Queen West serves as a cultural and commercial hub of Toronto. The blocks between Trinity-Belwoods Park and Spadina Avenue house a number of popular clothiers, night-clubs and restaurants; The Australian Boot Company, The Fresh Collective, Starbucks, Terroni, Romni Wools and Helmutt’s Pet Supply to name a few. The area is in a perpetual state of gentrification, and the idea of Queen West as a neighbourhood is being replaced with Queen West as shopping mecca, a product of affluent capitalism and consumerism. Webb and Byrnand (2008) write about the links between capitalism and zombies,
Capitalism, we suggest, works as an analogue of zombiedom because it too is predicated on insatiable appetite, and the drive to consume…Capitalism has the same heartless all-consuming character, particularly in its pure form in which the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is supposed to bring about a dynamic equilibrium between supply and demand…The problem is that capital doesn’t care, and doesn’t weigh human costs. It is simply zombie – hungry, and hence focused on feeding and expanding regardless of the consequences. (93)
The zombie on Queen is a symbol of the consumerist mindset of those who visit the street regularly. The viral nature of zombiedom can be compared with capitalism, with both being linked to a loss of identity, rationality and humanness. The presence of zombie, an insatiable and unstoppable consumer in his own patterns, draws attention to a culture’s capitalist foundation, commenting on the transformation of leisure time into consumer time as well the transformation of neighbourhoods into places of commerce.Zombies on Spadina
Turning north on Spadina Avenue, the Zombie Walk enters a different playing space and the meanings shift. In contrasting Spadina and Queen West, we see evidence of what cultural theorist Ben Highmore (2002) describes as a “discontinuous city” with Spadina representing a different temporality, an “outmoded space with distinct cultural characteristics,” one which “can interrupt the homogenizing and hyphotizing effects of capitalist standardization,” and “rupture the false historicism of modernity, a revelation that can awaken us from the dream of commodification” (141). The Walk’s 90-degree turn draws attention to the differences within the city, confronting the spectator with the many identities of Toronto and the Torontonian.
The procession moves into Chinatown, a neighbourhood of Toronto with a large immigrant and first-generation Canadian population. On Spadina, the presence of the zombie comments on alterity, and the discourse shifts to a commentary on “the Other” and “the foreign” in the city. Zombies exemplify alterity; they are in a fixed state of otherness. One cannot be “partially zombie,” and once bitten one cannot be cured from the zombie virus to rejoin the human race. While sharing human characteristics, the zombie is holistically evil and holistically Other. This otherness cannot be colonized or effectively subjugated.
The zombie’s alterity is a result of a virus that has the potential to infect all types of people, regardless of race. The fear is that the Other will win out. The only way to deal with this Other is through dominant, brutal force as syncretism is not possible. What the zombie plague represents, however, is an almost unstoppable colonization of the human race, wherein the undead are able to wield their powers to subjugate all humanity. Through this fictionalized self-Other dichotomy, the idea of the zombie apocalypse plays with/pokes fun at the notions of colonization, forcing us to consider how to read and position the dominant in relation to alterity, and the power relations inherent in a reading of the zombie as Other.