Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism

Second Edition

by Henry A. Giroux (Author)
©2014 Textbook XXIV, 205 Pages


In the second edition of Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, Henry A. Giroux uses the metaphor of the zombie to highlight how America has embraced a machinery of social and civil death that chills any vestige of a robust democracy. He charts the various ways in which the political, corporate, and intellectual zombies that rule America embrace death-dealing institutions such as a bloated military, the punishing state, a form of predatory capitalism, and an authoritarian, death-driven set of policies that sanction torture, targeted assassinations, and a permanent war psychology. The author argues that government and corporate paranoia runs deep in America. While maintaining a massive security state, the ruling forces promote the internalization of their ideology, modes of governance, and policies by either seducing citizens with the decadent pleasures of a celebrity-loving consumer culture or by beating them into submission. Giroux calls for a systemic alternative to zombie capitalism through a political and pedagogical imperative to address and inform a new cultural vision, mode of individual subjectivity, and understanding of critical agency. As part of a larger effort to build a broad-based social movement, he argues for a new political language capable of placing education at the center of politics. Connecting the language of critique to the discourse of educated hope he calls for the reclaiming of public spaces and institutions where formative cultures can flourish that nourish the radical imagination, and the ongoing search for justice, equality, and the promise of a democracy to come.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface: Dystopian Nightmares in the Age of Savage Politics
  • Introduction: Zombie Politics, Democracy, and the Threat of Authoritarianism
  • Section I. Zombie Politics and the Culture of Cruelty
  • 1. Zombie Politics and Other Late Modern Monstrosities in the Age of Disposability
  • 2. The Politics of Lying and the Culture of Deceit in Obama’s America: The Rule of Damaged Politics
  • 3. Zombie Language and the Politics of the Living Dead
  • 4. Everyday Violence and the Culture of Cruelty: Entertaining Democracy’s Demise
  • 5. Market-Driven Hysteria and the Politics of Death
  • 6. Torturing Children: Bush’s Legacy and Democracy’s Failure: Salvos from the Culture of Cruelty
  • Section II. Zombie Theater and the Spectacle of Illiteracy
  • 7. The Spectacle of Illiteracy and the Crisis of Democracy
  • 8. Zombie Politics and the Challenge of Right-Wing Teaching Machines: Rethinking the Importance of the Powell Memo
  • 9. Town Hall Politics as Zombie Theater: Rethinking the Importance of the Public Sphere
  • 10. Reclaiming Public Values in the Age of Casino Capitalism
  • Section III. Brutalizing Youth in the Age of Zombie Politics
  • 11. No Bailouts for Youth: Broken Promises and Dashed Hopes
  • 12. Zero Tolerance Policies and the Death of Reason: Schools and the Pedagogy of Punishment
  • 13. Brutalizing Kids: Painful Lessons in the Pedagogy of School Violence
  • 14. Tortured Memories and the Culture of War
  • 15. Youth Beyond the Politics of Hope
  • Section IV. Conclusion
  • 16. In the Dead Zone of Capitalism
  • 17. Disimagination Machines and Punishing Factories in the Age of Zombie Capitalism
  • Index

| ix →


This book would not have been written without the help of many friends who offered invaluable criticisms and support. I would like to especially thank Shirley Steinberg, David Clark, Ira Shor, Sophia McClennen, Christopher Robbins, Ken Saltman, Roger Simon, Stanley Aronowitz, Doug Morris, and Donaldo Macedo. I am grateful, once again, to Maya, Leslie, and Victoria at Truthout for providing me with the support and opportunity to publish many of these pieces. As always, Michael Peters has been a superb colleague and friend and has kindly published some of these pieces in Policy Futures in Education. Danielle Martak, my research assistant and colleague, has been of great assistance in reading and editing many of the articles in this second edition. Maya Sabados read many drafts, offered vital corrections, and as usual was an enormous help to me with every phase of the research. I also want to thank Chris Myers and Toby Miller for supporting this project. My partner Susan Searls Giroux offered valuable suggestions on a number of articles and as usual made them much better. I also want to thank Dean Ken Cruikshank for his invaluable support and encouragement. While Miles, my canine companion, did not read the manuscript, he helped in ways that only he and I can understand.

| xi →


Dystopian Nightmares in the Age of Savage Politics

The surplus of reality amounts to its collapse; by striking the subject dead, reality itself becomes deathly.


What kind of society emerges when it is governed by the market-driven assumption that the only value that matters is exchange value, when the common good is denigrated to the status of a mall, and the larger social order is composed only of individuals free to pursue their own interests? What happens to democracy when a government inflicts on the American public narrow market-driven values, corporate relations of power, and policies that impose gross inequities on society, and condemns young people to a precarious, debt-ridden existence in which the future begins to resemble a society of zombies engaged in a remake of dystopian films such as Mad Max (1979), Brazil (1985), RoboCop (1987), Minority Report (2002), District Nine (2009), Comopolis (2012) and The Purge (2013).

