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Taking the Piss: Urination as Anti-Utopian Metaphor in Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy

At 4:54 of Shaun of the Dead Shaun urinates. At 40:55 he “does a wee.” 13:32 into Hot Fuzz a character credited as “Underage Drinker #1” and identified by his mugshot placard as N. Pringer pees on the retaining wall by the church. 49:36 into Hot Fuzz George Merchant micturates on a pub fruit machine. 50:50 into Hot Fuzz Merchant splashes wizz all over the rim of his toilet. 58:59 into of Hot Fuzz we’re told that Simon Skinner can’t report to the stage to retrieve his raffle prize because “he’s in the loo,” having drank “too much of Joyce’s lemonade, perhaps.” 16 minutes 32 seconds into The World’s End, Gary pulls off at a rest stop because he “[needs] a piss, actually.”1 28 minutes 24 seconds in Sam “nips to the loo.” 36 minutes into The World’s End, Gary King visits the Gents. 46 minutes in Oliver “needs the toilet.” It is, I must admit, one of the stranger motifs that binds together the three films that make up the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, a Kieslowski inspired, if somewhat accidental, trinity of films in which, for about 330 minutes, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright take the piss.

The commonwealth expression “take [or taking] the piss” typically connotes playful mockery, unreasonable behavior, or the taking of liberties at another’s expense. In his discussion of parody in The Dialogic Imagination, M. M. Bakhtin provides a slightly more sophisticated, nuanced articulation of the same basic principle. According to Bakhtin,

in parodic discourse two styles, two “languages” (both intra-lingual) come together and to a certain extent are crossed with each other: the language being parodied (for example, the language of the heroic poem) and the language that parodies (low prosaic language, familiar conversational language, the language of the realistic genres, ‘normal’ language, ‘healthy’ literary language as the author of the parody conceived it). 2

So to say that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright spend 330 minutes taking the piss is to say that they spend the entirety of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy playfully mocking zombie films, buddy cop action flicks, and alien invasion movies, as well as that which is most fundamentally, undeniably human—the demands of the flesh and the human tendency toward self-destructive behavior. One might alternatively say that the films place into a dialogic the language of those genres parodied and the language that parodies to construct a new vocabulary which is both the language of the thing parodied and the language which parodies. And though the extent to which the trilogy, sometimes also referred to as The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy was intentionally conceived as such—Wright recently claimed that, after Cornetto provided free ice cream at the premier of Shaun, he and Pegg made the latter two films in a failed effort to get more free ice cream3—regarding the films as a trilogy elevates them from the Bakhtinian dialogic to a Barthesian mythology in which elements that function as signs in their own right within the individual films ultimately become signifiers within the trilogy’s more expansive system of signification. Within this larger Barthesian mythological structure, one of the more intriguing targets of the films’ satire is the idea of a utopian society, and the urinary metaphor that flows through the films, by drawing attention to the imperfections and imperfectability of the body, is one way in which the films suggest the impossibility of establishing utopia.

Though Shaun is perhaps the least relevant to a discussion of the ways in which the realities of the physical human body undercut the utopian ideal—partly because the zombie genre that it takes the piss of is already so deeply invested in the human body and its decay, partly because the film is the least consciously interested in establishing a utopia, and partly because it establishes what is ironically the most successful utopia of the three films—it remains worthy of attention for establishing the individual signs, the elements of the bizarre motif, that will come to function as signifiers within the larger context of the loose trilogy.

As a genre the zombie film is far more invested in the body’s decay than it is in its perfectibility, and I use here, as I do elsewhere, the word body to refer both to the individual physical corpus and the Hobbesian body politic; within the zombie film, physical bodies and political structures are both subject to rapid decay. In The Worm at the Core: On the role of death in life, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski seem to take a perverse pleasure in reminding their readers that, “like animals, we too are breathing bits of finite flesh,”4 “naked, pulsating pieces of fornicating finite species meat,”5 and “transient ambulatory gene repositories taking a short lap around the track of life before passing the baton to the next generation and joining the ranks of innumerable iterations of the unknown and the unliving.”6 The zombified remains that temporarily overtake London in Shaun of the Dead are not Foucault’s normalized bodies, bodies subjected to scientific, social, and economic surveillance,7 but rather Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski’s “finite species meat”8 in various stages of putrefaction. Such bodies fundamentally undercut the quest for literal or symbolic immortality that Solomon et al suggest is at the heart of human endeavor, as they are (1) Dead—technically undead, but let’s not quibble—and (2) no longer participants in a system which provides structure and meaning to our world.

