Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture

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Annalee Newitz - Wikipedia

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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.

A sweeping, liberating, and wonderfully readable book. Casual and smart, bold yet breezy, Pretend We're Dead won't just make you take a second look at the landscape of modern horror-it'll make you look at modern consumerist life and death with fresh eyes. Where Newitz differs from any other writer on horror that I've read is in her insistence that her distinctively American, anti-capitalist tradition of horror begins not with the Enlightenment and its discontents, which find form in the European Gothic novel of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but rather with the naturalist novel of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This is a startling and, at first sight, highly contentious position, but it's one that Newitz argues rather brilliantly. Added to basket. Talking to Strangers. Malcolm Gladwell.

CTheory Interview: Annalee Newitz

Nervous States. William Davies. Don't Look Back In Anger. Daniel Rachel. She associates the first with mad doctors and serial killers, whom she characterizes as individuals driven insane through the fact that their lives are forced upon them by profit-making institutions. The examples here include the stories of H. Madness illustrates a kind of Promethean disdain of, and distance from, other menials. Even more intriguingly, Newitz points out the hilarious illustration of the mind-body dualism in the film, when a loose, and outraged, colon from an animated corpse takes on a mind of its own and attacks West.

Consequently, her interest lies more in the points made by her examples than the means with which they articulate those ideas. I wish Newitz applied her insight and her wit to the stylistic dimension of popular culture, for sometimes I find her examples are more interesting to talk about than watch or read. He is a contributor to Re-viewing the British cinema, The films of Oliver Stone , and Cinesonic: the world of sound on film. His work on film will also appear in The horror studies reader; Film genre new critical essays; The trash reader ; and Video versions: drama into film.

Pretend we're dead: capitalist monsters in american pop culture

In the humanities, not so much. Of course their tenure systems are quite different too. I like the idea that new media is allowing American academics to become public intellectuals — I hope we see more professors like Constance Penley and Henry Jenkins, who participate in the same culture they analyze. People like industrial historian Megan Shaw Prelinger or the cast of Mythbusters — smart, educated people doing research and teaching, but in popular venues rather than formal classrooms. Honestly the Mythbusters crew probably does more to demystify and rationally explain physical processes in the world than many science teachers do.


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How do you think this contributes to maintaining these distinctions? AN: Let me get back to your point about certain disciplines frantically setting up boundaries between acceptable and non-acceptable writing. I see two things going on. I think some academics in the humanities really buy into that distinction, and feel quite honestly that pop culture is a degraded form of art whose entire purpose is to brainwash the masses into complacency.

Fair enough. I disagree, but whatever. The other issue, I suspect, is a much more pragmatic desire to preserve jobs. So many humanities departments are being hit by furloughs and budget cuts and shrinkage. Unlike scientists, humanities scholars have few opportunities to sustain themselves and their students with big grants. A withdrawing into purely academic writing. The frustrating part is that this means academics are missing out on a chance to share their work with a broad audience.

AN: Intermixing creates hybrid vigor! I try to encourage friendly border crossings as much as possible. I want to know what you see as some of the benefits, and some of the potential pitfalls of the blog format. Maybe in a more general sense, what do you think are the implications for a culture that is increasingly organized on the fast-paced, possibly ephemeral nature of the blog form? What are your goals and hopes as the editor-in-chief of a very widely read, influential blog?

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AN: I like the interactivity of blogging. Scoops come a little faster now is all.

One of my favorite writers is Frank Norris, who was a novelist but also worked as a muckraker for San Francisco papers at the turn of the twentieth century. That definitely depresses me. But then I think about all those pulp writers years ago, how much total awesomeness they poured into the world, even though their books have crumbled into dust. There is nothing wrong with churning out ephemera that gives people pleasure and makes them think. We have a tendency clearly myself included to think of the present as fast-moving and ephemeral and the past as marked by permanence and slowness.

But the past is packed with just as much speed and ephemera as the present. Suggesting that anyone who blames e-mail for ruining letter writing is about a century and a half late to the party. AN: Absolutely. Every generation has its demonized forms of communication, which are allegedly ruining the ways we once related to one another. In the last century or so, I think the speed of communication has for a variety of reasons been terrifying to people.

You mention being a little more careful and humble in your writing, two qualities that a lot of writing on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter, could definitely use. But what effect do you think it might have in terms of shaping content, either in terms of the kind of topics you deal with, as well as the way in which you deal with them. This kind of constant interaction between the writer and audience somewhat challenges the romantic image of the isolated genius of the author. Do you think this is a good thing, making writers more connected to their audience? Or is there possibly something lost, maybe some sort of sense of autonomy.

Do you worry that sometimes you might be catering too much to what your audience wants to hear? AN: I think a lot of the concerns you raise are only going to be relevant to people in the media transition generation like myself.

I started writing in the s, when print journalism reigned, but I published most of my work online instead. Still, my experiences publishing academic books and writing for print publications like Wired and the San Francisco Bay Guardian allowed me to see what the old print culture was like. Am I ruined, misled, schooled, or exalted by getting audience feedback on a story instantly? All of those things. The same way William Faulkner was ruined by bad reviews back in the slow-writing days of the s and 30s. And then he went to Hollywood to write screenplays.