Show 196: Annalee Newitz

Audio here!

In this kick-off to Equal Time’s periodic series on “Humanism’s Economics,” we will investigate the dehumanizing aspects of capitalism – our current non-humanistic economic system in America – via the way it plays out in American movies and novels. How do these arts tell the story about life under capitalism, and what are these artists trying to tell us about its cost?

In Pretend We’re Dead, Annalee Newitz argues that the slimy zombies and gore-soaked murderers who have stormed through American film and literature over the past century embody the violent contradictions of capitalism. Ravaged by overwork, alienated by corporate conformity, and mutilated by the unfettered lust for profit, fictional monsters act out the problems with an economic system that seems designed to eat people whole.

Newitz looks at representations of serial killers, mad doctors, the undead, cyborgs, and unfortunates mutated by their involvement with the mass media industry. Whether considering the serial killer who turns murder into a kind of labor by mass producing dead bodies, or the hack writers and bloodthirsty actresses trapped inside Hollywood’s profit-mad storytelling machine, she reveals that each creature has its own tale to tell about how a freewheeling market economy turns human beings into monstrosities.

Ms. Newitz is the author of White Trash: Race and Class in America and The Bad Subjects Anthology. For her Ph.D in English and American Studies at UC Berkeley, she wrote her dissertation on images of monsters, psychopaths, and capitalism in 20th Century American pop culture. This work has led to her new book, Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture which we will be talking about today. Annalee’s writings largely focus on pop culture and technology including articles on everything from the politics of open source software, to hacker subcultures; she has a weekly syndicated column called Techsploitation, which is about the ways that media mutates and reiterates the problems of everyday life, and is a contributing editor at Wired magazine.

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