- Zombies, Migrants, and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture by Camilla Fojas
By Camilla Fojas
Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2017. 184 pp. ISBN: 978-0-252-08240-5
Camilla Fojas presents an intriguing study of popular culture after the Great Recession. Inspired by the 2007 downward spiral of the US economy, this book provides a broad range of texts that each respond to or reflect the changing neoliberalist attitudes of the time. Overarching themes in the book include the exploitation of certain marginalized communities during the freefall of capitalism as a way to sustain or revive the failing white, heteronormative middle class.
Through textual analysis, Fojas "examines how the popular cultural artifacts of the global economic crisis shape social dynamics, ultimately giving rise to a cultural mood of US indomitability vested in a renovated form of racial capitalism" (10). Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the inclusion of texts from so many genres and media, including reality television, dark comedies, disaster films, zombies, and border genres. With this approach Fojas more clearly illustrates how the financial collapse in the United States has shaped the representation of marginalized communities. More directly, the book maps how by exploiting the knowledge and bodies of communities of color the US middle class has been able to maintain representational stability through new forms of capital.
The first two chapters, "Border Absurd: The End-Times and the End of the Line" and "Migrant Domestics and the Fictions of Imperial Capitalism," focus on how dark comedies and reality shows reinstate capitalist ideals even after the economic collapse. She begins at the border, or rather, discussing how border economies are used to benefit a select few. Fojas analyzes shows in which the protagonists learn to survive by adopting extra-legal practices, primarily drug trading. In "Border Absurd," Fojas shows how the middle class is maintained when white characters adopt and adapt criminal endeavors, such as drug trade usually associated with communities of color. The US-Mexico border geography is used in shows like Weeds, Breaking Bad, and Arrested Development as an "arena" to play what she calls a "theater of ruin" and to find glory. Access to border cultures makes white characters "adaptable" to new situations so that they, unlike racialized figures, can ride the wave and profit off "borderland survival strategies and aesthetic forms for the reinvigoration" of white cultural capital (17). "Migrant Domestics" focuses on The Real Housewives of New York City and the documentary Queen of Versailles, primarily tracing the way Filipina workers, or domestics, disrupt "capitalism's master narrative" by showing this labor as a commodity in capitalism. By opening with some of the most popular genres and shows in recent history, Fojas is able to argue persuasively that brown bodies, particularly women, are used and disposed of to maintain the status quo in the United States.
Even though the third and fifth chapters, "Zombie Capitalism: Night of the Living Debt" and "Sinkholes and Seismic Shifts: Ecological and Other Disasters," are not back-to-back in the book, they work well together. Both highlight how filmic and televisual representation of disasters, be they economic, health, or ecological, reflect the different types of precarity people live under in a capitalist regime. First, Fojas's analysis of the Walking Dead and other zombie texts, including those by famed director George Romero, describes the zombie as a capitalist monster born out of moments of crisis. Even after the collapse of financial institutions and in post-apocalyptic worlds, traditional heteronormative gender roles survive. She explains how the zombie obsession is really a love for "heteropatriarchal forms of organization within reimagined racial relations; these storylines reject racism through normative discourses of heterosexuality in the proliferation of heteronormative couples and families as defense units" (75). The viral or bacterial outbreaks that lead to the fall of society are not enough to destroy traditional gender norms. Further, and perhaps most importantly, the debt economy, just like the zombie outbreak, leads to "economic refugees" all around the world, thereby destroying money systems we have...