A Contact List of Graduate Students, Postdocs, Adjuncts, and Alt-Acs in SF, Fantasy, and Horror Studies

For the sake of solidarity among graduate students, postdocs, and other contingent members of the academy, SFRA Review editor compiled a collaborative list via Google Docs of folks working on/in/at the intersection of science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror (SFFH) studies. SFRA Review now presents the list publicly for further collaboration.

Whether it’s your primary focus, a side focus, a minor interest; whether you are in literary studies, history, media studies, sociology—we want to get to know you in order to connect, share resources, and develop camaraderie between graduate students, postdocs, adjuncts, and others struggling up through the ranks of academia or now working outside it. This is also a good way to get a sense of the breakdown of institutions, fields, and research interests represented by global scholars of SFFH.

This list is administered by the SFRA Review; information provided here is for the benefit of all SFFH scholars; if contact info is provided, it may be used to contact listees for the purpose of academic work and camaraderie.

Review of Ransom’s I Am Legend as American Myth: Race and Masculinity in the Novel and Its Film Adaptations

Review of I Am Legend as American Myth: Race and Masculinity in the Novel and Its Film Adaptations by Amy J. Ransom

J.R. Colmenero

Amy J. Ransom. I Am Legend as American Myth: Race and Masculinity in the Novel and Its Film Adaptations. McFarland, 2018. Paperback, 231 pages, $45.00. ISBN 9781476668338. 

Although it misses some opportunities to engage more rigorously with theories of race and masculinity, Amy J. Ransom’s comprehensive book about Richard Matheson’s horror/sci-fi novel I Am Legend and its many screen adaptations is an eminently readable and useful addition to critical literature on the horror/science fiction genre, studies of Richard Matheson’s oeuvre, and the intertwined histories of literature, film, and mass media in twentieth and early twenty-first century texts. Before reading this book, I was mostly ignorant about the pervasive nature of Matheson’s 1954 text in structuring horror/sci-fi conventions of the late twentieth century. After finishing this book, I’m convinced that I Am Legend deserves an exceptional position as a reflecting pool for social concerns about masculinity as well as race and race-mixing in a United States context. 

The best part of American Myth is in its lucid treatment of the historical and cultural context for the series. Ransom is thorough in discussing literary and filmic antecedents for the “last man” apocalyptic narrative (such as M. P. Shiel’s novel The Purple Cloud [1901] and The World, The Flesh and the Devil [1959], written and directed by Ranald MacDougall). Historical details — of production and direction of the adaptations, as well as of Matheson’s response to those adaptations — are interestingly and usefully explained in an accessible way. Finally, Ransom’s overall argument about the most recent iterations of I Am Legend as conjecturing a “post-white” United States is persuasive (181). 

The first chapter, “The Trauma of World War II and the Decline of Western ‘Right’,” includes a thorough critical summary of the originary novel, situating Matheson’s work both historically — as a response to post-WW2 and Cold War fears — and generically, as the vampire novel Matheson intended it to be. Thematically, Ransom is most concerned with the figure of the protagonist and the different interpretations of the Robert Neville character. Even in the 1954 original text, Matheson’s Neville “problematizes the white male’s role as arbiter of right” with his erratic behavior and symbolic castration (being the only surviving human foreclosing possibilities for reproduction) (56). One of the interventions of the original narrative is its illustration of the “Last Man” post-apocalyptic narrative, one that is “symptomatic of the gravity of the national crisis in white masculinity and its traditionally perceived prerogatives” (82). Ransom’s use of “star” theory guides the second and third chapters, in which she analyzes the first filmic adaptations of Matheson’s book, the 1964 film The Last Man on Earth and 1971’s The Omega Man. 

