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Going Viral

Outbreak narratives have proliferated for the past quarter century, and now they have reached epidemic proportions, just in time for our real-life outbreak. From 28 Days Later to The Walking Dead, movies, TV shows, and books are filled with zombie viruses, bioengineered plagues, and disease-ravaged bands of survivors. Even news reports indulge in thrilling scenarios about potential global pandemics like SARS and Ebola. Why have outbreak narratives infected our public discourse, and how have they affected the way Americans view the world?

In Going Viral, Dahlia Schweitzer probes outbreak narratives in film, television, and a variety of other media, putting them in conversation with rhetoric from government authorities and news organizations that have capitalized on public fears about our changing world. She identifies three distinct types of outbreak narrative, each corresponding to a specific contemporary anxiety: globalization, terrorism, and the end of civilization. Schweitzer considers how these fears, stoked by both fictional outbreak narratives and official sources, have influenced the ways Americans relate to their neighbors, perceive foreigners, and regard social institutions.

Looking at everything from I Am Legend to The X Files to World War Z, this book examines how outbreak narratives both excite and horrify us, conjuring our nightmares while letting us indulge in fantasies about fighting infected Others. Going Viral thus raises provocative questions about the cost of public paranoia and the power brokers who profit from it.

What People Are Saying

“Schweitzer sets up shop at the intersection of culture, science and politics and demonstrates — with deep research and penetrating insight — that there are things far more menacing than viral threats.”
– Jonathan Allen, award-winning journalist and New York Times-bestselling author of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

“Schweitzer’s book looks at epidemic disease narratives over the last 20 years, starting with Outbreak (1995) and going through the current and never-ending zombie television apocalypse of AMC’s The Walking Dead. She concludes that these proliferating, infectious stories of disease have become intertwined with fears of globalization and our frighteningly interconnected world…Trump’s border wall and The Walking Dead have this in common: America’s fear of the global apocalypse.”
– Noah Berlatsky, NBC.COM

Going Viral is an incisive and expertly-informed exploration of the anxieties that drive contemporary America; the fears of contagion that shape our public discourse, movie narratives and government policy. Drawing with authority on both medical data and media theory, Schweitzer impressively tracks these concerns across recent history, tracing the dynamic between the diseased human body and the body politic, and examining key varieties of viral threat—from zombie plagues to terrorist cells—across fact, fiction, and the porous borders between them. At a time when fears of cultural infection are used to justify the tightening of borders, the infringement of civil liberties and the building of walls, Going Viral is a vital guide to the politics of contamination and protection.”
– Will Brooker, author of Hunting the Dark Knight

“Schweitzer’s book is the clearest successor to [Susan] Sontag’s essays that we have, but it takes Sontag’s emphasis on the narratives of singular illnesses or viruses and broadens it to survey the metaphorics of virality, infection, and outbreak themselves–the locus of fear, anticipation, and knowledge about illness that predates and frames individuals’ experience of illness and is the focal point of the narratives told about a complex array of phenomenon, from the AIDS crisis to the panic over Ebola, from the spread and threat of terrorism to the process of globalization, all culminating, it would seem, in the zombie renaissance of the 2000s.”
– Sean Guynes-Vishniac, American Quarterly

“[Going Viral] brings welcome attention to [the outbreak narrative], as indeed does the outbreak narrative itself: it confronts its viewers with the tension between impersonal, unintentional networks and the human response in a world in which both the “human” and human agency are increasingly eroded by those same networks.”
– Dawn Keetley, Film Quarterly

Going Viral promises to become a viral sensation. In this elegant, provocative, and clever book, Dahlia Schweitzer tackles one of the most controversial and anxiety provoking fears of the twenty-first century: the disastrous end of the world, evoked by either plagues, infections, diseases, or outbreaks. Full of knowledge and wit, Schweitzer’s innovative scholarship is a joy to read. She is a trailblazer in transdisciplinary scholarship and helps us all better understand what will continue to keep us awake at night.”
– Karen Ritzenhoff, coeditor of The Apocalypse in Film

Going Viral contextualizes contemporary outbreak narratives in rich detail. Schweitzer’s attention to context sets this work apart from others on the subject and does so in an utterly approachable way.”
Stacy Takacs, author of Terrorism TV: Popular Entertainment in Post-9/11 America

“Think you know zombies? Take a deep dive in Going Viral.”
Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars, Party Down, and iZombie