Trigger Warning: this post discusses sexual assault and harassment.
Spoiler Alert: this post discusses plot points in Deadgirl in detail.
This is not a review of Deadgirl. For that, you can see this post. Instead, this post reflects on some resonances I see between the ideas at work in the film and recent flare-ups of misogyny we’ve seen in the last few months, particularly with regard to #GamerGate.
First, I’ll lay out a few scene descriptions. These are awful, but without them it’s hard to make the leap to the next argument.
1. Upon finding a tied-up zombie girl (without significant decay, so looking more like a drugged girl than a corpse; I use the term ‘girl’ here because that’s what the boys call her–it’s unclear how old she’s supposed to be, but I would suggest late teens to mid twenties), a group of boys argue about what to do with her. The first encounter ends with Rickie objecting to JT’s intended rape of the girl, but leaving the JT to it rather than objecting more forcefully. At this point, Rickie believes the girl is alive (not a zombie).
2. Over the course of the film, three more boys will find the zombie girl and of the five, only Rickie refrains from raping her. The last two boys do so specifically because they’re prodded into it. The group clearly operates on a mix of bravado, machismo, untethered morality, and peer pressure. They’re also significantly guided by a strong-willed sociopath who quickly leads them into the most depraved acts.
3. Late in the film, two of the boys decide the zombie girl has become too decayed to continue raping, and they decide to kidnap another woman and turn her into a zombie girl. At this point, clear lines have been drawn between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘evil’ ones, but the sliding scale of that morality is slippery and fungible in the film. Of particular note to the discussion here is JT’s final speech to Rickie, suggesting that they were destined for a life of poverty and denial from the women they want, and suggesting that taking what they want is the only way to proceed.
At the heart of the new misogyny, particularly the MRA and PUA communities, lies an assumption of entitlement. It’s a suggestion that men have a right to women who will sleep with them, and that feminism is a plot to deny men that basic right. At its heart, it’s a philosophy that imagines women not as individuals with equal rights, but as objects that exist to serve men. When a toxic community–like PUAs–foster these ideas for one another, they drive one another ever further into that mentality. The boys in the film go from tentatively touching the bound zombie girl to desiring another and planning to kidnap a woman to make her into one. It feels intensely similar to the ‘techniques’ shared by Pick-Up Artists who believe sexual relations to be a game, and who cultivate a disregard for womens’ humanity as a basic part of their rhetoric.
Indeed, consent stands as the unspoken issue in the film. The seemingly-drugged state of the zombie girl gives JT the opportunity to rape her, and their discovery that she is, in fact, dead gives them the excuse to keep doing so. But aside from Rickie, the characters seem to attach no interest at all in whether what they’re doing is wrong. In fact, the girl’s nudity implies, to these boys, consent. By the end of the film, this sense of entitlement has grown such that they’re willing to kidnap women to get what they want.
The film also raises a point that resonates with the argument made by anti-porn and anti-media-violence advocates — that familiarity with a trope decreases sensitivity against it. In other words, treating women as objects regularly conditions us to treat women as objects. In his essay from Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy, “Zombie Gladiators,” Dale Jacquette argues that even in a world of zombies, it would not be in our best interest to kill zombies for sport or entertainment. Because zombies resemble humans, the regular exposure to their brutalization would inure us to the brutalization of other humans who aren’t zombies. We see this theme throughout zombie cinema — people who spend a lot of time killing zombies become more willing to kill regular people who get in their way. (The Walking Dead turns significantly on this idea.) Deadgirl suggests that the misogynistic and exploitative relationship the boys have with the deadgirl taints their ability to relate to all people, making them cavalier about life and willing to, as I mentioned above, kidnap another woman to get a new “deadgirl.”
As I watched the movie and saw the way the sociopathic leader could taunt and cajole his followers into acts of incredible depravity, I couldn’t help but think of the slavering attack hounds of #GamerGate who pile abuse and hatred on women in gaming. Like the boys in deadgirl with the zombie, #GamerGaters have stopped seeing their critics as human beings, they’ve lost control of their moral compass, and they’re reveling in the debauchery they’ve wrought. Like Rickie, they’ve failed to sever ties with the awful human beings they’re associated with, and they continue to try and salvage the situation.
The real question is what to make of the people who still imagine #GamerGate can productively be about anything else. When I read the continued defense from #GamerGaters of the movement, claiming to decry the behavior of their colleagues, I can’t help but think of the final sequence in the movie:
After JT stabs Joann, Rickie tries to drag her to safety. He holds her, telling her he loves her. Joann coughs blood in his face and groans “Grow up.”