Chapter 2 is a well-reasoned argument that reads Matheson’s two novels The Shrinking Man (1956) and IAL in order to establish Matheson’s thematic interest with depicting a “crisis of masculinity” (112). This claim is then used to examine the casting and performance of Vincent Price as the protagonist in the first film adaptation of IAL and how Price’s interpretation of the character makes clearer the more submissive and perhaps queered role of a bachelor being pursued by “lustful” vampires and locked in a passionate relationship with his vampire suitor, neighbor and friend-in-a-former-life Ben Cortman. The third chapter, “The Last White Man on Earth: Charlton Heston in The Omega Man,” intervenes in critical conversations about the film that have overly relied on the “star persona” (12) of Charlton Heston and his reinforcement of a strong, masculine protagonist (in contrast to the earlier film starring Price) to define their interpretation of the film. Indeed, Ransom comes to show that Omega’s messages regarding race and masculinity are more ambivalent than critics have historically argued, and that the film “retained the subversive core of Matheson’s novel and its interrogation of its white hero and his moral imperative” (127). 

While The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man register cultural fears about the Cold War and Vietnam respectively, Ransom situates the two most recent adaptations of Matheson’s text — two films produced in 2007, Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend and Griff Furst’s I Am Omega in their position as post 9/11 U.S. cultural productions. The section on Lawrence’s I Am Legend takes up the question of “what it means when the last man on earth is black” (160). Although it is Lawrence’s film that has garnered the most critical and popular attention in recent years, I also appreciated Ransom’s exegesis of its straight-to-DVD homologue, a more flashy interpretation of the original text — this time featuring cannibalistic zombies and martial arts — that nevertheless raises interesting questions about the future of an increasingly multiracial U.S.

While it’s a given that there is no single totalizing mythos that defines the history of the United States, reading race and gender at the center of U.S. horror/science fiction endeavors is a sound place to start. If anything, I wish that Ransom had engaged more with foundational theory about race and feminist theories of masculinity. Since the book already utilizes critical terms such as “star” theory and adaptation to inform the argument, I think a deeper engagement with critical race theory as well as theories about masculinity to inform her reading of the protagonists’ various identities throughout the adaptations would have been helpful.

Ultimately, Amy J. Ransom’s book is clever, well-argued, and accessible to lay readers interested in the horror/science fiction genre, movie adaptations, and 20th century film and “star” histories. Because of the nature of the subject matter (using a variety of theoretical lenses to study a text and its adaptations by different people at different times), it is also an ideal book for undergraduates to learn how to usefully compare and close-read texts and their adaptations. For the more serious scholar of Matheson, Ransom offers both a comprehensive introduction to literary criticism about I Am Legend, as well as lucid new readings of the significance of the text, reminding us that the barriers between “literature” and “mass media” are increasingly permeable, and best understood as the inextricable realities that they represent.

Articulating the Terror of Obstetric Violence

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 1

Symposium: Medical Humanities and the Fantastic

Articulating the Terror of Obstetric Violence in Carmen María Machado’s “The Husband Stitch”

Lucía López
University of Salamanca

Ever since I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) as an undergraduate student of English literature, I have been attracted to representations of the interactions of vulnerable bodies with what I call “the medical establishment” by which I mean state sanctioned clinical practice, that which follows mainstream discourse and does not consider other understandings of health but the Western one. Gilman’s text firmly aligns with this examination of mainstream medicine through the lens of literature, since the author depicts a “resting cure” popularized by Silas Weir Mitchell, a famous physician at the time, which consisted in enforced seclusion and bed rest for patients diagnosed with nervous conditions such as hysteria or neurasthenia. Perkins Gilman herself had been subjected to this cure, which she believed damaging and, in an effort to warn against its dangers, she denounced the extremely oppressive and confining prescriptions patients were forced to follow. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” said prescriptions involve extreme confinement and prohibition of almost any social interaction or mental exercise, which seem to drive the protagonist to madness rather than to cure her, and the narration masterfully reflects the increasing claustrophobia and loss of touch with reality provoking an increasing unease in the reader that may well end in terror. 

Although the protagonist’s progressive illness is disquieting on its own, I argue that a good part of the terror that Gilman’s story provokes in the reader emanates from the fact that the protagonist’s husband, who is also a doctor, is the one who takes the role of care giver and enforces the limiting “resting” cure. Thus, the narrator is doubly betrayed, first by the medical establishment that pathologizes her disinterest in the domestic as a nervous condition, and second, by her husband, who prioritizes medical prescription over his partner’s explicit desires. 

