Pretend We′re Dead

Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture

Pretend We′re Dead

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 18 b&w photos Published: July 2006

Author: Annalee Newitz

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Pretend We’re Dead, Annalee Newitz argues that the slimy zombies and gore-soaked murderers who have stormed through American film and literature over the past century embody the violent contradictions of capitalism. Ravaged by overwork, alienated by corporate conformity, and mutilated by the unfettered lust for profit, fictional monsters act out the problems with an economic system that seems designed to eat people whole.

Newitz looks at representations of serial killers, mad doctors, the undead, cyborgs, and unfortunates mutated by their involvement with the mass media industry. Whether considering the serial killer who turns murder into a kind of labor by mass producing dead bodies, or the hack writers and bloodthirsty actresses trapped inside Hollywood’s profit-mad storytelling machine, she reveals that each creature has its own tale to tell about how a freewheeling market economy turns human beings into monstrosities.

Newitz tracks the monsters spawned by capitalism through b movies, Hollywood blockbusters, pulp fiction, and American literary classics, looking at their manifestations in works such as Norman Mailer’s “true life novel” The Executioner’s Song; the short stories of Isaac Asimov and H. P. Lovecraft; the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson and Marge Piercy; true-crime books about the serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer; and movies including Modern Times (1936), Donovan’s Brain (1953), Night of the Living Dead (1968), RoboCop (1987), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001). Newitz shows that as literature and film tell it, the story of American capitalism since the late nineteenth century is a tale of body-mangling, soul-crushing horror.


Pretend We’re Dead is a convincing, accessible work that will interest everyone from academics and media analysts who like offbeat criticism to horror lovers who like to watch zombies eat brains.” — D. Harlan Wilson,, Science Fiction Studies

Pretend We’re Dead is a great read and is ultimately convincing with its claim that ‘The history of capitalism can be told as a monster story from beginning to end’. It will be an exceptionally useful book for those who teach courses on pop culture, cultural studies, horror, and sf. The language is very accessible and should appeal both to undergraduates and graduate students.” — Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Pretend We’re Dead provides a brilliant map for locating everyday monsters before they can swallow us whole.” — Amanda Davidson, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“[A] sophisticated and rewarding Marxist analysis of the horror movie. . . . Where Newitz differs from any other writer on horror that I’ve read is in her insistence that her distinctively American, anti-capitalist tradition of horror begins not with the Enlightenment and its discontents, which find form in the European Gothic novel of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but rather with the naturalist novel of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is a startling and, at first sight, highly contentious position, but it’s one that Newitz argues rather brilliantly.” — Darryl Jones, Modernism/modernity

“[A] terrific survey of ‘monster’ movies of the last 20 or so years and pop culture well before that, and focusing on cannibals, robots, and serial killers. . . . [F]ascinating stuff. . . . [G]roundbreaking material. . . .” — D. K. Holm, Quick Stop Entertainment

“[A] welcome addition to this recent literature. . . . [I]t is certainly a book to recommend to undergraduates and a useful entrée to materialist critiques of the fantastic.” — Mark Bould, Extrapolation

“[Newitz’s] work skillfully builds upon and reorients, the kind of approach that Wood and Pirie initiated. . . . [I]nsightful readings and involving prose style. . . .” — David Sanjek, Screening the Past

“Annalee Newitz blames capitalism. In Pretend We're Dead, the Wired writer asserts that this system so alienates us from each other and our true selves that we create—and consume, and become—ever-more-shocking pop-culture symbols of our own misery, from the zombies on Night of the Living Dead to Ted Bundy to vampire games.” — Anneli Rufus, Alternet

“Annalee Newitz has succeeded in forging a new and exciting pathway into thinking about monsters in American culture. Though the conclusions it draws are dark and, frankly, quite bleak in terms of our future in a capitalist world, Newitz manages her material in a way that is passionate and engrossing.” — M/C Reviews

“Annalee Newitz’s engagingly written and accessible Pretend We’re Dead takes a very different approach to the feminist psychoanalysis of such benchmark studies as Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine and Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws . . . . Pretend We’re Dead is a thoughtful and well-argued critique of capitalist fantasies.” — Melissa Campbell, Media International Australia

“Given the effectively marginal status of Newitz’s position, a great point in her favor is the straightforwardness of her arguments. She does not complicate them unnecessarily by resorting to obscure language or taking long detours through theoretical debate. A working journalist as well as an academic, she is precise and direct in assimilating complex ideas into her discussion. . . .” — Nick Cronbach, Leonardo Reviews

“Like the work of Slovenian theorist Slavoj Zizek, which it sometimes resembles, Pretend We’re Dead is a book that conveys rich insights about our society through inventive examination of specific films. And it’s fun to read as well, whether you could give a crap about horror movies or not.” — Charlie Bertsch, Tikkun