What makes American society distinct in the present historical moment are a culture and social order that have not only lost their moral bearings but produce levels of symbolic and real violence whose visibility and existence set a new standard for cruelty, humiliation, and the mechanizations of a mad war machine, all of which serves the interests of the political and corporate walking ← xi | xii → dead—the new avatars of death and cruelty—that plunder the social order and wreak ecological devastation. We now live in a world overrun with flesh-eating zombies, parasites who have a ravenous appetite for global destruction and civic catastrophe.

Unfortunately, the dark and dire images of America’s zombie-driven disimagination machine made visible endlessly in all the mainstream cultural apparatuses have been exceeded by a society rooted in a savage politics in which extreme forms of violence have become both spectacle and modus operandi of how American society governs and entertains itself. Evidence of the decay of American democracy is not only found in the fact that the government is now controlled by a handful of powerful right-wing and corporate interests, it is also increasingly made manifest in the daily acts of cruelty and violence that shroud that American landscape like a vast and fast-moving dust storm. Unspeakable violence, extending from the murder of young people and children at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, to name a few, to the mass shootings at Fort Hood, the Washington Navy Yard, and Santa Monica College, gives credence to the notion that violence has become the most important element of power and the mediating force in shaping social relationships. Mass violence has become so routine that it no longer evokes visceral responses from the public. For instance, when violence engulfs major cities such as Chicago, the public barely blinks, and as the mass shootings increase they will barely be covered by mainstream media, who have no critical language with which to engage such events except as aberrations with no systemic causes.

The line between the spectacle of violence and the reality of everyday violence has become blurred, making it difficult to respond to and understand the origins of symbolic and institutional violence in the economic, political, and social formations of American society. Violence has become so normalized that it no longer has a history. That is, its political and economic structures have become invisible, and the painful memories it evokes disappear quickly among the barrage of spectacles of violence and advertisements addressing us not as moral beings but as customers seeking new commodities, instant pleasure, and ever-shocking thrills. At the same time, violence in America is fed by a culture of fear shaped, in part, by a preoccupation with surveillance, incarceration, and the personal security industry. Fear not only undermines trust, it also breeds a hatred of the other and undermines any sense of compassion. As a result American society has made “a sinister turn towards intense social control”1 and a “political culture of hyper punitiveness.”2 The tentacles of this high-intensity violence, now normalized, reach into every aspect of society—a spectacle that ← xii | xiii → does not unsettle but thrives on more shocks, more bloodshed, and more suffering. The political, corporate, and intellectual zombies that rule America love death-dealing institutions, which accounts for why they rarely criticize the bloated military budget and the rise of the mass incarceration and punishing state. They embrace the demands of an empire that kills innocent people with automated drones, sanctions torture, and is all too willing to promote war as the only viable tool of diplomacy. Witness the almost hysterical displays of public anger by zombie politicians such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham over Obama’s decision to avoid bombing Syria in favor of a diplomatic solution. Or those political zombies who in the rush to indulge their ravenous appetite for destruction and civic catastrophe embrace the discourse of permanent war, urging the Obama administration to bomb Iran, threaten war with Russia as a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, and once again invade Iraq in light of the ISIS assault being waged in Syria and Iraq.

State violence is now the sanctioned norm of rule in a society in which political fanatics, such as Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and Senator Marco Rubio define policy according to a friend/enemy distinction and in doing so transform politics into an extension of war. Unrelenting archetypes of the hyper-dead, Tea Party fanatics such as Ted Cruz and his gutless allies spectacularize hatred and trade in fear, lies, and misinformation while trying to hold the American public and the government hostage to their fanatical market-driven principles. We are witnessing the militarization of all aspects of American politics and life, and one consequence is a growing authoritarianism with democracy becoming its ultimate victim.

No sphere is immune from this madness filled with apocalyptic visions of destruction, bloodied student protesters, handcuffed children, spectacles of violence, and schools that resemble prisons. No zombie-free spaces in this type of politics. This is a place where the undead rule. For instance, Ohio State University, as a result of a gift from military surplus, has added an armored military vehicle to its campus security forces—all the better to inculcate not only military values in students but also a culture of fear, violence, the inability to think critically and insecurity.3 Local police forces now resemble SWAT teams and make it clear that force is the way to address not just criminal behavior but also social problems.4 The police do not simply saturate television dramas; they have become the most visible persons in public schools.