The protagonist’s betrayal by those who should have her best interests at heart may seem outdated by contemporary Western standards; after all, we live in a time where feminism has drastically changed the power dynamics of marriages and the medical institutions securely stand on scientific grounds that should not allow for abuses of power. Although the forced vulnerability of Gilman’s protagonist is evocative and vaguely terrifying for a contemporary female reader, that terror should be far removed from our personal experience. However, contemporary women’s writing is still very much concerned with how gender bias and misogyny infiltrate clinical practice to the detriment of female patients: many recently published memoirs of sickness such us Abby Norman’s Ask Me About My Uterus (2018), Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System (2017) or Porochista Khakpour’s Sick: A Memoir (2018) certainly express the many frustrations and potential pitfalls of navigating the medical system as a woman. Although these memoirs deal explicitly with the encounters of female embodiment and the medical establishment, it is again a short story—Carmen María Machado’s “The Husband Stitch”—which talks back to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by covering the protagonist’s medical experience with a layer of terror, highlighting the betrayal of a medical establishment that is depicted as caring more for gender performativity than the wellbeing of the patient, and a husband whose obsession with taking ownership of his wife’s body leads to doom. 

In “The Husband Stitch,” published in her debut collection Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen María Machado evokes the potential dangers of the intimacy of marriage and the embodied vulnerability of giving birth and weaves a fabric of terror that speaks to its contemporary reader in the same way The Yellow Wallpaper does: addressing through figurative language and literary representation a fear well rooted in the readers’ close reality. Ann Radcliffe’s definition of terror as a feeling that expands the soul and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life” (150) accompanied by “uncertainty and obscurity” (151), which is the vehicle to the sublime in its capacity to evoke danger and excite the imagination seems poignantly close to what Machado accomplishes in her writing: by highlighting the implicit threat in the commonplace, her text forces the reader to reimagine said threats upon the everyday that lies outside the pages of the book, very different from the experience of horror, described by Radcliffe as a cheaper version of the emotion, its “effect, though sudden and strong, is also transient” (150). In Laura Kremmel’s comprehensive chapter on Medical Horror in the new Palgrave Handbook to Horror Literature, the author considers this type of literature to “provoke the fear associated with the human body and mind’s vulnerabilities” (313). However, she points out that it is not only the “fears of the body as a threat to itself” that this subgenre draws from, but also and more prominently, “the fears of the larger medical institutions and authorities that claim absolute power over the body in their promise to care for and cure it” (314). That this promise goes unfulfilled is implicit, and thus “healing becomes exploitation, experimentation, and terrorization for a goal that circumvents the benefit of the individual patient” (314). This is what happens both in “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Husband Stitch,” where the medical establishment takes ownership of the female body and pathologizes what is seen as a failure to acquiesce with normative gender performance within the bounds of marriage, disregarding women’s explicit decisions regarding their bodies’ performances and medicalizing dissent. 

In her Survey of Medical Horror Kremmel distinguishes between horror of “what can happen to the body (injury, illness, or death) and horror of what can be done to treat the body” (315), and I argue that is in this latter category, that the terror of the medical experience emerges from. The very real potential vulnerability to an implicit threat that the reader feels very close to their experience resonates with Radcliffe’s understanding of terror, rather than horror, and although Kremmel does not stop to make a distinction between the two, her nuanced commentary regarding the imaginative potential of the immediate experience to instill fear in the reader, certainly aligns her vision with what Radcliffe wrote about. According to Kremmel, medical terrors that promise “an inherent relevance and imminence . . . The familiarity of medical spaces and the fears that already reside in them make patients, even potential patients, vulnerable to a medical manifestation of horror tropes” (323). In the case of Machado’s short story, it is the familiar terror of obstetric violence that provokes the reader. In a complex and nuanced short story, the author evokes the absolute vulnerability in the most intimate of physical spaces and the potential for damage it posits when we are faced with an unscrupulous clinician.

