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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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Chapter 4. Globalization, Pandemics, and the Problem of Security

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Extract

The film Contagion (King, Polaire, Skoll & Soderbergh, 2011) opens with a cough and ends with a handshake. In between, it is a story of the world struggling to keep itself infection-free in the age of globalization, and a story of security and governance in the time of pandemic. In this chapter, I explore media representations of pandemic as a social and cultural site where the problems of governance, security, and risk are presented and resolved. Starting with Contagion and proceeding into fictional and nonfictional accounts of avian flu and SARS, I argue that, as a global crisis, pandemics demonstrate the anticipatory nature of risk and the immediate biopolitical problem of governance. Media narratives, therefore, attempt to reconcile the present danger with the future risk. They make the present future-perfect.

When Contagion was released in 2011, it was a subject of reviews, not only in the usual entertainment and film magazines, but also in numerous scientific and public health journals. Since the filmmakers laid claim to a relative veracity, these reviews wanted to know if the portrayals were accurate and if the science was good. Overall, the reviewers were satisfied with both. Shah (2011) ← 79 | 80 → of Lancet proclaims “Public health education has never had it so good.…Contagion is deliciously authentic.” Mueller (2011) of Science writes, “Contagion is familiar terrain for Hollywood, but the interesting twist here is that this time Hollywood decided to let scientists in on the script. The result is a gripping yet refreshingly...

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