Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy



Our events bring thought-provoking conversations about democracy to the Penn State community and beyond. All events are free and open to anyone. Professional recordings by C-NET will be posted to our YouTube channel following each event.

Postracial Fantasies and Zombies: On the Racist Apocalyptic Politics Devouring the World

2024 Center for Democratic Deliberation Kenneth Burke Lecture: Eric King Watts

Wednesday, April 17 4:00 p.m. EDT
Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library or on Zoom

Postracial Fantasies and Zombies examines the ghostly and horrifying figure of the zombie across several historical contexts to examine how it functions as a mode of regenerating a fantasy involving its surveillance, containment, and destruction. Watts asserts that the zombie is a biotrope that gets repetitively deployed and enjoyed as a blackened biothreat body provoking rituals of securitization and weaponization. Beginning in the wake of the Haitian Revolution and 19th century pseudo-science, the book charts a course through the zombie’s appearance in early 20th century films through the post-civil rights and Vietnam eras to show how the zombie becomes a fixture in our 21st century postracial moment. Watts contends that each iteration of the genre produces the zombie as a hate object as a part of a fantasy involving the reclamation of white masculine sovereignty.

Eric King Watts is an associate professor of rhetorical studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research explores the manner in which public voice is invented, performed, consumed, and suppressed. In particular, Watts examines the diverse phenomena of African American public voice and its relation to the representation of the black body, the meanings of blackness, the shape of civic culture and community; voice and voicelessness are understood as being impacted by the rhetorical agency of the subject, the terms of one’s publicity, and the power relations that make up one’s various identities.