Nor do the terrifying landscapes of the zombie genre lend themselves to the utopian. This is abundantly clear when Shaun walks round to the shop for the second time in the film and the world around him has been transformed from a peaceful London neighborhood to a Zombie wasteland. Both the environment, which gives visible structure to human life, and the previously human inhabitants have, overnight, become chaotic inversions of their previous selves. The last bastion of hope for Shaun and Ed as they hatch a plan to rescue Liz, rescue Barbara, kill Philip, then hole up and wait until this all blows over is the Winchester Pub. One could read the Winchester as Shaun’s failed utopia of conjugal, filial, and fraternal bliss, but it is an ill-considered and always doomed utopia. As Liz’s roommate David points out, it’s difficult to put too much faith in someone whose “idea of a romantic nightspot and an impenetrable fortress are the same thing.”

If the Winchester fails as a utopia, though, it is only partially because its founders fail to consider the demands of the flesh. Ed and Shaun seek somewhere safe, where there is beer, where Ed can smoke. The priorities upon which Ed and Shaun strive to establish their Winchester Utopia are, to say the least, misaligned. But it is not fair to claim that they seek to deny the realities of the flesh; rather, Shaun and Ed permit of the realities of the flesh, even while failing to fully consider the abilities of their utopia to satisfy those realities. After all, one can only survive on beer, wine, liquor, crisps, and pig snacks for so long. Shaun’s borderline self-destructive attachment to the Winchester, as well as the Winchester’s inability to fulfill all necessary functions is a punchline throughout the film, perhaps most beautifully when Shaun, begging Liz to take him back, suggests that they go have a drink and talk things over. She responds, “What, to the Winchester?” Shaun says “Why, do you want to?” The camera then cuts to the other room, focusing on David and Di as Liz shouts, “No I don’t fucking want to!”

As a setting, the Winchester functions according to the principal of Repetition and Revision, an important concept within the film, and across the films that make up the trilogy. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks explains, “ ‘Repetition and Revision’ is a concept integral to the Jazz esthetic in which the composer or performer will write or play a musical phrase once and again and again, etc.—with each revisit the phrase is slightly revised.”9 The Winchester is used three times as a setting in the film, on three successive nights: Shaun, Liz, David, Di, and Ed visit the Winchester in the film’s opening sequence, during which time Liz and Shaun conduct an intimate state of the relationship conversation under the watchful gaze of their respective roommates, periodically interrupted by David and Di’s pop-psychology insights and Ed’s various obscenities; Ed and Shaun visit the Winchester the following evening after Shaun has failed, disastrously, within 24 hours to live up to the promises he’d made at the Winchester only the night before and Liz has given him the boot;10 finally, Shaun, Liz, David, Di, Ed, and Shaun’s mum Barbara seek refuge from the zombie apocalypse at the Winchester. Each visit features a slightly different combination of characters set against dramatically different backdrops and focuses on a different relationship dynamic.

Such repetitions with revisions are at the heart of the film, at the heart of the trilogy, and at the heart of the antiutopian urinary metaphor, as well. In the film’s first act, a series of shots are recreated with an important modification—i.e. repeated with an important revision: everyone who was alive, is now dead. And Shaun, after a night of drinking with Ed (at the Winchester, of course) because Liz left him, fails to register the change. The humor for the audience is precisely in this failure to register that the world has almost completely fallen apart over night. Where the humor is, though, in the well-wrought satire is also where the meaning resides: that we notice the revision and Shaun fails to signals the painfully repetitious nature of his life, an idea that is also suggested by the opening credit sequence and which the film intends the viewer to analogize to their own lives. The zombies, in the zombie parody thus become flesh eating reminders of death and metaphors of the zombification of society, of a sort of living death that humans ignore with the same aptitude that they attempt to ignore actual death, one of the fundamental realities of existence.

