Self-sacrifice in the zombie apocalypse: survive or die surviving! A multimedia critique of neoliberalism through survivalist narratives

McKeown, William J. C. ORCID: 0000-0001-5333-9030 (2021). Self-sacrifice in the zombie apocalypse: survive or die surviving! A multimedia critique of neoliberalism through survivalist narratives. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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It is argued that self-sacrifice in the zombie apocalypse can be read as a cultural signifier for a series of neoliberal deformities such as social immobility, the success/failure hierarchies, corporate nepotism, the illusion of choice and ingrained prejudice.

This thesis intends to provide a means of interpreting and categorising audiovisual, subjective, episodic and ludic (gameplay) self-sacrifices. It aims to identify how representations of self-sacrifice exist as a symptom of social hierarchies and ingrained competition. Therefore, self-sacrifice is part of a cultural vocabulary that is constantly pointing out the flaws of the neoliberal state and is not being correctly understood.

This study matters because it breaks new ground in the analysis of self-sacrifice and identifies representations of self-sacrifice as part of a cultural language that signifies the twisted values of modern neoliberalism. Case studies examining a range of media will present audiovisually similar accounts of self-sacrifice; however, the cultural impact, resonance and legacies will differ accordingly. The formation of self-identity is therefore reconfigured in both textual and contextual conditions.

Furthermore, because society is more frequently subjected to videos, texts, films, series, games apps and other means of information transferral, one of the defining characteristics of modern neoliberalism is its intermediality. It is for this reason that this thesis shares such intermediality. With each shift to the examination of self-sacrifice in a different medium, theoretical critiques of neoliberalism take on correspondent nuances that endeavour to give the upcoming analysis depth and contemporary relevance. It outlines how competition has become ingrained in social constructions. It makes evident how pre-existing socioeconomic hierarchies are reinforced by the internalisation of failure. This thesis argues that representations of survival and the compulsion to survive are not about resourcefulness but a competitive sense of outlasting and gauging self-worth by the failure of others.

The illusion of choice is also put forward as another way of interpreting the cultural defects of neoliberalism. Survival and self-sacrifice are both linked in the zombie apocalypse because they present a choice in a situation that removes all aspects of choosing. They depict an impasse that can only be traversed by self-appraisal and self-evaluation. This is because the choice to self-sacrifice is invariably set up by a previous infection or disadvantage and survival is, by definition, operative in scenarios that restrict a character’s propensity to survive. The winners survive and everyone else dies out. Again, this can be related to constructions of social competition and its tendency to reinforce the positions of those at the pinnacle of cultural hierarchies. This thesis also examines the illusion of choice to various degrees in interactive media, weighing up how the concept of self-sacrifice can represent a disruption to reestablished socioeconomic hierarchies through incremental self-enrichment.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Department of Film and Creative Writing
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)


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