Pandemics and the Media

by Marina Levina (Author)
©2015 Textbook XVI, 148 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 12


Offering a comprehensive analysis of mediated representations of global pandemics, this book engages with the construction, management, and classification of difference in the global context of a pandemic, to address what it means – culturally, politically, and economically – to live in an infected, diseased body. Marina Levina argues that mediated representations are essential in translating and making sense of difference as a category of subjectivity and as a mode of organizing and distributing change. Using textual analysis of media texts on pandemics and disease, she illustrates how they represent a larger mediascape that drafts stories of global instabilities and global health. Levina explains how the stories we tell about disease matter; that the media is instrumental in constructing and disseminating these stories; and that mediated narratives of pandemics are rooted in global flows of policies, commerce, and populations. Pandemics are, by definition, global crises.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Series Editor’s Preface: Global Crises and the Media
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Living in the Pandemic Age
  • Chapter 1. Keeping the Blood Flowing: Disease, Community, and Public Imaginaries
  • Blood and Life Itself
  • Pure Blood
  • Blood and Community
  • Blood and Danger
  • Chapter 2. HIV/AIDS and Mchiatch Narratives of Morality and Citizenship
  • Theories of Moral Panic
  • Moral Panic and Discursive Formation
  • HIV/AIDS, Moral Panic, and Discourse of Sexuality
  • AIDS and “Innocent” Victims
  • AIDS and Citizenship
  • AIDS and Africa
  • Chapter 3. Vampires and HIV/AIDS in the Popular Imagination
  • Monsters and Disease
  • Vampires, Disease, and HIV/AIDS
  • Interview with the Vampire (1994)
  • Blade (1998)
  • John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)
  • Chapter 4. Globalization, Pandemics, and the Problem of Security
  • Contagion and the Biosecurity of the Population
  • Risk Society
  • Avian Flu
  • SARS
  • Chapter 5. Zombie Pandemic and Governance of Life Itself
  • World War Z (2013)
  • 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • Chapter 6. Pandemics and Digital Mchia Technologies
  • Biological Citizenship and Disease Tracking
  • References
  • Index


Global Crises and the Media

We live in a global age. We inhabit a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent, and communicated in the formations and flows of the media. This same world also spawns proliferating, often interpenetrating, “global crises.”

From climate change to the war on terror, financial meltdowns to forced migrations,energy shortages to world poverty, and humanitarian disasters to the denial of human rights, these and other crises represent the dark side of our globalized planet. Their origins and outcomes are not confined behind national borders and they are not best conceived through national prisms of understanding. The impacts of global crises often register across “sovereign” national territories, surrounding regions and beyond, andthey can also become subject to systems of governance and forms of civil society response that are no less encompassing or transnational in scope. In today’s interdependent world, global crises cannot be regarded as exceptional or aberrant events only, erupting without rhyme or reason or dislocated from the contemporary world (dis)order. They are endemic to the contemporary global world, deeply enmeshed within it. And so too are they highly dependent on the world’s media and communication networks.

The series Global Crises and the Media sets out to examine not only the media’s role in the communication of global threats and crises but also ← ix | x → how they can variously enter into their constitution, enacting them on the public stage and helping to shape their future trajectory around the world. More specifically, the volumes in this series seek to: (1) contextualize the study of global crisis reporting and representations in relation to wider debates about the changing flows and formations of world media communication; (2) address how global crises become variously communicated and contested in both so-called “old” and “new” media around the world; (3) consider the possible impacts of global crisis reporting on public awareness, political action, and policy responses; (4) showcase the very latest research findings and discussion from leading authorities in their respective fields of inquiry; and (5) contribute to the development of positions of theory and debate that deliberately move beyond national parochialisms and/or geographically disaggregated research agendas. In these ways the specially commissioned books in the Global Crises and the Media series aim to provide a sophisticated and empirically engaged understanding of the media’s changing roles in global crises and thereby contribute to academic and public debate about some of the most significant global threats, conflicts, and contentions in the world today.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies emerging and re-emerging epidemic diseases as an on-going threat to global health security. This is not new. It is well known that the Spanish flu in the immediate aftermath of World War I killed over 50 million people, more than those who died on the field of battle. Today we better understand how a new influenza develops from the first few infections to a pandemic. It often begins with a (zoonotic) virus infecting animals before species-leaping and infecting people. It then begins to spread directly throughout the human population and becomes a global pandemic when infections have spread worldwide. In a fast-moving, interconnected and globalized world, the spread of influenza and other mutating, potentially deadly, diseases have become all the more difficult to contain and control. More people now live in urban settings and cities than at any other time in history(over 50%; by 2050 this is expected to grow to 70%). In crowded and squalid urban conditions diseases can easily incubate and spread rapidly. More people are also on the move than at any previous time—for security, for work, or for leisure—within and across national borders and continents. Increasingly many have become internally displaced through war, conflicts, and the environmental impacts of climate change, forcing them to inhabit places that render them vulnerable to increased dangers and risks including outbreaks of disease and epidemics. And the speed and volume of contemporary transport systems, principally aviation, facilitate ← x | xi → the movement of vast numbers of people around the planet and in hours not days. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that in 2013 over 8 million people on average flew every day and over 3 billion across the year. These ever-increasing flights can deposit passengers in the world’s major cities before their unsuspecting hosts may even be aware of symptoms of contagious disease. The threats posed by new global pandemics today are all too real.

