My thesis focuses on the social commentary found in the second entry of George A. Romero’s “Living Dead Tetraology" Dawn of The Dead (1978), specifically on issues of the representation of race, class, culture and violence in the four films, and how these representations, along with the social critique evident in Romero's work, change in response to the upheavals and developments which have occurred in the American social, cultural and political climate over the past four decades.
While many may assume that the blood, guts and the horror genre are the ingredients for mindless entertainment, George Romero's 1978 film Dawn of the Dead is concrete proof that extreme gore and violence doesn't always equal a dumb movie and that the two can make very nice bedfellows. Dawn of the Dead is used by Romero primarily as examine and critique the state of race and class issues in the United States, including the very consumer culture that feeds the industry.
The plot of this film follows four survivors of the zombie apocalypse that has ensued after the events of Night of the Living Dead as they hold up in a shopping mall to try while the dead shamble aimlessly. However, this poses another problem, as once their home has been built up in the midst of the atrocities; will our hero's be able to give up all that they have built? Dawn of the Dead is an epic view of a civilization in decline". It is the violence at the heart of the American experience that Romero turns his critical eye towards in Dawn of the Dead, and the only way to adequately showcase it is through the extremes of exploding heads and splattering viscera. The movie, which takes place at the Monroeville Shopping Mall outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a biting satire of the modern consumerist way of life. It may also be considered a mocking portrayal of mankind's persistent inability to cooperate or make decisions based on logic rather than emotion in the face of danger, a consistent theme throughout the entire Dead series.
The setting of Dawn of the Dead is "a follow-up on the zombie invasion that began in Living Dead, when, in Yeats's classic phrase, 'mere anarchy is loosed upon the world'" (McCarty 118). Romero takes full advantage of the opportunity provided by this location to parody American consumer culture. In fact, much of the film's black humor derives from "the idea of the dead returning robotically to a mall where they once spent many happy hours," particularly when coupled with "scenes of the living dead falling into fountains, stumbling on escalators, and clamoring for admission to department stores" (McCarty 119). There is a great deal of irony to be found in the fact that "three decades later our entire country is one big mall governed by a man who, responding to one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall it, urged its citizens to go shopping," Nick Shuit (10). But Dawn of the Dead is more than just a zombies-at-the-shopping-mall critique of consumer culture, as elements of racism and class war are also included within its framework. In one of its opening scenes, "a SWAT team clears out a tenement building in Pittsburgh.
The residents are primarily Puerto Rican and Latino, kept captive by the undead both within and without the building" (Rider 7). Despite the abject poverty of these residents, one of the police officers makes a statement reflecting what Stephen Harper calls "the film's theme of material insecurity and envy" (5). "Shit man, this is better than I got." Harper further observes that the tenement sequence "invites the audience to consider zombiedom as a condition associated with both racial oppression and social abjection and, therefore, sanctions socio-political interpretations of the film as a whole" (6). The tenement sequence also introduces the audience to two members of the film's core quartet of protagonists, Ken Foree's Peter and Scott Reiniger's Roger, a pair of SWAT...