a special place in your heart. They have a resonating effect. To put it simply, they stick with you.

For me, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later has to be one of those films.

In 28 Days Later, a bicycle courier named Jim awakens from a coma to discover that a virus known as “Rage” has swept across England. After coming across other survivors, he must ward off the infected while striving to retain his humanity in a post-apocalyptic world.

The peculiar thing about 28 Days Later is its ability to mix beauty with bloodshed, tenderness with terror. There are moments of sheer hair-raising terror. There are also moments of intimacy, lightheartedness, and deep reflection. It is typically a very difficult and risky venture trying to get these conflicting story elements to mingle.

Conventional thinking is that people who like to be thrilled have very different tastes from those who like to be intellectually challenged. This may be especially true for horror fans, whose palettes often reflect their views of the genre. Some horror fans enjoy the visual gore, while others are fond of horror that appeals to them on a psychological level. Similarly, what is intellectually-stimulating to some is boring to others; the gore and thrills which satisfies the latter audience is base and off-putting to the former. Works like 28 Days Later defy conventional thinking, proving that, yes, there is an audience of people who like to be thrilled as well as stimulated.

The film is often credited with revitalizing the zombie genre, even though many would argue (justifiably so) against this categorization. The infected, after all, are technically not zombies. They are not reanimated corpses with a taste for human flesh but rather living people driven to raging aggression by a viral outbreak. For the purposes of this essay, I argue that the infected are conceptually “zombies.”

I have a particular fascination with zombies as a powerful political metaphor. Zombies are unique in the sense that they occupy plot, character, and setting. Let’s set aside the stereotypical perception of zombies as decaying, shambling, grotesque hordes of tired clichés and overused tropes, and start to appreciate them for what they represent. When we do that, we start to see that zombies are truly terrifying.

Zombies, of course, emblematize the end of the world and the downfall of human civilization. Hence, they provide the rich reservoir from which political allegories can be extracted. In “Metaphor of the Living Dead,” Daniel Drezner explains how zombies are used to contextualize three specific societal anxieties in particular: war, globalization, and pandemics.

More than that, however, zombies represent the subversion of reality. More specifically, they challenge the rudimentary conceptions of life and death. Because they are neither living nor dead, zombies tap into the innate human fear of death, and the uncertainty surrounding it. The idea of absurdism comes to mind, as the characters in a zombie apocalypse are thrust into a world that is fundamentally askew, in which the laws of nature are essentially broken. In a zombie apocalypse, there is no uncertainty surrounding death. In a zombie apocalypse, survivors find themselves in an absurd nightmare, where living futilely is the only way to overcome an overwhelmingly bleak and meaningless situation.

Indeed, at the heart of 28 Days Later is the unraveling of reality, prompted first by Jim’s awakening at the hospital, followed by one of the most haunting and iconic sequences in the film, when Jim dazedly roams the empty London city streets. The protagonist-waking-up-from-a-coma scenario has become standard fare in the post-apocalyptic genre, used to call into question the very solidity of the protagonist’s reality. There are moments in this film that are near-dreamlike, constantly calling into question if Jim is still dreaming. It is thus difficult to discern whether or not the suicide note Jim receives from his parents, in which they tell him not to wake up from his coma, is meant to prey upon the viewer’s suspicions. The surrealistic feel of the film is further aided by its shaky cinematography and John Murphy’s atmospheric soundtrack.

Through this essay, I have sought to outline the ways in which zombies embody meaning far beyond their literal incarnation. 28 Days Later has managed to reimagine the prototypical, Romero-esque image of the zombie while remaining true to its metaphorical meaning. Between the eye-gouging and bludgeoning and a “Rage” virus which unlocks mankind’s brutal inner nature, 28 Days Later is still a wonderfully poignant film. And like all great zombie films before it, it offers sharp insight into human nature, political anarchy, and the potential collapse of human civilization.

For further reading:

Handsworth Revolution

Thorne’s Critique:

Steel Pulse’s Handsworth Revolution is a daring, politically-charged album that holds no punches in its bare critique of social inequality.
Rating: 8.5/10

Handsworth Revolution (1978) strays from the typical reggae blueprint of sun-drenched grooves and carefree themes. Breaking free from this mold, Handsworth Revolution is an exquisite roots reggae album by a band looking to establish its musical identity. The album is every bit as raw and contentious as its title would suggest. Don’t let the grungy exterior fool you though, Handsworth Revolution is a diamond in the rough.

Immediately, Steel Pulse establishes the pace with the titular track. “Handsworth Revolution” is a heartfelt yearning for widespread change, coming from the steely Handsworth area that seems to grace the band’s album cover. Confronting racial discrimination, injustice and corruption, the band sings about reclaiming its hometown for future generations. The deceivingly-collected rhythm quickly erupts into a rapid-fire, impromptu spoken-word verse towards the end of the song. “Handsworth Revolution” holds no punches and serves as a solid introduction to prelude the rest of the album.

Steel Pulse follows with the derelict “Bad Man” – a song so primal in its delivery that it almost sounds as though it was produced deep within the jungle badlands. Lead singer David Hinds’ taunts to “leave town” are embellished by guitar riffs and a cacophony of guttural chants from the background singers. Hinds also uses clever metaphors to illustrate his point: there can be no sharing of power, because he is the “badder” man. Make no mistake; “Bad Man” is full of bravado and pretension. However, if one examines the song more closely, there are also subtle signs of weakness and insecurity. “Bad Man” is also a message about slavery. “Four-hundred years” and “strange fruit” are meaningful historical references that give the song its intellectual edge.

One of the more reserved tracks on the album, “Sound Check” is an odd, but thoughtful ode to music and dance. “Prodigal Son” highlights the album, with its foreboding rhythm and highly critical lyrics. The song artfully uses the jeremiad rhetorical device and draws upon the Biblical parable to craft a transcendent narrative of redemption. “Prodigal Son” is a powerful, apocalyptic admonishment of a wayward, materialistic society on the brink of collapse. Finally, “Ku Klux Klan” is every bit as fiery as the title would suggest. The rebellious “Ku Klux Klan” is quintessential Steel Pulse material.

Uncompromising and politically-charged, Handsworth Revolution is an anomaly in the reggae genre. With one foot in the Caribbean roots reggae scene and the other foot in the punk movement in England at the time, the album would eventually become representative of Steel Pulse’s unique sphere of influence.

What makes the album such a gem is that it retains its edginess without losing its feel for the music. A common dilemma among politically-themed artists is getting the message across without becoming preachy. Handsworth Revolution effortlessly avoids such pitfalls. What’s more, Steel Pulse needed only eight strong tracks to accomplish this difficult task. Cries of injustice reverberate throughout the concourses of this album, but the album never loses its cadence. The rhythms, though minimalistic, compliment the band’s evocative lyrics. And though Steel Pulse is noted for its great passion and energy, Handsworth Revolution is entirely focused. Deserving of its critical acclaim, the album not only established the Steel Pulse identity, but also solidified the band as a top-tier reggae talent.