In 1997 a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (HPA1) H5N1 was identified. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) followed this in 2003. In 2004 HPAI spread from Southeast Asia, reaching Africa and Europe in 2005. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the global death toll from the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic was more than 284,000. As documented by WHO, 35 million people around the world were living with HIV (human immune deficiency virus) in 2013 and in the same year 1.5 million died of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency). As I write this (August 2014) the deadliest recorded epidemic of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is unfolding in West Africa.

It began in Guinea, spreading to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria and causing health panics in many major cities (especially those with airports) around the world. In August 2014 WHO recorded a total of 2,615 suspected cases and 1,427 deaths from this terrifying Ebola disease. The Western media, for their part, have reported in depth on the few cases of American and British health workers who contracted the disease and who were flown home on special flights and for emergency treatment in strictly controlled isolation units. Less has been heard about Liberia’s West Point in Monrovia and Dolo Town in Margibi, where local populations have been quarantined and placed under full security watch, effectively restricting their movement and confining them inside the outbreak areas.

WHO, the United Nations’ supreme world health authority, also formally declared the latest outbreak of EVD as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’ (PHEIC). This legal designation has only been used twice before (for the 2009 H1N1 ‘swine flu’ pandemic and the 2014 resurgence of polio). The WHO declaration invokes legal measures on disease prevention, surveillance, control, and response, and 194 of the world’s nation states are signatories to these measures. How diseases and pandemics become designated, officially responded to, and popularly conceived and understood clearly position them not only as public health concerns but also as potent vehicles for meaning, the conduct of social relations and the discharge of power ← xi | xii → in and across diverse communities and nations. Myths and meanings in the context of pandemics, it seems, as elsewhere, can prove highly consequential in their symbolic, material, and bodily effects.

It is in this context that Pandemics and the Media by Marina Levina provides a timely and entirely welcome addition to the Global Crises and the Media series. As the author states in her introduction, “This book addresses what it means—culturally, politically, and economically—to live in an infected, diseased body, be it a national, a global, or an individual one.” Her book offers an original and insightful disquisition on the diverse ways in which contemporary pandemics become culturally constructed and infused with myths and meanings, discourses and narratives, in and through media representations and popular culture and how these enter into hierarchical social relations and processes of ‘Othering’. Explorations of the cultural meanings attached to blood, narratives of morality and citizenship in the context of HIV/AIDS, discourses of security in relation to global pandemics, and the cultural metaphors encoded within popular representations of vampires, as well as how new digital media serve to track and visualize pandemics transcending the boundaries of nation-states all feature within this eloquent book. To repeat, how cultural constructs of disease and pandemics enter into the popular imaginary and help to build public responses is not of symbolic consequence only; they become materially encoded and bio-politically embodied in the lives of us all and the life-chances and deaths of too many. I recommend this book to you.

Simon Cottle, Series Editor


XVI, 148
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2012 (October)
disease global health media global crises
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 144 pp.

Biographical notes

Marina Levina (Author)

Marina Levina (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Memphis. She is co-editor of Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader (2013) and Post-Global Network and Everyday Life (2012).


Title: Pandemics and the Media