If Shaun does little to establish the utopian urinary themes that reach their apotheosis in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, it at least introduces the notion that the individual is most vulnerable when responding to the demands of the body. Having already disposed of three zombies11 and hatched a plan to rescue his mum, kill his zombie step-dad, rescue and win back his ex-girlfriend Liz, and seek refuge at the Winchester, Shaun goes “to do a wee” where he encounters his zombified roommate, Pete. This is the first zombie that Shaun encounters that he has a relationship with and the close quarters of the encounter seem to make it particularly fraught.12 The framing of the shot itself is consistent with a typical horror movie medicine cabinet jump scare, a character retrieving something from the medicine cabinet closes the cabinet to reveal someone or something lurking behind them. It’s a lazy horror movie trope, and that’s sort of the whole point. It’s a repetition of a repetition. This shot sequence has already been used in the film as Shaun prepared for work the previous day. The repetition is interesting not only in terms of the living Shaun, but also the deceased Pete. Did Pete die in the shower? Or is Pete’s routine so ingrained in his physical form that his zombified remains undertook the same routine that a living Pete would have?13 There’s a fundamental repetitiousness to responding to nature’s call to which the film seems to be reducing all routinized human activity. No other part of Shaun’s daily life seems either more or less significant than his morning wee.

It is worth noting as well that but for this sinful flesh’s production of waste this encounter would never have taken place. Generally there’s a dual vulnerability here. There is simultaneously the physical vulnerability of being in an enclosed space and at least partially unable to defend oneself should the need arise, and the secondary vulnerability of being subject to derision for nothing more than responding to the body’s natural impulses, the old testament shame of corporeality that Adam and Eve experienced in Genesis.14

The repetition of the phrase, “You’ve got red on you” functions in a similar, though less pronounced, capacity. The phrase is first used by Noel, Shaun’s coworker, and Phil, Shaun’s step-father, in rapid succession in Foree Electric,15 the electronics shop where Shaun works. The scene initially plays on the age disparity between Shaun, 29, and Noel 17, before connecting the two of them in particularly unflattering light for Shaun. At one point, Noel refers to Shaun as grandad, and when Shaun tells Noel, “Look, I know you don’t want to be here forever. You know, I’ve got things I want to do with my life,” Noel replies, “When?” The obvious implication is that 29 is so ancient that Noel cannot imagine Shaun has any life left with which to do anything. The not-so-very-much subtler implication is that, even if he has any life left with which to leave Foree Electrics and do something, there are no outward indicators that he has generated any momentum to be able to do so.

Shaun is in a state of arrested development, and nowhere is this clearer than in the interaction that immediately follows his conversation with Noel. Noel’s petulance toward the surrogate boss becomes Shaun’s petulance toward his surrogate father. Shaun is no more emotionally evolved than Noel, despite being 12 years his senior. This is not a flattering look for Shaun, but more than that it speaks to the inadequacies of his death defenses. Where the citizens of Sandford Gloucestershire in Hot Fuzz and Newton Haven in The World’s End erect structures within their insular communities to deny death and pursue either literal or symbolic immortality, Shaun resides in a house where the door is consistently left open. The open door is a failure of his literal death defenses in the same way that his lack of self-esteem, his lack of a sense of contributing meaningfully to a meaningful existence, represents a deficiency in his psychological death defenses, a lack which Shaun is aware of, and which he attempts to numb with routine and drink.

As the world begins to collapse around Shaun, however, the frailty of the human body is everywhere apparent. It is not something to be denied, but rather something to defend oneself against; death, decay, putrescence, waste, are literally banging on the doors (as long as someone remembers to shut them) and climbing through the windows (especially the one that David breaks at the Winchester). There is no denying those realities, which Shaun nevertheless persists in attempting to deny by insisting that they not use “the zed word,” realities which are manifested in red’s shift from ink to blood. When Noel and Philip inform Shaun that he’s got red on him, they refer to ink that has leaked from his pen. When, however, the phrase is later repeated by Ed and by Barbara, the reference is not to ink but to blood splatter. What begins as an observation, an objective statement, becomes a death reminder. It’s also worth noting that no one who utters the phrase finishes the film alive; to observe the mark of death is to be indelibly marked for death oneself in the apocalyptic world of Shaun.