Machado’s protagonist claims at the beginning of her tale that “[e]veryone knows these stories—that is, everyone tells them, even if they don’t know them—but no one ever believes them” (5). That certainly seems to be the case with the husband stitch (the procedure, not the story); as Jane Dykema states in a much-read article in Electric Literature, a quick internet search of the term will demonstrate that there is “no entry in Wikipedia, nothing in WebMD. Instead there are pages and pages of message board entries and forum discussions on pregnancy websites.” The existence of this procedure is rarely acknowledged by medical professionals, as seen by the absence of studies or official records. Consisting of an extra stitch given after a vaginal birth to tighten the vagina of the patient after there has been either a natural tear or an episiotomy, its objective is the increased sexual pleasure of a male partner and often carries with it the accompanying pain of the patient. Despite the lack of records, as Carrie Murphy states in another article on the topic, this time in the site Healthline, “the proof is in women’s words. Or sometimes, it’s sewn into their bodies.” The thousands of personal testimonies that seem to have been unearthed after the publication of the story by Machado give testament to that: the husband stitch is not a myth, but an unrecorded, unofficial and unsanctioned medical practice where stereotyped gender performativity takes precedence over the well-being of the patient. In Machado’s story, it is the protagonist’s husband who asks the doctor while she is under the haze of a powerful sedative: “How much to get that extra stitch?” . . . “You offer that, right?” (16). And despite the patient’s lack of explicit consent, or ability to consent at all, since she is under sedation, she is given the extra stitch rumored to recreate a tightness comparable to that of a virgin. When she wakes up, the protagonist is “all sewn up” “Nice and tight, everyone’s happy . . . You’re going to need to rest for a while” (17), she is told by the doctor.

In her harrowing memoir about dealing with endometriosis, Abby Norman expresses her frustration with her doctors, who repeatedly dismiss her statements that she is absolutely decided to sacrifice her fertility if it will alleviate her pain:

I can only assume that doctors don’t feel comfortable taking a woman’s word for it when she says she’s not concerned about her fertility . . . I was slowly figuring out that not only was my pain going to be disbelieved, but it was never going to take precedence.

(Norman, Kindle Position 690-693)

Precedence, in this case, over fertility, or over her partner’s sexual pleasure, as is the case in Machado’s story. Both Norman and Machado highlight in their writing instances were the medical establishment fails to make the female body the interested party. In Norman’s experience, as well as in Machado’s story, the performativity of the female body in accordance to stereotypical gender norms, as a mother or as a lover, takes precedence over the patient’s expressed desires. Women’s agency is overruled by the doctors’ perception of what her body ought to do.

The enforced silence of women’s voices is another topic that Machado addresses in her powerful story. In stage directions, the reader is introduced to the narrator by being told that her voice should be performed “as a child, high-pitched, forgettable; as a woman, the same. . . ALL OTHER WOMEN: interchangeable with my own” (3). Intermingled with the protagonist’s life story, Machado weaves a fabric of open-ended old wives’ tales, urban legends and folktales in which women are punished for behaving outside the norm: “I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them” (7), claims the narrator as a young woman discovering sex with her future husband. However, as in the classic horror stories that we find in the text, sins have punishments in Machado’s story. In “The Husband Stitch,” which is a rewriting of the classic horror tale “The Green Ribbon,” known by most in Alvin Schwartz’s retelling in the young readers’ collection In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories, the husband is increasingly insistent and aggressive in his attempt to uncover the mystery of the green ribbon worn by his wife. Although we are first presented with an idyllic picture of the couple’s story, where they seem to fall passionately in love, their courtship, marriage and life together is marred by the husband’s continuous attempts to untangle the ribbon that his wife wears around her neck. His greed in wanting to take complete ownership and control of his wife’s body against her will, first by asking the doctor for the extra stitch, then by unraveling the ribbon, is punished with the horror of a decapitated head at the end of the story. For the unnamed narrator, who has freely rejoiced herself in her lust, the punishment is death. As Lorna Piatti-Farnell explains in her review of children’s fairytales, “bodily violence constructs the apogee of the educational lesson in the story and is seemingly justified by the receivers’ previous ill conduct and greed” (99). In this case, the female protagonist’s enjoyment of her lust is punished twice, first by the extra stitch, who reportedly may cause severe pain for the woman when attempting penetration, and secondly by her death at the hands of her untrusting husband, whose greed brings doom to the couple.

