Thursday, December 3, 2009


Jordan Carter

“The healthy human being turned pathogen” is branded. Indeed, this transition—the heart of Wald’s discourse in Contagious—leaves a mark. While the ‘contagion’ may be global, the response is national, and on the micro-scale, individual carriers wear the scarlet letter of the stigmatized pathogen. Indeed, the disease and its spawn are not popular; they catalyze a response grounded in negativity and difference, identity formation and destruction. They healthy, or non-diseased, fear and isolate themselves from the ‘primitive’ source: signs that connote decay, poverty, and ailment are avoided like walking taboo. The diseased become the ‘Other’ irrespective of national borders.

But in this cosmopolitan postmodern playground of appropriation and pastiche described by Fredric Jameson, is the concept of ‘disease’ purely stigma, or has the subject’s surface-oriented behavior commercialized the rapport between the healthy and the infected? Is there now room for some sort of commoditization of disease? An integration of the contagious into pop culture? Are people just as excited by the prospect of disease as they are horrified? Lady Gaga’s latest music video, “Bad Romance,” suggests there is no separating the ‘sexy’ from the ‘stigmatized’—everything is surface and everything is consumable. In the ‘material’ world, the ugly is the beautiful, and the disease carries the potential to be the cure. As Gaga’s first verse announces: “I want your ugly, I want your diseased, I want your everything, as long as it’s free.” Regardless of whether you’re disease ridden or the spitting image of healthy, the universal commonality of consumption remains. The stigmatized may be deemed ‘unnatural,’ but as Jameson notes, “Nature has been eclipsed” by the image and the commodity. Consumption is culture, and culture is the new nature.

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