To acknowledge death is to bring death upon oneself, it’s as true in Shaun of the Dead as it is in Genesis. The knowledge of death, of “the hardest counter Utopia,”16 is connected to dying. The paradox of the film, however, is that Utopia is undone by the effort to deny death. To know of death and deny it is to live under constant barrage; in the end, we must find a way to live with that knowledge. We all wee, we all die; we all create waste, and we all ultimately become waste. Thus the film ultimately establishes a post-death Utopia, one in which we are asked to acknowledge and accept the reality of death and coexist with it, even if we lock it in the shed like Shaun does his zombified roommate. In the end Shaun returns to the garden not without knowledge of death as when he encountered the woman in the garden, nor fearful of death, but accepting of the reality of death in the world, and it is this very acceptance and acknowledgement that permits for the establishment of the post-death utopia in Shaun of the Dead.17

Even still, the garden is somewhat of a micro-utopia, Edenic though it may be, and the Winchester is never conceived as a serious utopia, in large part because neither location is capable of sustaining long term the “notion of an unfettered life, freed from death [upon which Adorno argues] the idea of utopia, the idea of the utopia” ultimately depends.18 It is, rather, a place to hole up and wait until “this all blows over,” which is perhaps the most significant element that sets it apart from Sandford Gloucestershire and Newton Haven in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End respectively. Both Sandford and Newton Haven are overseen by shadow organizations with utopian designs, and while Ed claims that John is north London Mafia, he gets this information from Big Al, who also says that “dogs can’t look up.”

Whether or not John is really North London Mafia, the NWO and the Network are both very real, and within the scope of their influence the body becomes a site of power, a space inscribed and circumscribed by power. If we accept, as Foucault asks us to do, “the general proposition that, in our societies, the systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain political economy of the body… the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission”19 it is easy enough to see the ways in which the individual body is subjected to the will of the body politic in Sandford and Newton Haven, and placed, in both cases, in the service of “the Greater Good.”

Though it is the town of Sandford Gloucestershire that has organized its entire way of life around acting on behalf of the Greater Good, this notion is actually introduced in the opening sequence of the film, when Police Constable Nicholas Angel is informed of his punitive promotion to the rank of sergeant—in Sandford Gloucestershire—because he has been, as the Chief Inspector puts it, “rather letting the side down.” “If we let you carry on running around town,” the Chief Inspector continues, “you’ll continue to be exceptional, and we can’t have that. You’ll put us all out of a job.” In Discipline and Punish Foucault notes that “rank in itself serves as a reward or punishment.”20 That Angel is promoted as a punishment for his excellence betrays an inversion of the expected course of events. In theory, excellence is supposed to be rewarded; incompetence punished. In theory. Nicholas, banished to the country for making the other men and women of the Metropolitan Police Service look bad, thus becomes the first character in the film made to disappear in the name of “the Greater Good,” in this case, the greater good of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Almost immediately upon his arrival in Sandford, however, Angel sets into motion a sequence of events that will result in further disappearances, also in the name of “the Greater Good.” Inspector Frank Butterman may, on first impression, lack something of the sinister quality that the Chief Inspector of the Met projects. When Angel challenges his promotion, pointing out that Chief Inspector can’t “simply make people disappear,” he responds, “Yes, I can. I’m the Chief Inspector” a phrase which he accompanies with a rather menacing snarly face. Butterman, by comparison, offers Angel a slice of black forest gateau, commends Angel on the series of arrests of the night before, and expresses an admiration for Westerns which somewhat troublingly connects Butterman to the Chief Inspector, vis a vis a passing comment the Met sergeant had made: “You can’t be the sheriff of London.” What we only learn later is that all of the perpetrators Angel arrested, except for Frank’s son, police constable Daniel Butterman, have been disposed of as “undesirable elements,” and Frank is the legitimate front for the shadow organization that enacts those disposals. Among those arrested on Angel’s first night in Sandford-Gloucestershire: Underage Drinker #1, the church pisser.