In conclusion, “The Husband Stitch” weaves several threads of terror by introducing storytelling as a powerful force that shapes our lives. Fantasy mediates uncertainty and allows Machado to recreate the embodied terror and intimate betrayal of obstetric violence by rewriting the threatening half whispered rumors of not consensual postpartum intervention into a gory children’s story of beheading. She creates a tale where the perpetrator of such violence is not an unnamed monster but “not a bad man at all. To describe him as evil or wicked or corrupted would be a deep disservice to him” (30). “He is not a bad man, and that, I realize suddenly, is the root of my hurt,” (30) the narrator says in the moments before her death. The terror of this story that we would prefer not to believe emerges from the frivolity with which the protagonist’s agency over her own body is overruled by husband and doctor, otherwise caring and functional men, normal men. Casual misogyny and how it infiltrates every layer of reality, even those we believe are protected behind the walls of scientific objectivity, is the terror of this story.

Lucía López is a MA student of the University of Salamanca, where she will begin her doctoral studies in September. She has been dedicated since her undergraduate thesis to studying the intersection of medical humanities and fantasy, science fiction and postcolonial literatures, attempting to draw attention to the behavior of the medical field towards those relegated to the fringes of society. She was awarded a prize for outstanding academic performance for her project “Marginal Bodies in Science Fiction,” recently presented at the (Post)Colonial Health Conference in Leeds and is currently researching the works of Indigenous author Lee Maracle.


Dykema, Jane. “What I Don’t Tell My Students About ‘The Husband Stitch.’” Electric Literature, 10 Oct. 2017, electricliterature.com/what-i-dont-tell-my-students-about-the-husband-stitch/.

Kremmel, Laura. “‘And Send Her Well-Dos’d to the Grave’: Literary Medical Horror.” The Handbook to Horror Literature, edited by Corstorphine and Kremmel, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Machado, Carmen Maria. “The Husband Stitch.” Her Body and Other Parties. Serpent’s Tail, 2017.

Murphy, Carrie. “The Husband Stitch Isn’t Just a Horrifying Childbirth Myth.” Healthline, 24 January 2018, http://www.healthline.com/health-news/husband-stitch-is-not-just-myth.

Norman, Abby. Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain. Bold Type Books, 2018.

Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps, edited by Peter Straub, The Library of America, 2009, pp. 131-47.

Piatti-Farnell, Lorna. “Blood Flows Freely: The Horror of Classic Fairy Tales.” The Handbook to Horror Literature, edited by Corstorphine and Kremmel, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Radcliffe, Ann. “On the Supernatural in Poetry.” The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, 1826, pp. 145-152.

Schwartz, Alvin. “The Green Ribbon.” In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1984.

Obese Characters as Obstructive and Antagonistic in Horror-Based Digital Games

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 1

Symposium: Medical Humanities and the Fantastic

“That tub a’lard’s in our way!”: Obese Characters as Obstructive and Antagonistic in Horror-Based Digital Games

Connor Jackson
Edge Hill University

A number of horror-based digital game characters conflate notions of obesity, overeating and monstrosity. For instance there is Eddie Dombrowski from Silent Hill 2, an overweight man who is shown eating pizza in a bowling alley, loitering in a prison cafeteria and is later fought in a meat locker—here it is revealed that he is a sadist who killed a bully’s dog before shooting him in the knee prior to the events of the game. In addition, there are the large Twin Chefs from Little Nightmares who prepare food in the macabre kitchen stage of the game when they are not trying to capture the player-character. Failing to flee from them can result in the avatar being thrown into a saucepan, an oven, and even a meat grinder. However, the abovementioned conflation is more discernible in zombie-based games in particular: a subset of horror-based games that are usually concerned with the struggle for survival of one or more humans during or after a zombie outbreak. This is evidenced by the Boomer from Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, the Whopper from Resident Evil 6, and the Bloater from The Last of Us. Each creature is significantly large (as their names imply) and signifies both overeating and monstrosity due to its condition as a zombie: a being that has come to be renowned for its insatiable appetite. What is more, they are symptomatic of a broader trend in zombie fictions which, after the turn of the century, have become increasingly preoccupied with the production and consumption of food: particularly fast and processed foods. 

