Like the medieval carnival, the Zombie Walk takes place in an urban space; reflecting, shaping and being shaped by the environment. As a number of theorists have discussed, space is not neutral; it is social, multi-layered and full of energy (Kantor 217). It is a product of relationships (Lefebvre Writings: 93-4) and is a priori full of ideological encodings, which both reflect and mediate relationships (Ubersfeld 96 and Knowles 62-3). Carlson’s (1989) discussion of ‘urban semiotics’ of theatre and the connotations of staging performances in non-dramatic spaces (15) is key to an analysis of contemporary, urban zombie performances. The Zombie Walk transforms the city into performance space, altering the relationship between the space and the citizens, blurring boundaries and encouraging participants and audience members to look at their city in a new way. Similarly, the carnival “is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people (Bahkin 7). It is “by no means a purely artistic form nor a spectacle and does not, generally speaking, belong to the sphere of art. It belongs to the borderline between art and life. In reality, it is life itself, but shaped according to a certain pattern of play” (Bahktin 7). These types of new and playful relationships have been described as a “critical unsiting” (Kwon 155), and a Lefebvrian ‘moment’; “fleeting but decisive sensations (of delight, surrender, disgust, surprise, horror, or outrage) which were somehow revelatory of the totality of possibilities contained in daily existence…points of rupture, of radical recognition of possibilities and intense euphoria” (Harvey in Lefebvre 1991: 429). The carnival and the Zombie Walk are forms of agitation, disruption and fermentation, or what Johnstone (2008) describes as “a kind of play-generating yeast in the everyday” (14). In considering the Walk as a site-specific urban performance, its playing is disruptive in a number of ways; disturbing and enlightening by creating/making fun.
Recent scholarship on zombies has discussed the place of the zombie in popular culture, the impact of its presence in literature and film as well as the metaphors and meanings associated with these characters. Two recent articles explore zombie walks specifically. In Reclaiming Public Spaces Through Performance of the Zombie Walk (2011), Cocarla describes the zombie as a disrupting force and suggests that the walk “becomes a postmodern act in that it is comprised of a postmodern subject (the zombie) that causes disruption in modernist spaces” (117-8). Cocarla discusses how zombie walks disturb the structure of the city and capitalism in general, by “reclaiming urban spaces and disrupting dominant ideologies” (114); symbolizing an end to rationality and the modern, highly-organized nature of our urban spaces. This echoes Bahktin’s (1984) description of the carnival as a performance which suspends all hierarchy (10). In Playing Dead: Zombies Invade Performance Art…and Your Neighbourhood, Lauro (2011) compares the zombie walk with the work of the Situationist International movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which, like contemporary zombie-themed urban performances, used art to blur the boundaries between actor and citizenry/audience, to question the notion of public and private space, and to explore the relationships between performance and protest, sparking discourse on the place and nature of art, community and the city. Through a “uncanny process of depersonalization”, zombie walks serve as a “willingful rewriting of the everyday” (Lauro 205-6). The Walk and the carnival are founded on the idea of taking familiar spaces and transforming them temporarily into places of performance. In the disguise of spectacle and fun, they promote a radical re-consideration of the normal uses of these spaces.
In contrast with zombie literature and film, the performance of the Zombie Walk is devoid of true notions of fear and anxiety. By design, the walk is not meant to terrorize the neighbourhoods that it transforms into its play-space. In removing this fear, the idea of the zombie as unstoppable evil is turned into a camp-like performance and however true-to-life the make-up and costumes of the participants is, it is widely recognized that the Walk is performance. No longer seen as an image of terror, the camped-up zombie pokes fun at its own image and the anxieties that are attached to it, challenging the viewer to make sense of its presence. Lauro (2011) suggests that the zombie is open metaphor; a recognizable cultural signifier that is open to individual interpretation, challenging the viewer to make sense of its presence (217). This openness is spatially and situationally constructed by the site-specificity of the performance.