That the first denizen of Sandford Gloucestershire to be executed by the Neighborhood Watch Alliance is guilty of nothing more than underage drinking and publicly expelling the liquid byproducts of metabolism signals a fundamental denial of the realities of the body, recalling Gulliver’s urinary mishap in Lilliput.21 Swift, like Wright and Pegg, was engaged in the dual task of parodying a genre and satirizing a society. Michael Seidel notes,

Swift’s sense of discomfort with all things human—especially all things the human body does—is a pervasive theme in Gulliver’s Travels, primarily because other travel writing, real and fictional, tended to leave the intimacies of the body alone… Gulliver… is absorbed from the very beginning with his own waste matter and the embarrassments of his own sexuality.22

Though his body will eventually become an object of self-loathing, it is an object of no small humor and fascination throughout Gulliver’s first three voyages. Gulliver, like Underage Drinker #1 and George Merchant, finds himself sentenced to death in the aftermath of an act of public urination, but unlike those latter, manages to escape capital punishment. In the latter instances, the very public nature of the infraction exacerbates the crime, but what ultimately proves to be at stake is the very nature of the body as subject to entropy, decay, and eventual death, because if the body can decay, so can the village.23

The publicness of the public urinations—one of which literally takes place in a public house, the other of which takes place upon departing a public house at place of congregation—makes visible that which, if it can’t be avoided altogether, ought in a utopia to remain invisible. The prohibition against the public display of the bodily processes renders the body a discursive site; the body becomes the source of shame, the field upon which a battle is being fought, not in Foucauldian terms between the king and the commoner, but rather between the body and the body politic. In a system in which theoretically perfect political structures are analogized to the body, the body can admit of no imperfection. The imperfection of the body betrays the imperfectability of the body politic, a possibility which cannot be permitted within the mythic structure of a fascist society, which both Sandford Gloucestershire and Newton Haven undeniably are.

In March 1922, at the Fascist Congress held in Naples, Mussolini declared, “We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary for it to be a reality. It is a reality in the sense that it is a stimulus, is hope, is faith, is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! And to this myth, this greatness, which we want to translate into total reality, we subordinate everything else.”24 Sandford Gloucestershire’s myth is the myth of a village, but the ideology, the subordination of everything else to the translation of that myth into reality is identical. Thus any indication of the body’s imperfections which suggest the flawed nature of the myth must necessarily be hidden from view, like the bodies of the Sandford citizens who have met their end in the name of the fascistic myth of “the Greater Good,” because those imperfections undermine the NWA’s efforts to “Make Sandford Great Again.”25

The phrase “the Greater Good” connects back to Angel’s earliest interactions in Sandford Gloucestershire. When he checks in at The Swan Hotel, Joyce Cooper is working on a crossword puzzle. During the course of the exchange, Joyce refers to a crossword clue which defines fascism as “system of government characterized by extreme dictatorship, seven across” but one might just as easily define it as a system of government characterized by the suppression of individual liberties in the name of “the Greater Good.” The very word fascism is derived from a Roman symbol of state which signified that while one twig could be snapped, the bundle would survive. If you’re the Wachowski siblings adapting an iconic Alan Moore and David Lloyd graphic novel, Strength in Unity,26 and if you’re Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, “the Greater Good.” Though he first encounters the phrase “the Greater Good” at The Crown pub where it’s used by both Mary and Roy Porter, it’s in the Met and in this first exchange with Joyce cooper that the concept is first introduced. The latter even ends with Joyce saying, “Fascism, wonderful” in a way that, in retrospect, leaves the viewer questioning whether the “wonderful” is an expression of gratitude to Angel for correcting her part of speech or a heartfelt articulation of her genuine admiration of fascism as a system of government.