As a result of the contemporary zombie’s association with fast food, Michael Newbury reads zombie films as the fictional counterparts of food crisis texts: an umbrella term used to describe non-fiction books, documentaries and journalistic publications that “dwell at some length on what they understand to be an imploding system of industrial food production” (90). The goal of food crisis texts, then, is to combat the alienation of consumers from the origins and contents of the food they eat by exposing the mistreatment of animals under agribusiness, revealing the adverse effects of additives, and uncovering the risks fast food pose to consumer health. Moreover, some food crisis texts offer an alternative means of obtaining food by valorising local and organic food production. In opposition, Newbury asserts that the zombie film “extinguishes with brutal enthusiasm all aspirations to retrieving the pastoral, the natural, or alternatives to the industrial food chain” (97). Instead, these films revel in the nihilism of food consumption run amok through the cannibalistic consumption of the undead as well as their associated landscapes, which are abound with visualisations of both real and fictional food products and brands.

Despite the associative connections between the undead in zombie films and fast food, a significant point of departure from food crisis texts in these films is that typically they do not explicitly tie their apocalyptic visions to fast food corporations. As Newbury points out, food crisis texts often link prophecies of devastating diseases and bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) to the practices of agribusiness, whereas zombie films rarely implicate “food corporations as the specific catalyst for apocalyptic contagion” (100). The reluctance of zombie films to explicitly implicate agribusiness in their outbreaks is not resolved in the aforementioned zombie games; their antagonistic characters do connote rampant food consumption due to their obesity but like Newberry’s filmic examples they are not narratively bound to agribusiness. In this respect, when the Whopper receives verbal abuse for its weight—one non-playable character shouts “[t]hat tub a’lard’s in our way!” as the monster blocks their path to safety—the body shaming that this monster endures seems to exist in order to prompt a cheap laugh rather than tying into a larger critique of agribusiness. This changes in Capcom’s Dead Rising series, which depicts its overweight characters (both living and undead) negatively for the sake of satirising what it perceives as the gluttonous eating habits of U.S. citizens perpetuated by agribusiness.

In the first Dead Rising game non-playable character Isabela Keyes, sister of the terrorist who caused the zombie outbreak in the town of Willamette, reveals that the zombies originated from an American “Livestock Research Facility” built in her Central American hometown. Furthermore Dr. Russell Barnaby, the lead scientist behind the operations in this facility, expands upon the motivations of his team of researchers in his dying breaths: “We were… conducting… experiments to… reduce the costs of breeding… We… accidentally… made zombie livestock… […] We were trying to mass produce cattle. Do you… have any… idea… how much meat… Americans consume… in a single day!?” The aim of these scientists was to produce more food for a country that was simply consuming far too much. Sustaining vast levels of consumption was their goal, and ironically was also the outcome of their work. As such, the cannibalistic nature of the undead in the Dead Rising series—many of which are presented with overweight character models—is not just taken as a given. Rather than simply imbuing zombies with a means of threatening the player-character’s life and consequently the player’s agency within the game, their cannibalism also functions as a satirical twist on the relentless intake of meat perpetuated and encouraged by U.S. agribusiness. Furthermore, the unquenchable appetites of living American citizens, which existed before (and indeed lead to) the outbreak, are maintained and explored post-outbreak. 

