Zombies

IT IS NO WONDER that zombies are such a fixture of the horror genre. To be reanimated after one's own death, both with and without the key elements of your identity, treated as a less-than-human shambling artefact and played either for revulsion or comedy---what could be more terrifying? If there is one constant in zombie stories, it's the fundamental indignity of the afterlife: their shambling, angry peacelessness. The zombies naturally want to eat or kill the living, and it's never really a surprise that they should want to. In the first reel of the film, it's always the present that calls upon the dead; a spell, perhaps, or a toxic gas, but the present is always being haunted by the past, and unable to understand its own culpability, without context, or deal with the consequences. If you aren't scared of your own identity becoming reanimated after your death, and used by selfish characters to further a plot-line not of your choosing, maybe you don't have enough imagination.

Elizabeth Farrelly, scab, wrote a bad opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, eulogising Jack Mundey. Mundey was a central figure in the heroic era of heritage conservation in New South Wales, a Communist union organiser who led the 'green bans' by which the Builders' Labourers Federation (BLF) protected both significant buildings and working-class housing. It shouldn't be a surprise for the spirit of such a respected figure to be called upon by a figure as grotesque and shameless as Farrelly, because a scab is fundamentally a shameless person, but somehow this is a new public low both for her and for our society. She, opinionist for the present, is calling upon the past, disinterring it, and making the legacy of a proud tradition jump and shuffle in rags. We are right to be revolted, and to pity the dead.

Every heritage professional knows there's a difficult line between preserving cultural significance for the public good, and the impulse to preserve a past for the sake of its legacy; such heritages end up stifling, reactionary, crowding out better futures, and mocking attempts to create a better world together. Elizabeth Farrelly, who in 2017 crossed a picket line during the Fairfax strike, is very clearly on the latter side of this question, and will always prefer an unthreatening traditional nostalgia; a Sydney in which police corruption could be laughed at and not feared, when larrikinism meant eastern suburbs houses bought cheap, where the heroin epidemic was chic rather than deadly. So why does Farrelly, no friend to trade unions or to the idea of rights at work, want to bring the BLF back? Why can't she leave the dead alone?

People like Mundey had a very simple and very effective theory. You couldn't have either a morally persuasive argument, or power, alone. If you want to create the world you want, you need industrial and political power---to save nice buildings, you need a disciplined workforce who'll refuse to do it. Without a moral goal, you're a cynic; without a way to get and keep power, you're just pissing in the wind. Farrelly, who's shown herself to be the enemy of ordinary people having power in a democratic society, is using the example of Mundey precisely to mock his legacy, and to squash hope and her sentence---reproduced in full for its horror---is a glib peak of cynicism:

But argue now for free political expression and anyone under 40 will look at you like you're barking. Criticise your employer? In public? Inconceivable. Insist that such expression is in fact a duty, not a right, you'd be labelled criminally insane.

This pliant self-censorship has consequences. If I had a citizen's statement from every respected professional who's said, over the years, "I agree with you but of course I must stay silent, keep my job", Sydney would be a different place. The world would be different.

When her own colleagues were fighting for their jobs, Farrelly refused to join the strike, and filed, across the picket line. When people she worked with were taking real risks in criticising their employer, she enthusiastically sided with the boss. She retains her comfortable once-a-week op-ed, because she proved her own subservience. It's the crassest kind of projection, of course, for a scab to condemn pliancy, but it's really something else for Farrelly, a disgraceful and ridiculous person, to even make reference to the proud legacy of the BLF. It's not accidental, it's a shameful deliberate act: Farrelly is reanimating the green bans era, zombie-like, to mock it and to make it shamble around, as if to prove its death, to say look at the past; it is dead, and if you try to dignify your own present or fight for a better world, I will betray you, and mock you. It's the classic call of the secure bunker-dweller who slams shut the door of the zombie fortress against other survivors: Fuck you, Jack, I've got mine.

No wonder we are revolted.

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