The Crown pub proves to be a pivotal setting in the film, as it’s at The Crown that George Merchant urinates on the fruit machine, a point that PC Danny Butterman summarizes brilliantly “pissed on the floor at The Crown” during a review of the evidence with Angel, a sequence which any fan of detective fiction or the police procedural will immediately recognize, a scene which is a bit of a piss taking in the commonwealth sense. Although ultimately Merchant is eliminated, together with his house, because his house is “hardly in keeping with the village’s rustic aesthetic,” the thoroughly public manner in which he “eliminates” at the public house once again reinforces the manner in which that which is most fundamentally human must be concealed, hidden, or otherwise obscured. The public space is privileged over the private. Skinner, a member of the NWA, after all, is permitted to use the loo—or at least to use it as a public excuse for his suddenly conspicuous absence during the town festival—without suffering any consequences. The suggestion that he’s “in the loo” is less a fib than it is a metaphor, for he is engaged in a secretive act of disposing of waste, it’s just that the waste being disposed of is not the byproduct of drinking too much of Joyce’s lemonade, but rather Timothy Messenger, the editor of the Sandford Gazette.

Perhaps even more important settings in the film can be found in the twin surveillance centers of the NWA office upstairs in the police station and the manager’s office in Simon Skinner’s Somerfield super market. Foucault argues that

there is no risk… that the increase of power created by the panoptic machine may degenerate into tyranny; the disciplinary mechanism will be democratically controlled, since it will be constantly accessible ‘to the general tribunal of the world.’ This Panopticon, subtly arranged so that an observer may observe, at a glance, so many different individuals, also enables everyone to come and observe any of the observers. The seeing machine was once a sort of dark room into which individuals spied; it has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole.27

The NWA, however, operates on the principle of the dark room of the seeing machine rather than upon the principle of Panopticism. The NWA participates in the twin, unacceptable practices of “secrecy and autonomy in the exercise of the power to punish,”28 enacting “secret punishments and punishments not specified in the legal code,”29 exercising a “power to punish… in the shadows according to criteria and with instruments that elude control”,30 punishing with no “principle of moderation in punishment”31 all in the utopian name of the greater good.

Like Sandford Gloucestershire, Newton Haven is a remote, inaccessible, atavistic rural utopia dedicated to the idea of the greater good, though the phrase never appears in the film and the Network, The World’s End’s analogue for the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, has loftier goals than preserving one village’s perfect status. Newton Haven, which literally means “new town, heaven,” is the new utopia from which utopianism can spread metastatically throughout the world, all that humanity needs to do is submit to the will of their new alien overlords, or be turned into nutrient rich mulch, which is the answer to the forbidden question, “What happens to the empties?”32 Throughout the course of the movie, Gary King and his friends discover the existence of the Network and the robots that aren’t robots that Gary and company33 take to referring to as “blanks,” and it should come as no surprise at this point in the paper that Gary and friends first discover the existence of the blanks in the bathroom. Which raises a very important question: why would a blank have to pee?

The blanks are humanoids that beneath a carefully disguised exterior are put together like action figures. Their heads, and arms and legs all pop off and can be comically recombined. They are part of a hive mind and represent themselves as the human form perfected. So why would they urinate? One possible explanation, indeed the most likely, is that the blank goes to the restroom to observe Gary and possibly recruit Gary. The camera work in the scene focuses on two men standing at the urinals, one “real” the other simulacra, one urinating, the other likely engaged in the simulacra of urination, and each on a mission that’s ultimately undermined by the realities of the flesh. Gary’s quest to reclaim an idyllic past in the form of “getting the band back together” for a pub crawl in their old hometown is destined to fail, in part because of the realities of the processes of aging, in part because the human body is not designed consume twelve beers in rapid succession, and in part because the idyllic past was likely less idyllic than Gary King frames it as having been. As Andy points out to Gary, “You remember the Friday nights, I remember the Monday mornings.”

By comparison, the network seems, at first future oriented and forward thinking, but eventually offers to restore Gary King and his friends to their former glory in exchange for their submission, for their participation in the network. This is a variation on the fascist myth of the glorious rebirth, embodied in Alfred Rosenberg’s 1933 declaration that “the German nation is struggling to create new values, and it finds them by turning back to old ones.”34 The ostensible implication of Gary, Andy and Steven’s rejection of this proposal is that Utopia is ever doomed to fail because humans are drunken assholes, but that’s only part of it. On a much deeper level, the film confronts us with the images of conflicting utopias, one individual, the other communal, but communal in a way that requires a total abnegation of the self, a denial of the fundamental realities of what it is to be human, the surrender of the individual will and the rejection of the physical body, the corpus that eats and drinks and smokes and farts and pisses.

