- Zombies, Migrants, and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture by Camilla Fojas
Camilla Fojas’s Zombies, Migrants, and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture is a detailed and timely investigation of some of the most popular media of the past decade in the context of the global economic downturn. Using the term “crisis capitalism” to note the uncertainty and upheaval of this economic era, Fojas elaborates on the new narratives that have emerged on the cusp of and following the financial “freefall.” This freefall, she writes, is both terrifying and liberating as it “generates a great leveling subsequent to crisis or disaster. It marks the beginning of a new storyform” (5). Fojas pays particular attention to zombie narratives, “riches to rags” falls from fortune, and other tales of economic and actual ruin in order to argue that these popular media tell stories about vulnerable populations (e.g., people of color, the incarcerated, trans/queer individuals, among others) while simultaneously using their experiences to support the rejuvenation of whiteness and capitalism after crisis. [End Page 162]
The popular culture archive from which Fojas draws her examples is rich and diverse, encompassing fictional television shows, feature films, documentaries, reality television, and novels. Her analysis usefully identifies the complexities and nuances of mainstream, popular entertainment. For example, in the first chapter, Fojas closely reads the critically and fan acclaimed television shows Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, and Weeds, all of which feature white characters who overcome personal economic disaster through extralegal activities connected to the U.S.-Mexico border. In a similarly compelling analysis, chapter 4 examines the widely consumed women’s prison Netflix series Orange Is the New Black for the way it instantiates white hegemony, while also offering possibilities for “queer” anticapitalist associations. In the television adaptation of Piper Kerman’s memoir, Piper enters prison on a repentant journey, but eventually embraces her homosocial and homoerotic, multiracial community. However, Fojas notes the triumph of the protagonists in these media is their access to border economies and/or communities that are composed of racialized, criminalized individuals. These characters are granted access to these communities only via the mobility of whiteness, and they ultimately dominate or erase the people of color with whom they work and on whom they depend. Piper’s narrative, for example, supersedes that of her queer/trans and woman of color inmates, even as she depends on their friendship, support, and labor. Fojas points out that these examples of postcrisis media emphasize the downfall and ascension of white subjects, rather than the queer and racialized subjects for whom life is almost always in crisis. That being said, Fojas’s critiques are careful and nuanced. She indicates, for instance, that showcasing the violence enacted on marginalized populations, both in prison and beyond, has served to generate criticism for the prison industrial complex and the capitalist system that it serves.
Chapters 2 and 3 challenge the narrative of capitalism through the figures of the migrant and the zombie. The second chapter focuses specifically on Filipina domestic workers, who serve wealthy families like those showcased in the Real Housewives reality television franchise and the documentary The Queen of Versailles. Fojas reads these figures as potentially resistant subjects of crisis capitalism. While their wealthy employers face and overcome personal struggles in the economic disaster to which they contributed, these background figures remain silent and ambivalent. She writes, “Their disaffection does not fit into the narrative arc of each story about the resurgence and revitalization of capitalism” (57). Her astute point is that while these media are meant to emphasize the “bust” and subsequent “boom” of capitalism in crisis, the domestic workers who proliferate the background call into question the truth of this narrative for all. This lack of access to capitalism’s dominant narrative is especially true for those who exist at the racialized, imperial periphery, with which popular media have [End Page 163] become enamored over the past several decades. In her interrogation of...