Zombies and Plagues and Bombs, Oh My!

How hyperbolic outbreak narratives have infected our worldview—from media to the government

David Simmonds/Flickr
David Simmonds/Flickr

For decades, artists have been using horror to speak to our deepest societal fears, from the wilderness (werewolves) to the unknown (aliens). With zombies, that fear is infection: the outbreak of some terrible epidemic that sweeps the world, rendering us all into the drooling, flesh-eating monster next door. But as Dahlia Schweitzer shows in her new book, Going Viral, zombies are part of a much older lineage—dating back to Haitian slavery. Recently, these stories have arisen as commentary on the Ebola and AIDS epidemics, as well as terrorism, and in many cases, fact and fiction seem unfortunately to blur. Why have these outbreak narratives infected the public conversation? And how have they affected the way we see the world?

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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