The Iconography of “New” Infectious Threats, 1936–2009
Chapter 8 examines the iconography of infectious threats from the mid-1930s to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. Outbreaks of novel infectious diseases, Nicholas King argues, are highly visceral, despite the fact that many of their constitutive elements are imperceptible: pathogens are invisible to the naked eye, vectors are vanishingly small or incomprehensibly diffuse, and many symptoms are invisible to all but trained specialists. The chapter considers the processes and technologies by which these invisible elements are rendered visible, emphasizing the ways in which the visual field has been privileged in the panic narrative. Through analyses of films, photography, and news media, King identifies a repertoire of images and associations—what he calls an “iconography” of new infectious threats—that has been reworked to represent disease outbreaks over the past 80 years, with consequences for the evolving nature of “panic” itself. King shows how a discourse of “newness,” shaped in part by the visual language of consumer culture, connects “novel” pathogenic threats to a “new” global interconnectedness, obscuring continuities. In so doing, King intimates connections between the ubiquity of fear-inducing images in the media, the consumption of fear-mitigating products, and the novelty of emerging diseases.
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