Though the blanks may eschew the use of the word robot because of its etymological connection to slavery, the difference between slaves and drones seems a semantic one in the film rather than a substantive one; whatever they are, they are no longer human by virtue of the disposal of their empty bodies and their integration into a hive mind. They are a failed attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, a vain effort to unify signifier and signified. To paraphrase Magritte, Ceci n’est pas la personne. Or perhaps Alfred Korzybski would be more appropriate. Korzybski reminds us that the map is not the territory, but at the heart of both the NWA’s efforts and those of the Network is an impulse to make the map the territory, to “translate into reality the force of its spirit,”35 hence the importance of the pub map in The World’s End and even more so the model village in Hot Fuzz, both of which signify the spirit which must be willed into reality. In the end, the NWA doesn’t succeed in making Sandford Gloucestershire into the model village—a lovely play on words that runs through the film whereby “model” refers to both a small scale replica and an idyllic or perfect place; rather, the representation must be modified to reflect the ravages that have been wrought upon the reality. In one of the film’s final scenes, Angel squares off with Simon Skinner in the model village, leaving the model as ruined by their monumental clash as the real village has been by the shootout between Angel and the NWA.

While the Network and the NWA claim to be able to establish perfect societies, what they are really establishing are simulacra of societies that confront us, in the end, with the same questions that we find in Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones who Walk away from Omelas”: At what cost? And is it worth it? The answers, at least as far as Wright and Pegg seem concerned, are everything, and no. It remains to be seen whether a perfect society can be built out of imperfect pieces, a wasteless society inhabited by beings whose biological processes produce waste, but one thing is certain at the end of the trilogy: any attempt at a utopia that fails to account for the reality of nitrogenous, ammoniac liquid discharge is destined to fail, and any effort founded upon such an ideal deserves to have the piss taken out of it.


Allen, Ben. “Edgar Wright admits the Cornetto Trilogy exists because he wanted free ice cream,” Radio Times, last modified 31 March 2019. (

Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

Bloch, Ernst. “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the contradictions of Utopian Longing,” in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, Trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg. Boston: MIT, 1989.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage, 1977.

Mussolini, Benito. “Fascism’s Myth: The Nation.” In Oxford Readers: Fascism, Ed. Roger Griffin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play and Other Writings. New York, NY: TCG, 1995.

Punday, Daniel. “Foucault’s Body Tropes.” New Literary History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2000). (

Rosenberg, Alfred. “German Rebirth.” In Oxford Readers: Fascism, ed. Roger Griffin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the role of death in life. New York, NY: Penguin, 2015.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003.

End Notes

  1. The “actually” is Gary’s and it’s questionable, at best; Oliver not so vaguely suggests that Gary is doing cocaine in the men’s room, and his friends ultimately find him playing Need for Speed, having abandoned his task for the simulacrum of his task. There’s also very likely a play on the fact that cocaine and speed are both “uppers.” ↩︎

  2. M.M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), 75. ↩︎

  3. Ben Allen, “Edgar Wright admits the Cornetto Trilogy exists because he wanted free ice cream,” Radio Times, last modified 31 March 2019. (↩︎

  4. Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, The Worm at the Core: On the role of death in life, (New York, NY: Penguin, 2015), 151. ↩︎

  5. Solomon,, The Worm at the Core, 159. ↩︎

  6. Solomon,, The Worm at the Core, 159. ↩︎

  7. Daniel Punday, “Foucault’s Body Tropes.” New Literary History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2000): 511: ( ↩︎

  8. Solomon,, The Worm at the Core, 159. ↩︎

  9. Suzan-Lori Parks, “From The Elements of Style,” in The America Play and Other Writings, (New York, NY: TCG, 1995), 8-9. ↩︎

  10. Shaun twice suggests the Winchester to Liz during the course of their breakup, first on the phone when he is informing her that he failed to obtain a reservation at “the place that does the fish” and the second time in the instance related above. That he ultimately ends up at the Winchester that evening with Ed speaks to the competition between his heteronormative relationship with Liz and his ersatz homosexual/homosocial relationship with Ed. ↩︎

