Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Preparing for Monsters: Governance by Popular Culture

Academic journal article The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies

Preparing for Monsters: Governance by Popular Culture

Article excerpt


How and why is the zombie metaphor applied in efforts that seek to alert citizens to and prepare them for potential threats and disasters? And what are the consequences of applying this specific metaphor in attempts to govern populations? This article examines the real-world political implications that come from the recurring adoption of a particular pop-cultural figuration as a guiding, and sometimes even governing, metaphor. More specifically, it looks at how the zombie has been used to promote the necessity for 'preparing' for the future in specific ways. While much has already been said about the zombie, this article adds to the current body of knowledge on the subject by looking at how the zombie metaphor has been applied for governing purposes. As such, the article provides analytical tools for studying how pop-cultural metaphors are used as 'premediations' - that is, as tools for practical governance in relation to both current and future threats - and for studying the potential implications that comes from such premediations, a term discussed below.1

Over the last decade or so, the academic interest in the zombie has increased exponentially, producing a vast body of scholarly and popular discussion. Since the zombie is a fictitious creature, it is also inevitable that its modern incarnation has become a highly mediated figuration (in that it practically always uses a medium for its cultural distribution).2 This article explores how the zombie is now also premediated as a very practical and political metaphor in, for example, civil-defence courses, government information campaigns, and popular-science TV shows. These applications of the zombie metaphor differ from more fiction-oriented pop-cultural depictions, as their underlying and express purpose is to govern - to make people more aware of societal contingencies and to generate a corresponding behavioural change, and, on a more fundamental level, to promote a particular view regarding who deserves to live and who must die. This article therefore takes specific interest in how the zombie metaphor is used to govern and promote certain practical and emotional preparations for future catastrophes. As such, this article examines how the deliberate practical and political application of the pop-cultural zombie metaphor comes to legitimise a profoundly regularising view of the future, one that excludes all but 'properly prepared' individuals.

Before exploring how the zombie metaphor is used to govern the future, we need to establish what the zombie 'is', how it was originally depicted in pop-cultural narratives and how has it been studied in academic analyses. After establishing these preconditions, the article analyses three cases where the zombie metaphor is used to promote contingency awareness and thereby also to promote a specific view of how to prepare practically for the future: first, a zombie-survival course; second, a number of governmental emergencyinformation campaigns; and third, a popular-science TV show on 'how to survive the end of the world'. In doing so, the article asserts that the adoption of the zombie metaphor for political and governing purposes brings about a treacherous binary opposition, which conflates a range of potential agendas and obscures both power differentials and alternative futures.

The Pop-Cultural Zombie

The zombie has a rich history consisting of variations on the theme of a living being that returns from the dead.3 One of the primary and most important recurring themes is what we may refer to as the 'rules of the zombie', rules which determine what they are and what they are capable of doing. As this article demonstrates, such rules are very important both in popcultural adaptations in general, and in the case studies this article examines. A specific piece of fictional work that highlights the rules of the zombie is The Zombie Survival Guide, where author Max Brooks provides very precise instructions and rules for how to survive the zombie apocalypse. …

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