“Ms. Newitz's discussion spares no contemporary horror icon. From serial killers and mad doctors to the annoying undead, robots, and mass media monsters -- all are fodder for her unwavering gaze. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you will agree or disagree, but one thing you won't be able to do is put the book down easily, or read it just once.” — Iloz Zoc, Zombo's Closet of Horror

“Much of what [Newitz] has to say about robots and fears of automation is well taken both as social commentary and as close reading of particular texts.” — Roz Kaveney, TLS

“Newitz . . . considers the flesh-eating undead as symbols of racial oppression—a credible reading, given the genre’s Afro-Caribbean roots. . . . [F]resh. . . imaginative. . . .” — Tim Cavanaugh, Reason

“Newitz has constructed a text which is very reader-friendly, written in an accessible and pleasant language, which will easily appeal to both genre fans and students. As well, by utilizing Marxist, postcolonial, feminist, and cultural theories to study American horror film and literature, this book will certainly be attractive to scholars across a number of disciplines. Pretend We're Dead provides refreshing insights into American horror film by excavating questions of class and economics from the grave, and challenging the American myth of classlessness and economic equality.” — Natasha Patterson, Scope

“Newitz should be congratulated for managing to make these (let’s face it) silly stories seem important and, at the same time, make highbrow cultural theory seem accessible, without ever overdoing it or falling into formulaic reductionism. It is not every writer who could mention Jean Baudrillard and Wes Craven in the same sentence and not come off sounding pretentious. . . . Newitz helps us look beyond the fake blood and spooky music to ask what really scares us, to examine the ways the culture industry uses our fears to turn a buck, and to consider why we keep coming back for more.” — Kristian Williams, Verbicide

“Newitz skillfully guides the reader through over a hundred years worth of pop culture monsters that reflect the horrors of capitalism in the United States. . . . Newitz’s argument is stimulating but her knowledge of horror films is what really drew me in. . . . Finally a book to link all my nightmares with my politics.” — Jessica Whatcott, Clamor

“Newitz supplies a completely unique analysis, one that should elicit the attention of economists, anthropologists, cinema freaks and serial killers alike. . . . With a book like this, just perusing the bibliography is gratifying in itself. The sheer variety of resources Newitz turned to for this thing is impressive indeed. Who would have imagined seeing The Red Badge of Courage in the same bibliography as Michael Heim's The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace?” — Gary Singh, Silicon Valley Metro

“Newitz’s book is eminently timely and readable.” — Janice M. Bogstad, SFRA Review

“The monsters display a surprising range of economic commentary and Newitz does a find job of finding and distinguishing between the different anxieties that monster stories register.” — David A. Franz, Virginia Quarterly Review

“The point here is zombies, or maybe vampires. And also capitalism. Which may seem like two entirely unrelated topics, but Annalee Newitz may change your mind. . . .” — Thomas Bell, Creative Loafing

"[Newitz's] vast knowledge of cultural criticism, which she incorporates without a hint of ego, makes it work. Shifting seamlessly from a blow-by-blow account of Videodrome to a discussion of Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, Pretend We’re Dead is like an extended conversation with that U. of C. friend who, despite being frighteningly comfortable breathing the rarefied air of high theory, will still go see Snakes on a Plane with you." — Phoebe Connelly, Chicago Reader

Pretend We're Dead sets our monsters free of the dank laboratory of psychosexual studies and sends them rampaging across the landscape of economic reality. A sweeping, liberating, and wonderfully readable book.” — Gerard Jones, author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

“Of all the modern (and postmodern) culture commentators, Annalee Newitz has the perfect blend of a fan’s unabashed enthusiasm and a true critic’s engaged, iconoclastic insights and questions. Casual and smart, bold yet breezy, Pretend We’re Dead won’t just make you take a second look at the landscape of modern horror—it’ll make you look at modern consumerist life (and death) with fresh eyes.” — James Rocchi, editor in chief of and film critic for CBS-5 San Francisco


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Price: $25.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Annalee Newitz is a contributing editor at Wired magazine and a freelance writer in San Francisco. She is the former culture editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship in 2002–03. She is a coeditor of White Trash: Race and Class in America and Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life. She has written for New York magazine, and numerous other publications, including The Believer,, and Popular Science. Newitz has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Capitalist Monsters 1

1. Serial Killers: Murder Can Be Work 13

2. Mad Doctors: Professional Middle-Class Jobs Make You Loose Your Mind 53

3. The Undead: A Haunted Whiteness 89

4. Robots: Love Machines of the World Unite 123

5. Mass Media: Monsters of the Culture Industry 151

Notes 185

Bibliography 199

Filmography 207

Index 211
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3745-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3733-1
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