Sociological Look at Dawn of the Dead
By Ethan Bach
The function of myth I’m analyzing (regarding Joseph Campbell’s functions of myth) is the Sociological function. This particular function is characterized by a way of life that is introduced to the audience, or reader, that teaches what behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t, and what might happen if you deviate from these rules or laws. This function typically cherishes the stereotypical hero because the hero is usually the one doing what is considered right in that society. The status quo is likely to be followed due to the new customs in society. It also serves to explain who in society is in charge and why.
Many examples of this myth function are found throughout George A. Romero’s Dawn of The Dead (1978). Dawn of The Dead is the story of two S.W.A.T. team members and two T.V. reporters who escape by way of helicopter and travel to a mall to hide in as a zombie apocalypse rages on the outside and eventually inside.
Near the beginning of the film, Roger and Peter (the S.W.A.T. members) are introduced to the new way of life through their housing projects’ shootout. Little did they know that the projects were also a breeding ground for zombies. They learned that to kill said zombies you had to shoot them in the head. They also learned that when these creatures bite you, you also died and came back as one of them. This is apparent towards the end of the film when Roger gets bitten, and Peter stays with him until he dies, then as he comes back, one shot is heard from his revolver.
In a much different way of finding out the same things, Francine is made aware of the new threat and “rules” of the world through a doctor and T.V. show host on set. They argue and can be heard saying things like, “The people it kills get up and kills.” And “They kill for food. They eat their victims.”
Towards the beginning and at the end of the project’s shootout, when Roger and Peter have to shoot the remaining zombies in the basement, Roger asks, “Why do these people keep them here?” Peter responds, “They still believe there’s respect in dying.” That is in full contrast to the end of the movie, where the motorcycle gang ravages the mall, letting all the zombies in and killing themselves by making a mockery of the zombies. Thus not following these new norms of society by staying away from the zombies and shooting them in the head (and of course, don’t pie them in the face, ride motorcycles, or strap yourself to a pulse monitor with zeds nearby). Even though this biker gang’s demise is seen in the movie itself, the new law of the land was the fact that there wasn’t any law, so groups of people like that could exist in the first place.
Now, the biker gang might support the current status quo because of the lawless land they found themselves in and the new ability to pillage, but any normal, sane person would not like it. They have to follow these new customs to survive, yes, but I would hesitate to say they like the current status quo. That’s the only part of Campbell’s definition I don’t think this movie follows.
In all other aspects, though, I think it fits rather well. In the beginning, we are getting a glimpse into the breaking down of social order, law, and customs that a society like ours enjoys. And by the end, we see the new traditions, rules, and customs have taken shape and what will happen to us if we don’t follow these new customs (zombie food). It also shows that those in charge are strong-willed and smart (the main characters escaping to the mall) and the late biker gang. Perhaps, the end shows us that the best way to survive in this new horrific world is to keep moving, as Francine and Peter barely make it out alive and have to take the helicopter to a new unknown location.