In most zombie narratives the undead are ravenous, but they are not the only hungry consumers; humans must gather food to survive in their post-apocalyptic environments. For Newbury the food consumption of humans in zombie films functions cathartically. For example, candlelight dinners in 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake (as well as Romero’s 1978 original it should be noted) serve as temporary releases from horrors of the present moment. They construct for their participants a façade of sophistication in an unbearably savage world. Cammie M. Sublette furthers Newbury’s analyses of human food consumption in zombie films by investigating not just what these meals achieve in terms of escapism, but how they accomplish this. The decimation caused by zombie outbreaks often leaves survivors searching and squabbling for sustenance but Sublette points to a type of consumption distinguishable from that engaged in for necessary nourishment, one that is pursued for pleasure. This “food hedonism is nearly always linked to some variety of nostalgia, often with an idealized or revised past providing temporary psychological escape from the horrors of the zombie apocalypse” (179). No matter how fleeting the experience might be, human food consumption in zombie films enables survivors to indulge in fantasies that centre on what once was and what could have been. They alleviate tension and enable survivors to reminisce over real or imaginatively adapted past experiences, as well as forge communal bonds with one another. 

This culinary bliss is unequivocally absent from the Dead Rising series, in which food is consumed by non-playable characters as a result of their rapaciousness. Additionally, Newbury claims that “[t]he food one eats and the way one eats it become primary signifiers of distinction between the malevolent dead or infected and those struggling to retrieve or retain a measure of human distinction from them” (104), but this statement does not apply to the Dead Rising series. In these games the food intake of survivors works toward the opposite effect. Survivors demand, hoard, and gorge upon food. They also eject food from their bodies by vomiting due to overeating. Their relationship with food is one of excess, thereby positioning them parallel to the undead as satirical and condemnatory exemplifications of human gluttony perpetuated by the industrialised food chain. This is made explicit from the first game in which the terrorist behind the outbreak, Carlito Keyes, declares that “all [zombies] do is eat, and eat, and eat, growing in number… Just like […] good red white and blue Americans”—this remark about zombies continuously eating is also repeated during the prologue of Dead Rising 4, thereby emphasising its relevance across the series. 

The message conveyed by Dead Rising is clear: zombies are gluttonous monsters and so are American citizens. This is evidenced in the first game when player-character Frank West encounters fellow survivor Ronald Shiner in a restaurant. The player can recruit and rescue this overweight survivor under one condition: they must give him a food item. These are scattered around the environments of this game (and its sequels) and are usually present within the eatery itself but become absent from this location once the side mission is triggered. The obvious implication is that despite Ronald’s claim that he is “starving to death” he has gobbled up the food in this area, which usually consists of two cartons of orange juice, four baguettes and four pies. Consequently, to recruit Ronald the player must give up one of their food items should they possess one, or worse endanger their player-character by going to the trouble of finding one elsewhere and returning it to him. Through the refusal of this character to adapt his eating habits in the midst of a zombie outbreak, Dead Rising constructs a topical satire on the self-destructive reliance of American citizens on industrialised junk foods whilst simultaneously shaming obese individuals. 

Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea A. Heuer produce an extensive consolidation of literature pertaining to the perceptions and treatment of obese adults. Their amalgamation of research pertaining to healthcare settings more so than that conducted with regards to employment and educational contexts emphasises perceived reasons as to why people are obese. Sources invested in a number of healthcare professionals (physicians, nurses, medical students, fitness professionals and dieticians) show a recurring commonality in their values. Generally, these people view obese individuals as “lazy, noncompliant, undisciplined, and [having] low willpower” (934); consensus among these professionals determines that obesity is a personal responsibility. Significantly, this responsibility is repeatedly linked to food consumption. Overweight people are assumed to have an excessive body mass due to “overeating” and having an “unhealthy diet” (944). Their weight is understood as a result of their “personal choices about food” and their “poor eating behaviours” as well as their intake of “too much junk food” (945). This viewpoint is perpetuated by negative portrayals of obese people in mainstream media, particularly in what Heuer calls “fattertainment” (n.p.). For instance, in filmic or televisual entertainment overweight characters are marginalised, often by relegating their inclusion to that of supporting characters or objects of ridicule (Puhl and Heuer, 951; Heuer). This is even evidenced in children’s media such as cartoons and books. Here, even when larger characters are not eating, they are shown to be “thinking about […] food” (Puhl and Heuer, 951). Of course, as the Dead Rising series demonstrates, film, television and children’s entertainment are not the only avenues through which obese people are represented in an unsavoury fashion; parallels can be drawn between their depiction in these formats and those found in digital games. 

