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American Empire and Biological Apocalypse
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Language and Literature. (LNUC Concurrences in Postcolonial Studies)
2012 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

While writing from two very different historical and political vantage points, Niall Ferguson and Julian Go have both suggested that US society appears to be facing many of the same financial and geo-political problems that Britain did a century ago. From this perspective, it is interesting to note that contemporary American popular culture often negotiates many of the concerns that structured British Imperial culture. One such concern is the risk of degeneration and the possibility of a biological apocalypse. During the late-Victorian period, Charles Darwin’s cousin Fredric Galton suggested that, surrounded by the many comforts of modern society, the British subject may circumvent the evolutionary process. In addition, the confrontation with non-European peoples during colonisation was frequently imagined as a racial struggle. Thus, the decline of the British Empire could be cast as an evolutionary event. As Daniel Pick has observed, these ideas had a profound impact on the British culture and society of the nineteenth century and the novel of the period became increasingly obsessed with the notion of biological apocalypse.

 

Pointing to crucial political and cultural parallels between Victorian British society and the present-day US, this paper discusses how contemporary American popular culture dramatizes the possibility of a biological global crisis. In Hollywood blockbusters such as Outbreak (1995), Resident Evil (2002-2010) and Contagion (2011) aggressive viral infections threaten to wipe out modern civilisation. In the Alien (1979-2007) and Species (1995-2004) series, humans face new, primitive and competitive species that threaten to crowd them out in the universal struggle for survival. In Justin Cronin’s best selling novel The Passage (2010) a South American virus is manipulated by the military, turning the infected humans into primitive and supremely violent agents of the apocalypse.

 

This paper makes the observation that these narratives, just like their British counterparts, must be understood in relation to modernity and empire. These films and novels biologize geopolitical relations in general and the popular notion that America is in decline in particular. Furthermore, the viral invasion that popular culture imagines often has its origin in America’s increasingly competitive backyards China and South America. In this way, popular culture taps into what Stephen B. Arata has termed the “anxiety of reverse colonisation” and suggests that America must be prepared to quickly mobilize the military and medical resources of modernity to counter the threat from the primitive Other and to prevent degeneration of its own species. However, some narratives also make room for a concurrent counter discourse that describes the biological apocalypse as a having been engineered by the market state and/or the military-industrial complex. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
Keyword [en]
Empire, apocalypse, eugenics, darwinism, gothic, reverse colonisation
National Category
Studies on Film Specific Literatures Cultural Studies
Research subject
Humanities, English literature; Humanities, Film Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-28070OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-28070DiVA: diva2:640228
Conference
Dimensions of Empire and Resistance: Past, Present, and Future: Meeting of the American Studies Association, November 15-18, 2012, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Projects
Concurrences
Funder
Swedish Research Council
Available from: 2013-08-13 Created: 2013-08-13 Last updated: 2013-10-11Bibliographically approved

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Höglund, Johan

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

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Citation style
  • apa
  • harvard1
  • ieee
  • modern-language-association-8th-edition
  • vancouver
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More styles
Language
  • de-DE
  • en-GB
  • en-US
  • fi-FI
  • nn-NO
  • nn-NB
  • sv-SE
  • Other locale
More languages
Output format
  • html
  • text
  • asciidoc
  • rtf