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Abstract

This dissertation examines the recent archive of popular media documenting the spread of emergent outbreaks. As products of globalization, emergent infectious diseases (EID) arise from the shifting environmental conditions, transportation networks and social practices of an interconnected world. In an effort to represent these complex networked phenomena, popular films, television, and video games have turned to the rhetoric of science and medicine. Coupling medium-specific analysis with historical and anthropological work on science and medicine, I track the way digital medial communicate EID outbreaks. Rather than focusing on scientific or medical content, I analyze the intersection of media forms and scientific paradigms that produce epistemological impressions—the sense of science—that help us see, hear, and feel an emergent outbreak. ,Each chapter interrogates a representational strategy to track the way popular media articulate the scale, presence, containment, and transmission of EIDs. The first chapter draws on scholarship on disease mapping to analyze how recent films and video games use maps to communicate the geographic distribution of an outbreak and produces the overwhelming sense of viral omnipresence. The second chapter analyzes the representational structures that surround microscopic images on screen to demonstrate how these images are used to guide the viewer across the disparate visual and geographic scales of an emergent outbreak. The third chapter turns to histories of sonar and ultrasound to interrogate how recent horror films use sound mixing and audiovisualization techniques to express the spatial confinement of quarantine and unstoppable viral dissemination. The final chapter contextualizes the reflexive style of found footage horror in the “mechanical objectivity” paradigm to demonstrate how the genre encourages viewers to engage with the film as visual evidence that in turn produces a sense of viral omnipresence. By attending to acute scientific structures, all chapter access the representational forms and scientific logic that allow us to sense the world, and indeed, make sense of the world in its contemporary networked condition.

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