: Zombies and the Law — no, seriously!

Zombies and the Law — no, seriously!

Darren Peter Parker

LawCulture-Parker-Zombies-150Arrrrrgghhhhhh – who doesn’t like zombies? I certainly do! I mean I don’t ‘like’ like them. I certainly wouldn’t want to become one nor, I suspect, would you either, but I absolutely love the allegorical undercurrents of a good read about zombies (and not just a well-constructed one). Case in point, the graphic novel series The Walking Dead. Recently, I returned to read my Hardcover Deluxe volumes of The Walking Dead (yes, I am ‘one of those people’ who are of a certain age that still read comics; unashamedly so). Of late, thankfully, there has been academic movement around ‘law and comics’ which has given the medium some [cough] credibility. But, I suspect that the genuineness of that credibility is dependent upon who you are speaking to. If you ask any comic-nut (and I certainly put myself in that category) about the credibility of comics, be very careful how you ask, because ‘them there’s fighting words’ (not that comic-readers are inherently violent, but just saying). When you can spend a couple of hundred bucks on comics in a week (not every week but nonetheless) and not think anything of it, you qualify as a comic-nut (though I don’t think that there is any real ‘hurdle’ as such, just a love of comics will suffice).

Anyway, before I go off-point, comics and law, I believe (as do many others), have a natural connection. Sure, I could provide you with a litany of examples and reasons why this is so, but is that really necessary? Just for a moment, think of any of the ‘superhero’ comics — Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc — and immediately you can see there are intrinsic connections between comics and law. I am not saying that comics and law are connected in ways like, for example, politics and law or society and law are connected. No. What I am saying, is that: legal themes; legal utopias; and legal landscapes (lawscapes?) are imbued throughout a vast number of comics. Additionally, comics, sometimes, reflect the legal positioning of an epoch — think of a dystopian future and Judge Dredd. Anyway, the point being, comics and law are connected. If you wish for more [cough] ‘credible’ sources, please look to recent academic conferences, legal journals and edited collections for ‘credible’ connections between comics and law.

But back to the point I made at the start, I have recently begun to re-read The Walking Dead series and I have been gob-smacked [BLAM!] with the deep-rooted legal philosophy that the series grapples with. In truth, legal and social philosophy is a major trope in the zombie genre generally. This is what attracts me to zombies (that sounded odd), particularly. Good zombie comics/graphic novels have much more under the surface than simply characters ‘dealing’ with an apocalypse. They provide what I call ‘subtle-signposts’, about: governance; modernity; militarisation; society; lawfulness v lawlessness; consumerism; ethics; racism; morals; sexism; religion, etc. — you get the point. Good zombie comics/graphic novels use these tropes to pose questions to their audience around deep-rooted legal and social philosophy.


For example, the deep-rooted legal philosophy of ‘what would I do, or how would I act, if there was no external force to sanction me if I transgressed a law?’ This is, I think, a fundamental question all (most?) legal philosophers have grappled with at some point in time. This is, I believe, a quintessential question posed around ‘what is law?’ or, to put it another way, ‘what is lawfulness?’ Is it only the fear of sanctioning that keeps us all in line? Do the iron fists of government and the executive keep us in check simply of themselves? Or is it perhaps possible that we, that is all of us, are sites of law embodied in the flesh? If there was no threat of repercussions, would you loot a supermarket or a gunsmiths or a camping-goods store? Would you steal a car? Remembering that all government structures have crumbled during the apocalypse and that, if you take that twinkie, no one will stop you. Such deep-rooted legal philosophy permeates through The Walking Dead, much less other good zombie comics and graphic novels.

I recently gave a presentation at Melbourne Law School’s annual ‘Doctoral legal theory forum’ (which was brilliant by the way) and analogised the import of the common law into Australia through the zombie apocalypse. Sure, people looked at me strangely (but I am quite used to that), but what was most satisfying was discussing legal theory and legal philosophy with well-respected academics, through the medium of the zombie genre. But not just discussing, which is always enjoyable for someone who loves zombies. What was more invigorating was demonstrating how the zombie genre really sits into a niche pocket of legal satire and critique! However, I have seemed to have strayed off track again (take note, doing so during the apocalypse would surely see me in trouble!).

The Walking Dead
challenges the reader on many fronts, not the least on questions of law and lawfulness. The central character of the series is Rick Grimes, a small-town cop, who knows the ‘short-hand’ of the ‘long-arm of the law’. This may seem quite obvious in supporting my contentions, however I do not believe it is quite so clear cut. Rick, among other survivors throughout the series, truly grapples with the concept of being ‘lawful’ amidst a world that has no more ‘formal’ law as such. It is at these points through the story arcs where this struggle honestly discombobulates the legal reader — having them think ‘but yes’ … ’but no’ … ‘but yes’ … ’but no’ — with spectacular ease. That is a hallmark of good legal prodding. It makes you think from any number of alternative points of view and understanding, to help you arrive at a satisfactory ‘lawful’ answer.

The graphic novel series The Walking Dead is full of fundamental legal questioning — I urge all of you to read it (and I would be more than happy to hear what you think about it as well) — and you will be confronted by some very stark legal propositions! You never know, you might pick up some tips on surviving the zombie apocalypse, too!

DARREN PETER PARKER teaches law within the Institute of Koorie Education at Deakin University.

(2014) 39(2) AltLJ 146
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