Among Us: Zombie Formalism in the Recent Social and Political Reboots
They say gossip rots your brain, and they’re absolutely right. But, what if rotting your brain is useful? There’s a common thread of last week’s drama; things just keep coming back to life. As if being in disguise, dead eras come back with a secret vengeance - to subtly remediate old content and dismantle past forms so that they can be bricolaged in the present. If 'formal’ refers to the mimesis of past forms, then it's ‘zombielike’ when past media and political agendas are retrofitted for current tastes. Under this metaphor, elements of the new social-political shifts can be described in terms of Walter Robinson’s 2014 art term Zombie Formalism. A phrase mutilated in past years, zombie formalism is not limited to resurrections, but also questions whether remediation is merely propaganda wearing a funny hat and mustache. Isn’t remediating what early Perez Hilton did with gossip tabloids, and what I’m trying to do with pop culture news roughly 15 years later? Is post-modern resurrection useless in its mimesis, or genius in its recontextualization? For this weeks news, we’re going to scoop up a bowl of brain stew and examine the undead media among us, 28 Days Later-style because lame zombies eat last.
If you follow US politics, or have any social media at all, you know that president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris were inaugurated into the White House on January 20th. Understandably, there was quite a bit of Internet-hoopla, the most interesting of which being theTwitter hashtag #bidenerasedwomen. The hashtag, which hit critical mass in the hours following the ceremony, was full of commentary regarding Biden’s purported erasure of women- not in reference to certain womanizing allegations, but as a response to elements of a new Executive Order. The order details various human rights mandates, including a safeguard for trans people’s rights to participate in organized sports and use bathrooms that coincide with their gender identity. Some pockets of feminism crowded #bidenerasedwomen with concerns that embracing gender diversity in sports threatens their exclusionary conception of sex-based rights. An age-old question of sex, gender, and permission, this order is one of 17 directives Biden signed on his first day, elucidated here.
One noted unkillable zombie emerged during the inauguration; that one damn Bernie Sanders meme. Admittedly, we love to watch the elite put on their stupid little outfits and perform their stupid little ceremonies, as evidenced by our reaction to Bernie Sanders’ off duty butcher from Vermont look. Other pathologized fashion moments from said elite include previously unbeknownst-to-us-until-someone-said-she-was-important poet-laureate Amanda Gorman, wearing full primary color Prada. Major points to her stylist for using a gorgeous candy-red satin headband as a giant elastic for Gorman’s box braid-bun. Miss Miucca Prada’s second line was worn by Ella Emhoff, the darling stepdaughter of Kamala Harris, whose Miu Miu coat gave us Bushwick-lesbian-with-secret-access-to-trust-fund energy. Paired with a Batsheva prairie dress and little round wire glasses, Emhoff delivered the wealthy Parsons student DIY aesthetic in a classic Americana flavor. Maybe her outfit owned fashion in a unique, cool-girl way, like the magazines are trying to let on, but maybe her look was just the perfect combination of recognizable, yet alluring fashion references which serves to reinvent, à la zombie formalism.
Since we’re on the topic of girls you’d think to bully at Mood Ring circa 2018, Tavi Gevinson and the Rookie Magazinegirlies are back in a big way. After its fold in 2018, Gevinson’s Rookie had effectively done its job. Geeky bunches of pre-teen girls grew into geekier girls with recurring Vice bylines, and young creatives were able to form a now-eponymous “collective” via Gevinson’s smol bean network, as seen in the Rookie Yearbook series. So why come back? For the sake of our favorite buzzword, community. Since denouncing her #girlboss title, Tavi Gevinson has missed the people, which is why it’s only fitting that Rookie’s return is in audio form in partnership with Audible and inspired by the earlier Rookie podcasts. The limited project contains episodes with Tavi’s never-ending collection of good homies who dole out advice on topics like self-care and communication skills. Nostalgia is all the rage! The internet needed its big sister back. We missed you, Tavi!
Speaking of nostalgia, Miss Gevinson is set to appear in the Gossip Girl reboot, premiering sometime this year on HBO Max. This juicy revamp will carry the same elements of our favorite teen dramas from the 2000’s, but with a twist. Think 20-somethings playing teenage high school students, with a grating overtone of “representation matters.” Here’s what we know: Gevinson plays cute Constance blonde named Kate Keller, while Canadian singer-songwriter Jordan Alexander plays Julien Calloway, rumored to be named after writer and beloved-by-STP influencer Caroline Calloway. Apart from the cast and basic plot, the new Gossip Girl is considered to be very “now” - Harper’s Bazaar harps (hehe) on the importance of diversity (reinforced by the cast haircuts), along with one key idea to ground the show- this time, we know who Gossip Girl is. Creator Josh Schwartz weaves millennial identity politics into the fabric of the new show, saying everyone will be Gossip Girl. Rather than coming from a single, mysterious blogger, Gossip Girl intel will be crowd-sourced from the Constance-St. Jude crew themselves. Elements of the OG Gossip Girl, such as the original costume designer, will make an appearance in this reboot, yet this time, the cast will be accessorized with a social media self-awareness that could only exist in this post-everything time. The new Constance dress code is formal(ism)-wear, sprinkled with a recontextualization that promises political correctness and the new season’s elevated Prada headbands.
Prada SS 2021 hair accessories are a formalist feat, and along with prophesizing the Sex in the City reboot, our renewed appreciation for Prada accessories can be linked back to our DNA memory of the outfit Carrie Bradshaw accessorized with the OG Prada headband back in the aughts. If the current obsession with early 2000s trends isn’t empirical evidence for our social disposition for what the Walter Robinson article described as a “simulacrum of originality,” then what is? HBO Max recently announced that Sex and the City is getting a facelift, sans Kim Cattrall. Since this news dropped last December, the rumor mill has been churning - what will come of the iconic Samantha Jones? Will her breast cancer relapse? Cattrall and Parker are alleged frenemies- will there be a fictional falling out between her, Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda? Will Catrall and Parker’s real life beef roam throughout the new Sex and the City, hungry for brains? All we have is past form and a basic understanding of postmodernism to guide us on this one. And if you’re sick of reboots, you can hold onto hope that the critics were right about Zombie formalism, and that mixing old form with new fashion will plummet ratings before talks of season renewals even hit the table.
Art imitates life, gossip anticipates time, and time imitates time, time and time again. What has happened before will happen again, inspired by how it happens now. When it comes to reboots of iconic shows, regurgitation of gossip and rumors, and readjustments throughout the executive branch of power, everything becomes and is becoming more and more self-referential.