- The Zombie and Its Metaphors
Any quick survey of the landscape of contemporary American (and global) popular culture attests that the zombie is having a moment. And this moment—tied up as the zombie genre is with billions in entertainment capital, and critiquing, in its most accomplished instantiations, the racial, capitalist, and imperialist violences of the US—hardly shows sign of abating in its popular and critical appeals alike. It is thus hardly surprising that so-called zombie studies has developed into something of a cottage industry in the past decade. McFarland runs a book series, Contributions to Zombie Studies, which has published over twenty volumes since 2010, and Sarah Juliet Lauro has edited Zombie Theory: A Reader (2017) with none other than the University of Minnesota Press (in addition to her groundbreaking study, The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and the Living Death [Rutgers University Press, 2015]). These are but a small sampling of the dozens of books and hundreds of articles written by academics on some of the cultural, historical, psychological, economic, and theological dimensions of the zombie. Though the zombie began its undeath in American popular culture as a racist appropriation of Haitian Vodou beliefs used to delegitimize Haiti's independence and ability to self-rule, its more recent and virally popular incarnation since the 1970s has been as the infectious cannibal, congregating in hordes, munching on brains, bringing on the apocalypse. What zombies mean—and, on all our minds, why they are [End Page 903] so popular—drive the seemingly unending deluge of scholarship on zombie media. What I have chosen, then, are three books written over roughly a year that will appeal to Americanists and also demonstrate the significance of the zombie figure and its metaphors for the multiple projects of American studies.
The first of these, Zombies, Migrants, and Queers, is Camilla Fojas's sixth monograph. It extends her recent work on the racial dynamics of imperialism in the narratives of American popular culture to the "postcrisis storyform[s]" of film and television in the decade since the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession (10). Fojas's is the most wide-ranging of the three books under review, touring American popular culture well beyond zombie media; it is thus perhaps the most broadly applicable to Americanists not only because of the exceptional breadth of texts covered and the specific, contemporary concerns with the racial–imperial dimensions of the recent American cultural and political landscape, but also because Fojas marks out multiple genres whose usage since 2008 represents specific articulations of the economic transformations taking place at local/American and global/imperial scales. An impressive book overall, its treatment of postcrisis zombie media takes up a single chapter but nonetheless makes its mark throughout a tightly argued book—no doubt itself a symptom of the imbricated layers of capital, empire, and race on display in postcrisis culture.
Fojas's book has six chapters, each focused on a different postcrisis storyform and its articulation of late-capitalist economic formations. These chapters touch on texts as disparate as Arrested Development (2003–6, 2013–18), World War Z (2013), and Queen of Versailles (2012). Fojas is particularly interested in showing how postcrisis texts attempted to provide narrative solutions to the problems and failings of neoliberalism and racial capitalism, but she is never wholly uncritical of the texts she surveys. What she offers, instead, is a vision of critique that takes the lessons of popular storylines seriously but seeks more, is never satisfied. As she puts it in the conclusion of her chapter on migrant domestics...