Zombic Forms: Ebola's Postmortem Virality

Lit Med. 2020;38(1):141-167. doi: 10.1353/lm.2020.0006.


This article examines US-based popular media coverage and public health discourse surrounding the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It demonstrates how the construction of the Ebola virus and its victims as "zombies"-not properly live nor properly dead, spectacularly supernatural yet materially impactful has worked to displace culpability, suppress theories of iatrogenic contagion, and ultimately, justify modes of disease surveillance that seek to cordon off non-Western bodies. In order to do so, Section 1 traces representations of the disease in popular fictional and nonfictional accounts; Section 2 analyzes the visual representation of the disease by photojournalists; and Section 3 examines the oftentimes paradoxical rhetoric that emerged from disease surveillance projects regarding local populations' complicity in their own infection rates.