Smarty Pants Podcast

What Zombie Movies Can Teach Us About Viruses

Dissecting how outbreak narratives infected our worldview

By Stephanie Bastek | March 20, 2020

In her book Going Viral, pop culture critic and film professor Dahlia Schweizer asks why, and when, outbreak narratives became such a part of our culture. She divides these narratives into three distinct waves of film starting in the early 1990s: first globalization, then terrorism and conspiracy, and then post-apocalypse and zombie films. What’s surprising about these outbreak narratives, though, is that they aren’t just limited to movies—we’ve got zombie video games and novels, of course, but we’ve also got infection and plague narratives saturating news media and government budget documents even before the current coronavirus pandemic made it all real. Journalism, movies, and governments all influence each other, blurring the line between fact and fiction. In her book, Schweizer explores why these outbreak narratives have infected the public conversation and how they have affected the way we see the world, from our neighbors to the government. Dahlia Schweizer joined us in the studio to talk about zombie viruses and bioengineered plagues. A previous version of this interview aired in February 2018.

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