Abstract

I argue that the commonplace suturing of images of the COVID-19 pandemic to the genre of the zombie apocalypse signals the manner in which the figure of the zombie excites a popular mode of sense making, intensifying anxieties about the state of society while bringing into plain view the ongoing reproduction of racialized forms of debility and the uneven distribution of disposability. The COVID-19-zombie apocalypse construct, therefore, should not be trivialized as fictional nor allegorical. It functions as a “primal scene” in which racism is authorized and legitimized. This sanction, however, gets obscured by the postracial bumper sticker, “We're all in this together.” The zombie is a biotrope of the postracial, signifying the production of blackened biothreat bodies, rituals of securitization—including weaponizing the coronavirus itself—and the circulation of fantasies regarding the reclamation of white masculine sovereignty. The postracial is a form of discourse that is invented and mobilized through destabilizing events wherein angsts about social collapse (or excitement about social change) offer up anti-Black sentiments and radical political possibilities. First, I will develop a rhetorical theory of biotropes by focusing on how they enable the blackening of bodies by turning them into biothreats with an immanent risk of disease and infection. Here, I want to provide clarity regarding their capacity to incite fear of and revulsion toward blackened flesh, tainted blood, and bodily vulnerabilities. Biotropes traverse multiple scales and registers of perception and feeling. Paradoxically, they can seem unseen, undead, but also mobile and spectacular. Next, I will perform a diagnostic on how the primal scene of COVID-19 invented blackened biothreats, fostered rituals of securitization, and vivified postracial fantasies of white masculine sovereignty. Lastly, I'll make the case that the zombie is “real” in the sense that it materializes modes of visuality, sensibility, and polity, in our shared actuality.

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