Art Papers  

more from the
Sept/Oct 2014 issue:

Joyce Pensato

by Will Corwin

Everything Is Intertwined:
Jay Kinney's Gnosis Magazine

by Victoria Camblin

Defining Provincialism, the Primal Scene
by Terry Smith

Institutional Astrology
by Karen Tauches

The Zombies Are Real
by Kojo Griffin

A Local History of the Paranormal from Ichabod Crane to the Kinderhook Creature
by Christopher Kline

Atlanta's White Walkers

Text / Paul Boshears

Winter is coming. In preparation for that devastating season, ART PAPERS' own Paul Boshears considers a particular and prevalent pop cultural vocabulary that infuses our home city of Atlanta: that of the zombie apocalypse, to which a fallout from a small winter storm last year has been infamously compared. The following is part of a longer essay in which Boshears discusses The Walking Dead as a tool for group psychotherapy, putting forward the Orly crash of 1962 as the site of unspeakable and unmourned loss that has motored Atlanta's suburban secessionist sprawl. Trauma impinges up on our psyches; embracing The Walking Dead, says Boshears, can help us to metabolize those experiences, preparing us for the trauma of contemporary culture and its conclusions.

On January 28, 2014, between two and three inches of snow settled on the Atlanta metropolitan region. Schools and state and local governments closed at around noon, and businesses followed, resulting in the "worst traffic jam in history." Commuters were stuck on the highways for more than twenty-four hours, during which there were about 1,000 car accidents. School buses transporting children were stranded overnight in freezing temperatures—in short, all hell broke loose. Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency.

Snowstorms are not unheard of here in Georgia, however, and the epic traffic jams that occur as a result of simultaneous citywide shutdowns are expected. There is both fictional and historical precedent for this chain of events: in Episode 10, Season 2 of AMC's zombie apocalyptic drama, The Walking Dead—filmed in the Atlanta area, and aired in 2012—a lead character recalls a nearly identical scenario, in which his cousin "got stuck on [Interstate] 85 for 24 hours" in a mid-January snow storm. The South had in fact been "crippled" in 2011, almost as severely as described. Still, a seemingly surprised Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, in cinematic terminology, that the conditions in 2014 were "unspeakably horrible." With no natural boundaries to stop suburban sprawl, "Atlanta" has swelled such that an average commute in one's car is thirty-five miles.1 It would seem that the real horror that will not be spoken in Atlanta is that the region has been designed to malfunction in this manner.

Former mayor William B. Hartsfield advertised Atlanta as "the city too busy to hate." But the deliberate social engineering of racial avoidance that came to be known as "white flight" gave the city a more apt slogan: "the city too busy moving to hate." Atlanta has earned a reputation as the South's center for cultural and commercial opportunity, an achievement driven in large part by the city's black community. Many whites have nonetheless actively sought legal means by which to ensure the separation of the races. This is evident in the names of Atlanta's streets, which switch at the frontiers of the racial divide.2 Residents of working class white neighborhoods closest to historically black ones were able to assuage integration fears with the introduction of interstate highways across previously informal borders. Sweet Auburn—the birthplace and long-time residence of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the former locus of black power and wealth in the region—was shattered during the 1970s by the construction of three intersecting interstate highways (I-20, I-85, and I-75).3 When rezoning (now-integrated) residential neighborhoods to include heavy industrial concerns, or when sixteen lanes of commercial interstate traffic was not enough to soothe the anxieties of a panicking white middle-class, real estate developers lured city dwellers with the promise of bucolic, gated suburban fantasies.

The City of Atlanta's motto, Resurgens ("rising again"), is a normative framework: time and again, its buildings, its flows of commerce, and the communities propelling them are destroyed, yet somehow, the place comes back with a vengeance. Inherent to the "tear down, rebuild" philosophy that has defined Atlanta's drivable suburban expansion is a kind of urban structural death, which runs the development of this place like The Walking Dead's insatiable hoards, razing formerly flourishing neighborhoods in its path. On this figurative register, the idea of the zombie affords us the opportunity to revisit our relationships to those we cannot mourn: in our perpetual battle against melancholia, the "walker" shuffles towards us, reminding us of an originating scene of "unspeakable" disappearing. On the register of the day-to-day, the rare Atlanta pedestrian commands an equally otherworldly aura, inhabiting a space of exception "outside" the plan of the city, in which even sidewalks are rare.

North Atlanta's lineage of suburban secessionist conservatism begins with Larry McDonald&mash;a congressman and former president of the John Birch Society, where the motto is a not-so-succinct, "less government, more responsibility, and&mash;with God's help&mash;a better world." Over the last two decades, Districts 6 and 7 have been represented by Newt Gingrich (co-architect of 1994's arch-conservative Contract with America), John Linder (head of the Republican National Congressional Committee), and Bob Barr (2008 libertarian presidential candidate); district politics have accordingly been dominated by a fear of an imaginary, criminal urban \denizen. This hysterical vision is manifest in regional leadership's consistent refusal to allow MARTA—Atlanta's rapid transit system—to breech major county borders, for fear of a rise in crime.4 Unable or unwilling to recognize past patterns that led to both the rise of suburbia and the decline of the inner city, and the inner city's potential for real integration, suburbanites came to see their isolation as "normal," and a one- or two-hour daily commute harmless. This suburban secessionist interpretation of "freedom of association" is the only white flurry causing havoc on the route home, which follows a freely dissociative (Inter)state.

Paul Boshears is a cultural critic, a PhD candidate at the European Graduate School, and the circulation manager of ART PAPERS.

1. "Commuting and Congestion Fast Facts" Clean Air Campaign
2. Ponce De Leon Avenue is that dividing line for several miles heading east from downtown, where Juniper (white) becomes Courtland (Black), Boulevard (Black) becomes Monroe (white), and Moreland (Black) becomes Briarcliff (white). See Foster Jones, Sharon. Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012).
3. For an introduction to these phenomena, see Ronald Baylor's Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century.
4. Reportage from a Cobb County Town Hall meeting concerning a proposed tax referendum to support public transit expansion connecting MARTA to Cobb, states one Cobb citizen objected that there would not be adequate police presence to contain "the crime issues that automatically come in with mass transit." Gilloly, "Citizens Blast Light-rail Proposal at Town Hall,"

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