When Commodities Attack: Reading Narratives of the Great Recession and Late Capitalism in Contemporary Horror Films

Sean Brayton


This paper examines recent horror films in the US in relationship to the economic collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession. Using Rubber (2010) and Iron Invader (2011), it explores how the “killer commodity” resonates with working-class anxieties of dispossession and disposability, especially in the auto industries of the places where the films are set and produced: the US and France. The films tap into a rich tradition of presenting capitalist relations through occultist narratives, relying on “monsters” and mayhem to dramatize some of the conditions and confusion surrounding recent economic crises. The “absurd” use of animated objects—a psychotic pneumatic tire in Rubber and a Golem made of discarded automobile parts in Iron Invader—invites a wider discussion of capitalism and social theory, including Marx’s exposition of “dead labor” and commodity fetishism. On the one hand, the object can only come to life and terrorize the American town if the social history of its production is missing from the plot of each film. On the other hand, the discarded but “demonic” commodity is a frightening projection of objectified labor, one that doubles as an increasingly expendable but volatile worker found in the recent redundancies and protests at tire and automotive factories in the US and France.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11114/smc.v1i2.234


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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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