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

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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.

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.

Newitz tracks the monsters spawned by capitalism through b movies, Hollywood blockbusters, pulp fiction, and American literary classics, looking at their manifestations in works such as Norman Mailer's "true life novel" The Executioner's Song; the short stories of Isaac Asimov and H. P. Lovecraft; the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson and Marge Piercy; true-crime books about the serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer; and movies including Modern Times (1936), Donovan's Brain (1953), Night of the Living Dead (1968), RoboCop (1987), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001). Newitz shows that as literature and film tell it, the story of American capitalism since the late nineteenth century is a tale of body-mangling, soul-crushing horror.

About the Author

Annalee Newitz is a contributing editor at Wired magazine and a freelance writer in San Francisco. She is the former culture editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship in 2002-03. She is a coeditor of White Trash: Race and Class in America and Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life. She has written for New York magazine, and numerous other publications, including The Believer,, and Popular Science. Newitz has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

"Pretend We're Dead sets our monsters free of the dank laboratory of psychosexual studies and sends them rampaging across the landscape of economic reality. A sweeping, liberating, and wonderfully readable book."--Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book "Of all the modern (and postmodern) culture commentators, Annalee Newitz has the perfect blend of a fan's unabashed enthusiasm and a true critic's engaged, iconoclastic insights and questions. 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."--James Rocchi, editor in chief of and film critic for cbs-5 San Francisco "Pretend We're Dead is a convincing, accessible work that will interest everyone from academics and media analysts who like offbeat criticism to horror lovers who like to watch zombies eat brains."--D. Harlan Wilson, "Science Fiction Studies" "[A] sophisticated and rewarding Marxist analysis of the horror movie. . . . 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."--Darryl Jones "Modernism/modernity" "[Newitz's] vast knowledge of cultural criticism, which she incorporates without a hint of ego, makes it work. Shifting seamlessly from a blow-by-blow account of Videodrome to a discussion of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, Pretend We're Dead is like an extended conversation with that U. of C. friend who, despite being frighteningly comfortable breathing the rarefied air of high theory, will still go see Snakes on a Plane with you."--Phoebe Connelly "Chicago Reader"

Publisher: Duke University Press
Pub date:
232 pages
Format: Paperback