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21 Aug

Chapter on TV Show Zoo

Written by Michael Fuchs
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"I don't need your help. I'm a scientist, for God's sake": The Gene and the (Lack of) Control of Life in Zoo

In a piece written for the blog Horror Homeroom, Dawn Keetley suggests that CBS's adaptation of James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge's novel Zoo squanders its narrative potentials by focusing on a cartoonish corporate villain instead of adequately developing the climate change subtext, which is very much present in the novel (and the comic adaptation). In my proposed contribution to this volume, I will argue that by singling out the capitalist monster of Reiden Global (and its ties to the military-industrial complex), Zoo highlights the impossibility to separate anthropogenic actions speeding up climate change (which anticipates the eco-apocalypse) from capitalist processes. In this way, the show echoes Jason W. Moore, who emphasizes in the introduction to Anthropocene or Capitalocene? (2016) that capitalism "organiz[es] nature." "[C]apitalism's political economy," he continues, "rests upon an audacious accumulation strategy: Cheap Nature."

Accordingly, I will stress that the genetic mutation that first leads to animal attacks and later to the appearance of various hybrid species is at the heart of a green "reading" of the show. In the narrative, Reiden developed a DNA molecule, which, as a character who used to work for the biotech company explains, "is used to manipulate cellular material on a genetic level." Genetic engineering, Nigel Clark has explained, is "the culmination of the modern drive to master the natural world." As he continues, "The attempt to assert control over bio-physical processes at this level courts disaster of a kind which is without precedent in the history of human interventions." However, Reiden cannot control its creation, which could have epitomized humanity's control over nature. Thus, Zoo reflects the growing "awareness that mastery is impossible and that control over actions is now seen as a complete modernist fiction" (as Bruno Latour has put it), as humans have begun to understand that they are entangled in a web of associations with human and nonhuman elements. The out-of-control DNA molecule thus strikes at the heart of human exceptionalism, since technology—which has been key to ensuring human dominance—brings about the downfall of humanity.

To be sure, in his book Green Screen (2000), David Ingram points out that mainstream films tend to exploit their alleged environmentalist concerns (but, of course, this is also true for television shows). Instead of committing to their purported concerns with "nature," entertainment products use their eco-subtext to tell "anthropocentric, human interest stories." Although Zoo does, indeed, tell a primarily human-centered story, I will argue that the show still suggests a more biocentric approach to the world, embodied by its main characters who try to save the world's animal population (which, of course, includes humankind).