The Popular Culture of Extinction and the Racialisation of Survival

New Formations - ISSN 0950-2378
Volume 2022 Number 107 & 108

The Popular Culture of Extinction and the Racialisation of Survival
Ben Pitcher pages 84-100
DOI: 10.3898/NewF:107-8.05.2022


Framed by an understanding of the distant human past, this article considers how species extinction has become a prominent resource in the cultural present. The environmental activism of Extinction Rebellion and the nonfiction bestseller Sapiens provide examples of where the theme of human survival and extinction is currently playing out in contemporary Western culture. This article goes on to give a more detailed reading of TV survival shows as sites of popular cultural meditation on Homo sapiens’s vulnerability as a species. Survival shows explore the terms of our own survival, reflecting on the possibility of starting again and providing scenarios that consider how to live without the technologies and infrastructure on which we have come to rely. 

Placing particular emphasis on the interwoven and mutually defining discourses of race and species identity, I attend to the racialisation of survival. In TV survival shows I suggest that the vulnerability of the human species comes to be animated through a kind of existential blackface: the inhabitation of environments, the simulation of experiences and the mimicry of social and cultural forms imputed to nonspecific Indigenous others. As Western culture imagines the terms of its own survival, racial and Indigenous others serve to model alternative visions of humanity pushed forwards and backwards in time, representing a forgotten but intrinsic premodern and prehistoric core, or the antecedents of a post-apocalyptic future.

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To cite this article
Ben Pitcher (2022) The Popular Culture of Extinction and the Racialisation of Survival, New Formations, 2022(107 & 108 ), 84-100.

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