Content warnings: true crime, shock websites, animal cruelty, police brutality
George Romero has said of his zombie movies that they are, “just sort of snapshots of the time they were made.” His fifth zombie movie, Diary Of The Dead was released in the United States on February 22, 2008, and we’re still living in that snapshot.
Welcome to it.
As I was writing on Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, and Day Of The Dead, it felt more like I was writing about history with parts of the present-day peppered in there. Land Of The Dead was feeling closer to home, as the movies crossed over into the new millenium. Diary Of The Dead is today. If I put off writing this another day or even another hour I’m sure I could add more examples and more comparisons but there’s no time like the present, I suppose.
The World Wide Web was opened to the public in 1991, and it has been a blessing and a curse ever since. YouTube was launched in 2005 with its first video posted by co-founder Jawed Karim entitled “Me at the zoo”. Now, YouTube has over 2 billion users and over 5 billion videos now with an estimated 1 billion hours of videos being watched daily. Facebook launched in 2004 and in 2020 there’s an estimated 2.45 billion accounts with 1.69 billion people using it on a daily basis.
If you were trying to be extra edgy in the early 2000s then you knew about the subculture that was “shock sites”. Most were some sort of forum with videos exhibiting some sort of violence and gore or something on the extreme end of sexual and sometimes sexual crimes. The online shock gallery Rotten launched in 1996 and ran with the tagline, “An archive of disturbing illustration” Rotten was active up until 2012 and in 2017 the site was taken down.
Possibly the most popular shock site, Best Gore, is still active today with an estimated 10-15 million visits each month. The site was created by Mark Marek in 2008, the site showcases videos and images of surgeries, the aftermath of accidents, torture, and suicides and murders.
Enter offender Luka (fuckface) Magnotta- a sociopathic prick who became famous on the internet after posting animal cruelty videos in starting in 2010 with “1 Boy, 2 Kittens” (a play on the classic shock video from 2007 “2 Girls, 1 Cup”). In 2012, his crimes escalated and he filmed himself murdering Lin Jun and desecrating his corpse and titled the video “1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick” and posted it to the Best Gore website. The video stayed up for about eight days, until Magnotta was named as a suspect in the act. Magnotta was arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder in 2014. A Netflix documentary about the case, Don’t Fuck With Cats, was released in December 2019 and it showed us the power and integrity of internet sleuths can be used for the greater good and I’d like to give a personal salute to the people of Don’t Fuck With Cats.
Mark Marek was charged in 2013 in Canada with one count of corrupting morals for allowing the murder and desacration video of Jun to be posted to Best Gore, a charge that could bring up to two years in prison. After being released on bail then being arrested again for violating the terms of his release, Marek pleaded guilty again in 2016 and was given a sentence of three months house arrest and three months of community service.
What gets into our heads when we see something horrible? A horrible accident on the highway. Something keeps us from just driving on. Something holds us. But we don’t stop to help. We stop to look.Debra in Diary Of The Dead
Using “shock” to get attention isn’t limited to the digital media and it’s not limited to the “new millenium”. The morning after Orson Welles’ The War Of The Worlds broadcast in 1938, news papers used buzzwords and dramatic phrases fueled the lore about the aftermath of the show, from suicide attempts to people running for the hills. And how many times have the bold letters on the cover of The National Enquirer caught your eye at the check out lines in the grocery store? Weekly World News told us about the Bat Boy, aliens talking to politicians and getting into fist fights, humans having affairs with cryptids, and more.
In February 2020, Ingrid Escamilla was murdered by her boyfriend in Mexico City. A newspaper, Pasala, was able to get a hold of photos of her boyfriend covered in her blood after he had stabbed her as well as a photo of her body after he had begun to skin her, in an attempt to cover up his crime. The photo of her mutilated body appeared on the front page with the caption “It Was Cupid’s Fault”. The tasteless publication of her post-mortem photo sparked protests calling for cases of violence against women to be taken more seriously. Femicide (killing a woman on the basis of their gender) in Mexico accounted for over 1,000 deaths in women in 2019, but women’s rights groups have argued that the number is actually higher because more cases need to be classified as femicide.
