Elements of Authoritarian Populism in Diseased Others Science Fiction
Morelock, Jeremiah. “Elements of Authoritarian Populism in Diseased Others Science Fiction”. PhD, Boston College, 2019. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:108572.
This work addresses the globally urgent need to understand the social origins of the recent surge in authoritarian and populist social movements across Europe and the Americas. It analyzes how themes of tribalism, confidence in medical science, and confidence in military violence changed over the years in the retelling of stories in popular culture. The focus is I Am Legend and Day of the Dead – two series of American film remakes of popular science fiction stories that feature pandemic disease and the threat of what are here referred to as “Diseased Others” – the transformed, humanoid Others who have caught the disease. The qualitatively-driven approach exhibits an original methodological contribution to the discipline of sociology, offering several innovations via the coding schemes used and an adaptation of grounded theory for multiple sample sets of films. The data consulted include transcriptions of dialogue from films, reviews in popular news sources, interviews with cast and crew, box office data, and data from the General Social Survey. Within these examples of “Diseased Others” science fiction, themes of tribal morality and confidence in medical science and the military have followed a discernible trajectory. This trajectory is of narrowing moral scope toward loyalty to one’s own in opposition to outside groups, and embracing military violence as a positive solution to threats to the “normal” population. In general, medical science is also increasingly positioned as dangerous and blameworthy (even if also capable of positive intervention). This trajectory thus displays a heightening of what are identified for the present study as three “elements of authoritarian populism”: tribalism, distrust of rational institutions, and willingness to resort to violence.