PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

'Zombies, Migrants, and Queers' Make for a Monstrous Economy

One of the intellectual strengths of Fojas’ book is how she consistently surprises in historicizing and theorizing neoliberalism.


Zombies, Migrants, and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture

Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Author: Camilla Fojas
Price: $24.95
Format: Paperback
Length: 184 pages
Affiliate: (http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/53ghc5mg9780252040924.html) University of Illinois Press
Publication Date: 2017-03
Amazon

In her new critical study, Zombies, Migrants, and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture, Camilla Fojas surveys a vast terrain of US popular culture -- including movies, television shows, advertising, memoirs, and novels -- to analyze, historicize, and theorize the representations of “vulnerable populations”, including migrant workers, incarcerated and institutionalized subjects, trans/queer individuals, and people of color in the age of neoliberalism. As Fojas insightfully and importantly argues, these vulnerable subjects, frequently at the margins of mainstream US narratives, are complex signifiers that help specify the monstrous neoliberal order, and moreover, signifiers of revolutionary possibilities.

Fojas explores mass-mediated representations of such vulnerable populations during the (dis)order of neoliberalism, the current chapter of capitalism in which economic vulnerability is widespread and financial debt is pervasive and suffocating for all. While this capitalist order has been destructive for decades, in 2008, the bottom fell out. One of the many gifts of Fojas’s critical study is how the Great Recession, in particular, profoundly marks and shapes popular American culture, engendering new capitalist narratives and metaphorics, including, most prominently, the “storyform” of “freefall”.

In contrast to previous chapters of capitalist development in which the illusion of class stability is maintained, one of the defining features of neoliberalism is that all capitalist subjects -- even the super rich -- either experience or feel that they are on the precipice of experiencing a freefall. In this new capitalist order, no one is secure or stable. This widely shared experience of precarity, as Fojas argues, can be witnessed across a wide-range of American popular culture throughout the neoliberal era, such as Arrested Development (about the economic freefall of a once wealthy real estate family), Breaking Bad (about the economic freefall of a teacher), and Weeds (about the economic freefall of a wealthy widow who lives in a giant suburban home).

And yet, in all of these examples, the protagonists are able to bounce back and recover. Not coincidentally, all these protagonists are white. As Fojas argues, one of the most dominant story forms developed during the Great Recession is the ability of white protagonists to recover and even profit from an economic freefall. For example, as Fojas explores, Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, used her experience in prison to procure “new knowledge” which became the basis of her memoir and her deal with Netflix. As Fojas analyzes, when white protagonists experience economic freefall, they are forced into communities they would otherwise never experience in hyper-segregated America and they learn to profit from such experiences.

As Orange is the New Black exemplifies, the seemingly neutral category of neoliberalism remains a form of “racial capitalism”. And here is where Zombies, Migrants, and Queers becomes extraordinary. While the popular culture explored by Fojas may be familiar to many, her reading practice is stunning, focusing on individuals marginalized within American popular culture and historicizing and theorizing their complex social positions and lifeworlds. For example, in her chapter “Migrant Domestics and the Fictions of Imperial Capitalism”, Fojas focuses on The Real Housewives of New York City (Bravo 2008-) and The Queen of Versailles (2012) . Although both shows foreground wealthy white protagonists, Fojas follows and analyzes the Filipina domestic workers whose labor is essential to the maintenance and reproduction of the wealth on-screen. Rather than remaining within the frame of popular culture, Fojas traverses beyond such artificial borders to detail the imperial, racist history that has enabled a global system that racializes, feminizes, and essentializes Filipina labor.

One of the intellectual strengths of Fojas’ book is how she consistently surprises in historicizing and theorizing neoliberalism. For example, Fojas traces how Count de Lesseps, the wealthy husband mostly off-screen on the Bravo show that fetishizes housewives, “earns” his wealth as co-owner of a large investment firm that was central to expanding microfinancing to developing countries. This becomes an opportunity for Fojas to puncture the illusion of charity and goodwill that ideologically animates microfinancing. As Fojas argues, this new form of financialization preys on women in the developing world and thrusts them into a structure of debt pervasive in the developed world. Rather than wealthy financial firms investing in developing countries -- a social relation that doesn’t expect any form of payback -- such firms have found a new market to exploit and entrap individuals within a system of endless debt. This recent market expansion is predicated on essentialized ideas about women (dependable, responsible, predictable) and follows an imperial logic that attempts to mask its imperial identity through the language of benevolent paternalism.

The conceptual complexity of Fojas’ book is evident throughout and signified by its title, Zombies, Migrants, and Queers. To recognize migrants and queers as vulnerable populations fits within established paradigms of progressive thinking. What throws this configuration off balance, though, is the third term: “zombies”. This configuration encapsulates Fojas’ synthesizing method of bringing together diverse and disparate texts, and moreover, it gestures towards Fojas’ strength of recognizing and elaborating upon the important theoretical energies embodied by metaphoric figures such as zombies.

In the chapter, “Zombie Capitalism: Night of the Living Debt”, for example, Fojas reads the zombie as an “overarching metaphor” for understanding “the destructiveness of capitalism through debt, indebtedness, and forms of indentured servitude”. In the chapter, Fojas reads multiple zombie texts, including The Walking Dead (2010-), World War Z (2013), Dawn of the Dead (2004), and Land of the Dead (2005) in relation to various theories on debt and the formation of the “indebted man”, including David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years) and Maurizio Lazzarato’s The Making of the Indebted Man). In the age of neoliberalism, zombies are no longer signifiers of a revolutionary class, but rather, metaphoric monsters that give form to the anxieties and fears experienced by millions of working-class Americans drowning in life-crushing debt.

In conjunction with her rich, insightful critiques, Fojas also finds moments of resistance in popular culture and teases out the seeds of revolution that make her study both a critique and possible guide beyond the monstrous present. For example, while looking at various prison memoirs and television shows, Fojas writes, “While the prison system is a consequence of capitalism and a major part of its machinery, the narrative production of the prison space accords with a vision of a different social order”. It is a space, Fojas elaborates, of “queer” possibilities that refuses the hierarchical relations intrinsic to capitalism’s “heteropatriarchal”, racial order, and a space where new social relations and imaginaries are practiced.

Despite such glimpsed utopian possibilities, Fojas illustrates how popular US culture remains complicit in maintaining and perpetuating the dominant neoliberal order. My one critique is that Fojas predominately analyzes corporate cultural productions from the heart of the US empire. I wish such a brilliant thinker and writer turned her attention to texts from smaller production companies engaging in the necessary critical and creative work that the corporate-cultural industry refuse to underwrite. Still, for understanding the tragedies engendered by neoliberal capitalism and how such tragedies become narrated and symbolized in popular culture, Fojas’s book remains essential.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Television

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.