  11. Shaun may demand, in keeping with the tradition of zombie films and television shows, that Ed not use the “zed word” but I’m going to go ahead and use it for the sake of convenience. ↩︎

  12. Phil, Barbara, John, John’s wife, and eventually Ed will all follow, and Nelson, the shop keeper, has preceded Pete, though Shaun hasn’t, at that time, noticed that the world’s been taken over by zombies… so this is not as frivolous a category as it may initially seem. ↩︎

  13. The film provides reason, on multiple occasions, to believe that some vestige of the previous, human, living self may be retained, so the idea that zombie-Pete may have gone to take a shower is not as far-fetched as it may originally seem. In Zone One, Colson Whitehead distinguishes between “skels,” traditional flesh-eating undead, and “stragglers,” unresponsive zombified remains trapped in the routines of their previous lives. The zombies in Shaun exhibit the qualities of both skels and stragglers, although, to be fair, so too do the living. ↩︎

  14. These dual threats, as will be discussed shortly, are particularly prevalent in The World’s End↩︎

  15. Named for actor Ken Foree, who played Peter in Dawn of the Dead (George Romero, 1978). ↩︎

  16. Ernst Bloch, “Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the contradictions of Utopian Longing,” in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature, Trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenburg, (Boston: MIT, 1989), 9. ↩︎

  17. There is, admittedly, a bit of a problematically heteronormative Paradise Regained thing going on as Shaun’s ersatz homosexual relationship and living arrangements are replaced with a normalized heterosexual relationship. This may form part of a larger trajectory across the Barthesian mythology of three films which there is, unfortunately, not room to explore further here. ↩︎

  18. Bloch, “Something’s Missing,” 10. ↩︎

  19. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Trans. Alan Sheridan, (New York: Vintage, 1977), 25. ↩︎

  20. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 181. ↩︎

  21. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003), 61. ↩︎

  22. Michael Seidel, “Introduction,” Gulliver’s Travels, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003), xxvi. ↩︎

  23. The visual motif of characters urinating is complemented by the character of Peter Ian Staker, which Angel originally assumes is the fake name of a crank, caller: “P.I. Staker? Piss taker? C’mon.” Mr. Staker is, however, very real, and the interaction takes a bit of the piss out of Angel. ↩︎

  24. Benito Mussolini, “Fascism’s Myth: The Nation,” in Oxford Readers: Fascism, Ed. Roger Griffin, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995), 44. ↩︎

  25. Butterman really says this, in a movie released in 2007, long before the phrase was coopted by an American political campaign for similarly fascistic ends. ↩︎

  26. V for Vendetta (2006). Alan Moore’s original phrase is “Strength through Purity” (V for Vendetta, Vertigo, 11). ↩︎

  27. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 207. ↩︎

  28. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 129. ↩︎

  29. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 129. ↩︎

  30. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 129. ↩︎

  31. Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 90. ↩︎

  32. Empties are the bodies that formerly belonged to those who have either voluntarily or involuntarily accepted transfer into an artificial body. ↩︎

  33. Pegg and Wright refer to Oliver, Steven, Gary, Andy, and Peter as OSGAP because they are always depicted in that order, including in the bathroom fight scene. ↩︎

  34. Alfred Rosenberg, “German Rebirth” in Oxford Readers: Fascism, ed. Roger Griffin, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995), 133. ↩︎

  35. Mussolini, “Fascism’s Myth,” 44 ↩︎

About the Author: 

Ray DiSanza is a Postcolonialist by training, a scholar of popular culture by proclivity, and a competent generalist and department level administrator because… bills. He is a member of the English Department at Suffolk County Community College, where he teaches Freshman Composition, ALP, Introduction to Literature, Literature as Film, African American Literature, Contemporary Global Literature, and Contemporary Literature. His scholarly interests are varied, spanning from his St. John’s (Queens, NY) dissertation on Postcolonial authors’ use of classical mythology as a site of resistance against hegemonic rule, to gender studies in Doctor Who, to the close study of the motifs that connect the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. He has presented papers at MAPACA, NEPCA, PCA/ACA, EUPOP, and PCA International, in addition to the occasional non-PCA affiliated conference. You can follow him on twitter at @profdisanza.

Volume 4, Issue 2
From the Editors

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