The aforementioned character Ronald coincides with notions of sizable characters continuously thinking about food even when they are not actually eating. His description in the player-character’s notebook attests to this, simply expressing that he “[t]hinks only of eating.” However, of further significance in the Dead Rising series is the blending together of obesity and antagonism. Puhl and Heuer determine that overweight characters in popular culture are attributed with “physical aggression” (951) much more than their underweight counterparts. In Dead Rising this is especially true, as the volatility of certain hostile characters throughout the series is bound explicitly to gluttonous food consumption. Arguably the most noteworthy example of this is the antagonistic Darlene Fleischermacher from Dead Rising 3. Hiding out in Uncle Billy’s Buffet, she is introduced to the player during a cutscene. Here, player-character Nick Ramos ventures into the diner and sees an unnamed male survivor attempting to unlock the door to the kitchen. Unfortunately, they attract the attention of Darlene. She is severely obese and bound to a motor scooter as a result. She tears away at a large chicken thigh. Food stains cover her clothes, which consist of a bib stylised with the image of a lobster and a bright yellow dress pattered with a cupcake design that her enormous stomach has actually torn through. Everything about her exaggerated appearance signifies food in excess. When she spots Ramos and the other unnamed survivor she yells “get away from my food”—clearly, she is under the impression that the entire buffet belongs to her. Ramos asserts that the eatery contains enough food for everyone while the other man argues that Darlene could not possible eat all of it. However, rather than being persuaded to share the buffet Darlene takes this last comment as a challenge, shovelling multiple burgers into her mouth and swallowing them whole. When the unnamed man attempts to bypass her and claim some food for his own, she grabs a large spork and stabs him to death. Once again Dead Rising rejects the notion of human food consumption as representing reclamations of civility as proposed by Newbury, or evoking nostalgia as argued by Sublette. 

Gluttonous food consumption is not only satirised by obese characters in the Dead Rising series, but also through the player’s choices during gameplay. Consuming certain foods has an adverse effect on the player-character in the first three Dead Rising games (stomach cramps in the first and vomiting in the second and third). These outcomes can be prompted by the consumption of food that had become “spoiled” over time. This is evidenced by the transformation of “Raw Meat” to “Spoiled Meat” and “Steak” to “Spoiled Steak” for example. Tying in to the series’ satire on voracious food consumption, the player is chastised for their dubious food intake and virtual gluttony should they choose to perform such foolish consumption practices. This punishment is made clear as their agency is momentarily stripped away while the player-characters doubles over in pain. In doing so they drop whatever item they were currently holding and leave themselves open to attack. This would be particularly detrimental to the player-character’s wellbeing if it should occur as the player was aiming to navigate through a crowd of zombies. 

The Dead Rising series connects zombies to agribusiness by revealing the origin of its zombie infection as the result of unethical research into the mass production of cattle. In this way it coincides with twenty-first century zombie films, in which Newbury asserts that the undead “seem to emerge from and are profoundly associated with the landscapes of fast and junk food” (100). However, Newbury also claims that these films rarely implicate the food industry directly as the cause of their zombie outbreaks and offer no form of redemption from current food intake practices damaging people and the ecosystem at large. Contrastingly, Dead Rising makes its connections between zombies and fast food explicit, satirises overeating in the United States by portraying a number of troublesome and antagonistic characters as obese, and supports a sensible approach to fast food consumption through satirical gameplay consequences that punish the player for overeating.

Connor Jackson is a PhD student in the Department of Media at Edge Hill University, where he currently works as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. His research interests include depictions of the zombie in popular culture, with a primary focus on their presence in digital games. His work can be found in Romancing the Zombie: Essays on the Undead as Significant “Other”—part of McFarland’s ongoing Contributions to Zombie Studies publication series.


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Puhl, Rebecca M. and Heuer, Chelsea A. “The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update.” Obesity, vol. 17, no. 5, 2012, pp. 941-964. 

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