Diary Of The Dead is a found footage movie that coincides with Night Of The Living Dead at the start of the zombie apocalypse, only the story has been modernized 40 years. The story follows film students from the University Of Pittsburgh who begin to hear news of apparent “mass rioting” and “mass murder” as they’re in the woods filming a horror movie. The audience sees the story unfold through the camera of student director Jason (Joshua Close), along with his girlfriend, Debra (Michelle Morgan), their student advisor Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth), and their classmates (Shawn Roberts, Chris Violette, Amy Lalonde, Joe Dinicol, Philip Riccio, and Megan Park). Debra acts as our narrator periodically throughout the movie.
Romero used his script to poke fun at the current state of the horror genre, in particular the zombie subgenre that he had helped create. Tony comments that they’re just making a “stupid fucking mummy movie,” to which Andrew corrects him, “with an underlying threat of social satire.” Tracy, despising her role of the damsel-in-distress, “Can somebody please explain to me why girls in scary movies always have to, like, fall down and lose their shoes and shit? It’s totally lame. And why do we always have to get our dresses torn off?” Slashers, zombie movies, most any subgenre has played this card with at least one of their female characters.
And, going for the throat of the modern zombie movie trends, Romero has Jason, the director of the mummy movie-within-the-movie, chastises Ridley, who is playing the mummy, after he full-blown runs and tells him, “How many times have I told you? Dead things don’t move fast. You’re a corpse, for Christ’s sakes. If you run that fast, your ankles are gonna snap off.”
Those are the fun sides of the commentaries.
Let’s get to the commentary on the realities of it all.
There are videos circulating on the internet today that were filmed by people who didn’t set out to be “provocative” or “shocking”, they just happened to pull out their cell phones and begin filming. Videos being seen by the public are no longer limited to what news cameras catch and edit for television. Virtually everyone has a video camera in their pocket with their cell phones and they are free to post what they see to social media sites.
In Diary, when Francine is being pursued by a zombie in the woods, Jason doesn’t attempt to fight off the zombie or help her in any way but rather he films her as she’s screaming in terror and it’s much more believable than her “acting” in the beginning of the movie. He finally got the shot he was looking for despite his classmate almost getting mauled for it. Jason is separating himself from the severity of the situation through a camera lense.
In New York City in December 2019, Juan Fresnada was a victim of an attempted robbery just outside of a McDonald’s, where he was beaten by his attackers who only ended up getting away with $1. Surveillance video shows passer-bys, cars, and even an MTA bus passing Fresnada while he lay motionless after the beating but no one stops to aid him. 60-year-old Fresnada ended up dying from his injuries later in the hospital.
This is a diary of cruelty. And in wartime, when the enemy can be marked as this son of a bitch or that son of a bitch, then cruelty…becomes justified.Andrew in Diary Of The Dead
Facebook added their Live video feed feature in 2016. Sure, the feature has been used for fun things, like answering the question of “how many rubber bands does it take to break a watermelon in half?” but it was also used by Diamond Reynolds to show the aftermath of her fiance, Philando Castile, being shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop, while Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter was in the back seat. The incident sparked protests in Minnesota and across the United States. Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter but was acquitted.
Will Smith summed it up perfectly- “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was surrounded by officers, one of whom knelt on his neck while three others stood around, and the whole ordeal was filmed by onlookers, including a Facebook Live stream, as Floyd died at the scene. The protests demanding the officers be brought to justice started in Minneapolis and quickly spread across large and small cities in the United States and reached as far as New Zealand. The demonstrations have all been peaceful until officers show up and begin to instigate by physically harassing demonstrators and using tear gas. To date, only one of the four officers has been fired and none have been arrested, much less taken to trial.
Even as I’m typing this, news and videos are circulating about a peaceful demonstrator in my home town in Michigan being tased and others were threatened with being arrested as they had signs saying “Queers for Black Rights” and they were advocating in memory of George Floyd.
Just because major news outlets have slowed down or stopped reporting on the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t mean that it’s over.
In closing- Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter. Trans Women Are Women. Trans Men Are Men. Non-binary people are whoever the fuck they want to be.
Black Lives Matter resources https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
National Center For Transgender Equality https://transequality.org/additional-help
National Domestic Violence Hotline https://www.thehotline.org/