Fall 2020 – Pandemic Discourses in Film and Media

Theoretical Frames

Roberto Esposito: Immunitas: The protection and negation of life (Introduction)

In his introductory chapter of his book entitled Immunitas: The Protection and negation of life, Esposito sketches the dialectical examination of his two basic terms: immunitas and communitas. While communitas relates the individual to the community by debt and obligation, making him or her part of the community, immunitas presumes autonomy, freedom from the communal obligations. Esposito makes clear how these two seemingly contrasting logics are inscribed into each other, regulating each other. However, the immunity paradigm of modernity to immunize the individual from what is common ends up in protecting life by negating it and risking to eliminate the communal.

Timár Andrea: Immunity politics and Covid: Derrida, Esposito, Henry James

The essay takes a critical look at two political immunity theories, and examines the possible understandings of the relationship between the political and the biological body in the context of the 21st century coronavirus pandemic. The first part of the essay offers a brief overview of Derrida’s texts on terror and autoimmunity, while the second presents Roberto Esposito’s immunity theory, the paradigm of immunitas/communitas, that has been applied in March 2020 by Esposito on the Covid-19 pandemic. This context, finally, is used as a backdrop for analyzing Henry James’s novella Daisy Miller, where the eponymous protagonist falls victim to the “Roman fever”, malaria (mal-aria – “bad air”). A substantial part of the essay was written after three months of lockdown, towards the end of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kiss Kata Dóra: Isolation or Kinship? The analysis of the coronavirus from an ecophilosophical approach

Our present coronavirus crisis caused “the state of exception” in two respects. On the one hand, as Giorgio Agamben points out, social restrictions introduced in the name of protection created the state of exception in the Schmidtian sense, as in a case of wars. At the same time, this state of exception is not only about the pandemic but about an inherent element of the present regime of biopower that lays the foundations of the capitalist mode of production. The fact that the virus could appear globally and could become a part of our everyday lives is related essentially to these agents above. As the economy uses more and more areas for production, it pushes the natural habitat of animals closer to the regions of the human population, resulting in forced and unexpected amalgamations among the two spheres. However, the coronavirus could be considered as a state of exception in another sense as well. The uncertainty it creates forces us, both at the individual and at the societal level, to reflect on what had been “normal” so far. Therefore, we could regard the virus as an opportunity that makes us think about what we have to do, not only against the pandemic itself, but also against the ecological crisis that underpins the virus. The study attempts to describe the underlying social and economic factors of the virus, while it emphasizes that if we could regard it as an event, we have the potential to initiate societal change.

Nemes Z. Márió: Becoming Virus – Media anthropology of the quarantine subject in the context of biopolitics and psychopolitics

In this text, along the concepts of virality, immunology, biopolitics and psychopolitics, I try to analyse the quarantine subject from media anthropological perspective. The digital quarantine experience of the current pandemic shows that an interpretation based on psychoplitics or biopolitics alone is not sufficient to analyse the situation, as the quarantine subject encounters the suppressed “truth” of the psyche that in fact he is (also) a body, although this awakening to a traumatic experience happens quite differently than before the digital revolution. And that’s exactly the point, because contemporary smart power plays a hybrid game in the sense of re-coding biopolitics through psychopolitics, while optimizing psychopolitics through biopolitical tools. In my analysis, I try to reconstruct the structure of these feedback loop systems.


Glózer Rita: Memes: media rituals of the pandemic

Certain accompanying phenomena of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 virus are related memes spreading viral on social networking sites. Although memes have been considered as a popular media genre for entertainment, they seem to have a crucial role in public discourses on the pandemic. Focusing on the symbolic function of media, the neo-Durkheimian theory based on the concept of rituals provide an appropriate framework to investigate why people tend to make jokes out of or to have fun at serious problems amid the global threat of the pandemic. Based on the analysis of memes spread on Hungarian social media sites during the first wave of the pandemic, this study points out their ritual and therapeutic function.

Orosdy Dániel: Virus films: a (re)shaping category

The point of the essay is to answer the question whether the category “virus film” exists, and if it does, what is meant by it. Following the clarification of the present and previous definitions of the notion, I offer an overview of the other possible meanings of the label, and propose an argument explaining why it is specifically this term (“virus film”) among others that has been widespread. A short film historical survey follows, and a summary of the possible criteria for research as well as the range of motifs characteristic of the genre is presented. Virus film, from a generic point of view, is discussed in the context of its close (zombie film) and distant (alien invasion sci-fi film) “relatives”. A narrow definition of the term is offered relying on the crucial common criteria found in the examples of the genre.

Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz: Infection, Media, and Capitalism: From Early Modern Plagues to Postmodern Zombies

This essay examines the shift in fictional representations of plague and viral infection in relation to technological, medial, and economic developments. Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist and Daniel Defoe’s novel A Journal of the Plague Year revolve around historical visitations of plague in London. This study takes London as its constant variable; the city governs our choice of texts. They negotiate anxieties of the early modern era as mercantilism gives way to the process of accumulation tied to the developing free market as theorized by classical political economy. Two recent motion pictures, set during fictional London outbreaks, display a similar preoccupation with transforming economic spaces. In these texts, however, the relatively young figure of the viral zombie stands in place of and performs a function similar to the more venerable plague. Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later both serve as vehicles for expression of the ever-accelerating viral nature of global capitalism. By adopting a transhistorical approach, we demonstrate the relationship between media and plague that emerges, as the fact of infection generates not only a surrounding rhetoric of plague but also a veritable plague of rhetorics. In keeping with recent plague scholarship, this approach emphasizes the close kinship between plague and textuality by treating plague as a text to be read on the individual and political body and the structure of plague writing itself as a mirror of its subject, proliferating with a serial contagiousness.

Hódosy Annamária: Are we the virus? Contagion as an ecopolitical metaphor in pandemic films, monster films and cultural imagination

In March 2020, after the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, a series of memes appeared on the internet announcing that “Nature is recovering. We are the disease. Coronavirus is the vaccine.” The study shows that this ecological slogan is more than 25 years old, and the idea itself is even older, influencing the message of several virus films, where the association between the virus and mankind is taking various forms in accordance with the changing concepts regarding the origin of the ecological problems of the Earth and the perceived solutions to them. While in virus films the microscopic pathogens are often seen as the representatives of the immune system of the Earth defending the ecological organism of the planet from the virus-like human invaders, in monster films virality becomes an integral aspect of the representation of the monster, which at first sight helps to legitimize an aggressive war against Nature that creates these viral monsters. At second sight, however, monster film may simulate possible solutions to the problems associated both with the ecological and viral crises without being didactic. Recent zombie movies in particular may be seen as “vaccinating” the viewer against the individualism and competitive behaviour often claimed as roots of both the climate catastrophe and the increasingly frequent virus outbreaks.