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Mark Anderson: Zombies and the Death of Certainty in the Land of Perennial Rebirth

March 16, 2021 at 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM


For centuries, the Western film comforted audiences by containing the savage Other, often playfully, even comically. Scholars have long since traced its symbolic heft and origins to the frontier myth, settler America’s creation story. Yet after dominating prime time since the days of the Puritans, the genre, the canvas upon which America etched its manifest destiny and espied exceptionalism, abruptly faded after 1968. Doyen of American film critics Pauline Kael at the New Yorker boldly (and mistakenly) declared it dead in 1974.

Professor Mark Anderson

The decline of the Western is important because it signifies a kind of death of certainty, or of a constellation of certainties (spoiler alert: aka culture war), that had held for nearly 400 years, forged in the nation-building attempted annihilation of Indigenous peoples and reified through the horrors of the peculiar institution and quotidian misogyny. These firmly established truths, loosely though decisively prominent in the frontier myth, have fallen under siege, thanks to George Romero et al and especially after 9/11, by the basic question posed by the zombie horror sub-genre, which may be dated to 1932’s White Zombie: forget the western. What happens when the proverbial gates are overrun by the savage Other?

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The Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship

Each year, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences awards the Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship to one of its outstanding faculty members, in order to facilitate the completion of a major research project that requires significant release time. Once the year has completed, the Fellowship winner delivers a lecture on the research they were able to accomplish during their time as the Marston LaFrance Fellow. 

The Fellowship was established in 1979 by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in memory of Marston LaFrance, former Professor of English and Dean of Arts at Carleton University. Each year, the recipient presents a seminar or public lecture on some aspect of the research conducted while on the LaFrance Fellowship.