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Pandemics and the Media

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Marina Levina

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.
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Introduction: Living in the Pandemic Age

← xvi | 1 → ·INTRODUCTION·

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The H1N1 pandemic, also known as the swine flu, started in Mexico in the spring of 2009 and quickly spread to the United States and Canada. While the pandemic was not quite as deadly as some had feared, it did usher in something that Science magazine has called the “flu-naming wars” (Enserink, 2009). The fraught negotiations in the scientific, political, cultural, and economic arenas over the proper name for this particular pandemic answered the age-old question, “What’s in the name?” Quite a lot, it turns out. The World Health Organization banned the word “swine” from the description of the influenza, renaming it influenza A(H1N1), or as it was shorthanded, H1N1. A spokesman for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States commented on the name change as a response to sensitive and cultural issues in other parts of the world, as well as issues around the name’s impact on commerce in the United States (Grady, 2009). Fiona Fleck, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said that while the virus was originally called swine flu “because the largest component of this new virus was actually swine flu virus.…It doesn’t affect pigs, as far as we know. It hasn’t been found in pigs. Pigs haven’t transmitted it, as far as we know” (Grady, 2009).

In the United States, the name triggered the ire of the pork industry, who feared that it would adversely affect farms and industrial pork production. ← 1 | 2 → Farm groups mounted a...

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