Needless to say, violence is not just visible in the spectacle of entertainment or in the deep-rooted economic inequalities arrogantly defended by the rich; it is also discernible in the life of the ordinary person and the small change of daily interactions as the punishing state injects the ideology of violence into ← xiii | xiv → legislation designed to cripple and impose pain upon large segments of the population who are regarded as disposable, excess baggage, and unworthy of social supports. For instance, the initial attempt to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program [SNAP] by the wealthy white right-wing Republican extremists in the House of Representatives exemplifies the new face of savage zombie politics. In responding to the cuts, Timothy Egan, an op-ed writer for the New York Times, stresses the cruelty implicit in this legislation and what it says about the extremists driving the Republican Party:

The Republican-dominated House passed a bill that would deprive 3.8 million people of assistance to buy food next year....A Republican majority that refuses to govern on other issues found the votes to shove nearly 4 million people back into poverty, joining 46.5 million at a desperation line that has failed to improve since the dawn of the Great Recession. It’s a heartless bill, aimed to hurt. Republicans don’t see it that way, of course. They think too many of their fellow citizens are cheats and loafers, dining out on lobster.5

What Egan fails to point out is that “an estimated 210,000 children will lose access to free school lunch programs and 55,000 jobs will be lost in the first year of cuts alone.”6 And although the final cuts to the food stamp program amounted to $8 billion (far less than originally called for), thousands of children will still be dropped from the program. Egan also fails to mention that the war being waged on food stamps by the Republicans is symptomatic of a larger war waged against the poor. Being poor in America means that one has no moral stature and is subject to a variety of state intrusions such as drug testing, which assume that the poor are criminals. Being poor has become a crime, especially when coupled with the racially inflected language of “us vs. them” so prominent among right-wing politicians. The ugly poison of bigotry and racism once again is at work in promoting Jim Crow legislation revealing the white supremacist ideology that now defines the extremists leading the Republican Party.7 The new extremists are not simply political loons out of touch with America as some critics describe them. They are the face of the emerging white-supremacist counter-revolution taking over the nation—an updated and kinder version of the fascist brown shirts who are now dressed in suits, carry black brief cases, and live in guarded communities. They are the dark angels of violence and they trade in the mass psychology of fear and hate. They despise compromise and live by a take-no-prisoners political sensibility. They want to eliminate any vestiges of the government that provides social protections. They also want to shut down the government and strip the American public of health care benefits while consolidating power in the hands of a party that, as former President Jimmy Carter pointed out, abandoned the pretense that America was a functioning democracy.8 But they are not alone. ← xiv | xv →

Behind President Obama’s facile smile and Ivy League civility lies a not-so-hidden form of authoritarian politics and an ethical barbarism that allows him to believe he has the right to kill people without any recourse to due process, destroy civil liberties, and implement the policies of Wall Street gangsters. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Aaron Swartz, who are repulsed by the moral and political abuses of government and corporations and have courageously spoken out against such practices, are labelled as traitors by the dominant media and many of the politicians bought off by the lobbyists who have made the Congress and White House their second home.9 The same administration that refused to prosecute government officials who tortured, maimed, imprisoned, and abducted thousands of innocent human beings now condemns those whistleblowers who exposed the massive corruption, illegalities, and violations of privacy and civil rights conducted by the NSA and a number of corporations.

The increasing militarization of American society is matched by its increasing depoliticization and its mounting incapacity to make moral judgments and act with compassion against the most shocking injustices. Politicians from both major political parties now cut important social provisions from food stamp and Medicare programs to aid for public education. These zombie politicians are parasites sucking the life out of low-income youth, students, and the sick and elderly. They inhabit zones of civil and social death, spreading human misery everywhere they go while reducing the taxes for their own elite class of financial and corporate zombies. George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling are right in arguing that conservatives view the public as immoral and can only imagine democracy as “providing the maximal liberty to seek one’s self interest without being responsible for the interest of others….Lack of success implies lack of discipline and character, which means you deserve your poverty.”10 Moral responsibility is now in full flight, condemned to a bygone era when the social contract actually had some meaning. A moral coma has engulfed the United States as individuals can no longer connect private troubles to broader social and systemic issues. The art of translation, which is crucial to any viable democracy, dissolves in the septic tank of celebrity culture and the dead zone of a market society exemplified by the growing infantilization of a citizenry shaped by the rapid proliferation of a culture of idiocy, civic illiteracy, and authoritarianism. The zombies who live off the lives and dreams of others symbolize the “explicit content of the reigning cultural” and political nightmare in the age of ruthless economic Darwinism, but they also symbolize a paranoid and murderous fear of those who have been forced to become the walking dead—the homeless, the unemployed, the youth facing a jobless ← xv | xvi → future, and all those others who constitute what Evan Calder Williams calls “too many survivors.”11


XXIV, 205
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
culture zombies Politics justice youth democracy military psychology ideology governance spectacle casino capitalism zombie
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 206 pp.

Biographical notes

Henry A. Giroux (Author)

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and has a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His primary research areas are in cultural studies, youth studies, critical pedagogy, popular culture, media studies, social theory, and the politics of higher and public education. In 2002, he was named as one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period in Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present. He is on the editorial and advisory boards of many scholarly journals and has published numerous books and articles. His most recent books are America’s Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (2014), and The Violence of Organized Forgetting (2014).


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232 pages