Proliferating for the last twenty-five years, outbreak narratives have now reached epidemic proportions. From 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead, films and television shows are filled with zombie viruses, bioengineered plagues, and disease-ravaged survivors. Even news reports indulge in thrilling scenarios about potential global pandemics like SARS and Ebola. Outbreak narratives have infected our public discourse and affected the way Americans view the world.
Going Viral: Zombies, Viruses, and the End of the World examines American film and television outbreak narratives, studying how the repetition of characters, images, and story lines has produced a formulaic narrative that reflects and shapes new paradigms of disease and fear. I situate the films and TV shows in several historical trajectories: anxiety about emerging viruses and a shrinking, border-less world, as in films like Contagion, the insertion of bioterrorism starting in the twenty-first century, as in television shows like 24, and the current fascination with manifesting the end of the world, as evidenced in TV shows like The Walking Dead and films like I Am Legend. I combine textual analysis with cultural and historical context in order to demonstrate how each influences the other.
While there are other texts that discuss zombies films or science fiction, I examine not only outbreak narratives in film and television, but I put them in conversation with rhetoric from government authorities and news organizations that have capitalized on public fears about our changing world. This particular focus allows me to examine how these fears, stoked by both fictional outbreak narratives and official sources, have influenced the ways Americans relate to their neighbors, perceive foreigners, and regard social institutions. Going Viral raises provocative questions about the cost of public paranoia and the power brokers who profit from it.