Schmid seeks to determine which monster best represents our current neoliberal era. He notes that most critics point to the zombie as the neoliberal monster, and Schmid certainly accepts that the zombie does effectively embody the brutality and hunger of late capitalism. However, because of the zombie’s visibility and instant recognizability, Schmid notes that they fall short of creating a truly complex argument or representation of neoliberalism. Instead, he argues that the psycho or serial killer, because they hide in plain site, are more appropriate and adept to embody the anxieties, symptoms, and brutality of the neoliberal era.

Notes & Quotes

  • First of all, I love his argument for the psycho killer being considered the ideal neoliberal monster as opposed to the zombie, however, I wish he spoke more about this claim. He doesn’t really mention this until the end of the article. Of course, he also notes that this article is meant to be a call to action for other critics to view the psycho killer in this light.
  • He notes that “we should insist that neoliberalism is “monstrous” in the traditional sense, and that doing so is important both descriptively… and strategically… (94). I think this is a good move to take in order to adequately describe neoliberalism, especially since both monsters and neoliberalism resist classification.
  • He brings up Joel Bakan’s argument that corporations are psychopathic as opposed to monstrous because all “the harm that corporations do to others is regarded neutrally as the inevitable consequence of economic activity- people hurt are regarded as nothing more than ‘externalities'” (103). While this may be true, I think a lot of monsters operate in the same way- in fact, most monsters probably don’t view humans as anything too important, so when they kill it’s typically not out of animosity or evil desire, but for either their own survival (Alien), to spread their own kind (Cloverfield) or by accident (Frankenstein). Schmid ultimately brings the two together (the monster and the psychopath) in order to describe neoliberalism, which I think is correct.
  • Finally, Schmid argues that we describe monsters as a process as opposed to a singular figure, especially when examining the present neoliberal moment:

…if we want to maximize the potential of a monstrous critique of neoliberalism, it might ultimately be more helpful to think of the monstrous as a process rather than a figure of any kind…In other words, although monstrosity undoubtedly resides in a bewildering array of figures all of whom are symptomatic, in one way or another, of their respective political and cultural contexts, if we are to keep up with the flexibility and pace of neoliberal exploration, we need to conceive of monstrosity not only as a symptom but also as a highly mobile, endlessly mutating, and extremely specific set of discourses, technologies, and ideologies, able to both adjust to local circumstances with great rapidity and abject (that is, render monstrous) anyone and anything that forms a barrier to capital accumulation. To counter this threat, our conception of the monstrous must be just as mobile and flexible. (104-5)

His urge to view monstrosity as “endlessly mutating” is particularly poignant because of the rise of mutating monsters in current horror cinema (i.e.: Pennywise in the IT films, the monster in It Follows, The Thing, The Fly, the Unfriended films, etc.). When I originally explored this pattern in a blog post, I focused on posthumanism (in particular, Hayles and her concept of the posthuman) and gender. According to Hayleshumanism views castration as the greatest threat, while the threat for posthumanism is mutation. Schmid makes me realize that the prevalence of mutating monsters may not only account for our current posthuman era, but might also be symptomatic of our neoliberal era.

One of the forms of the monster in It Follows

Because of this, I’d add the mutating monster to Schmid’s psycho killer as the neoliberal monster.

David Schmid, “The Limits of Zombies: Monsters for a Neoliberal Age” (2016) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.