Fear and the coming plague : what American media tell us about infectious disease
Margaret V. du Bray
May 9, 2012
Department or Program
This thesis addresses media representations of contagious diseases. Focusing on the Ebola outbreak of 1995 and the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003, I examine the metaphorical language used to describe the diseases, and interrogate how the media contribute to Lakoff and Johnson’s metaphorical cognitive framework. I explore how ideas about contagious diseases reify Mary Douglas’ understandings of contagion and liminality, and ultimately, demonstrate that the media engender a fear of contagious diseases beyond their medical realities. By associating Ebola and SARS with elements such as war and nature, the media extend the power of the disease and make it imminently threatening. Thus, the media’s use of metaphors manipulates and alters pre-existing ideas about disease to create a new cognitive framework within which we understand infectious diseases.