In recent years the body has become one of the most prominent subjects of paranoid fantasies. From horror movies in which bodies are spectacularly mutilated by unseen forces, to tales of abductions by small gray alienspossibly in collusion with the government-who perform disconcerting medical experiments; and from the sight of police officers wearing latex gloves at an AIDS rally, to reports of corrosive sperm by the wives of
men claiming to suffer from Gulf War Syndrome: American culture teems with the traces of body panic. Fear of invasion by body snatchers of one kind or another has reared its head throughout American history, most prominently in the 1950s.1 Indeed, with the reemergence of a paranoid rhetoric of contamination and infiltration, it can begin to seem that the 1980s and 1990s staged a rerun of the 1950s. In a literal sense the 1950s were remade in films such as John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and David Cronenberg's The Fty (1986), a process of mutation and proliferation of earlier horror/sci-fi imagery which reaches an epidemic level in The XFiles. 2 The last decades of the century also brought with them a return to a depressingly familiar political culture of demonology. Just when you thought it was safe, the monstrous rhetoric of quarantine, exclusion and scapegoating of the undesirable is back: economic segregation, white flight, gated communities, restricted immigration, disproportionate blaming of minorities for social ills of which they are more usually the victims, fears about domestic terrorists and evil dictators used to justify a repressive, racist backlash, and, most ominously, a return to the public visibility of homophobia which marked the red-baiting era, captured no more insidiously than in William F. Buckley's suggestion that the HIV positive should be tattooed on the buttocks. 3
Bodies of Evidence Although it can seem that in many ways the 1980s and 1990s replicated the worst excess of the 1950s, there are also crucial differences. In the 1950s, the language of bodily invasion provided a ready source of metaphors about the imagined threat to the American body politic. Hysterical fears about bugs, germs, microbes, monsters, aliens and all manner of scapegoated Others dominated the political and popular culture of the McCarthy years. For example, in his famous "containment" doctrine, George Kennan pronounced that "world communism is like a malignant parasite, which feeds only on diseased tissue," while J. Howard McGrath, the Attorney General, warned that the Communist is "everywhere--in factories, offices, butcher shops, on street corners, in private businesses--each carries with him the germs of death." Popular health scares blurred into hysterical concerns about un-American influences ("Is fluoridation a Communist plot? Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?,,).4 The language of immunology lent itself readily to suspicion that the danger lay as much in the compromised "health and vigor of our own society" (as Kennan put it) as in the contaminating influence of the "alien" ideology of Communism. If in the 1950s germophobia functioned principally as a figure for anxieties about attacks on the body politic and the failure of the national immune system, then more recent dramas of immunological paranoia speak only of fears about the body itself. In Stanley Kubrick's
satire on 1950s paranoia, Dr Strange/ove (1964), the mad General Jack D. Ripper fulminates against Communist contamination of his "precious bodily fluids" by the fluoridation of the water supply. Whereas, in Kubrick's film, the rhetoric of polluted bodily fluids was little more than a parodic symbol of a previous generation's paranoid fears, be they Communism or conformity, in the 1980s and 1990s anxiety about precious bodily fluids became quite literal. 5
The gap between the figurative uses of body panic in the 1950s and its current more literal embodiment can be measured by three examples: drug panics, alien abductions, and mind control. As cybertheorists Arthur and Marilouise Kroker aptly observe, the last decade or two have witnessed the rise of what might be termed "body McCarthyism," a return to the hysterical discourse of covert invasions and loyalty oaths associated with the House Un-American Committee's persecution of alleged radicals and homosexuals who supposedly offered a threat to the integrity of the United States. 6 This time around, however, the fears and investigations are fixated on the body itself. In many ways the War on Drugs in the last two decades functions in much the same way as the McCarthyite campaign against "The Enemy Within.,,7 The loyalty oaths of the 1950s demanded a public demonstration of compliance and purity that now takes place at the corporeal level: the Reagan administration's Executive Order 12564 of 1986 made drug testing mandatory in federal agencies for employees in "sensitive positions," those for whom a "reasonable suspicion" of drug consumption exists, and any applicant for employment in those agencies. The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 extended this policy to cover anyone awarded a federal contract and grant in the private sector, and many companies have voluntarily initiated their own drug testing. As David Campbell points out, "drug tests [are] more widespread in the early 1990s than security tests were in the early 19 50s." 8 Purity of bodily essence now becomes not a parodic metaphor but a literal matter of patriotic duty. As Cory Servaas of Reagan's Presidential AIDS Commission commented, "It is patriotic to have the AIDS test and be negative.,,9 Body politics has replaced the body politic as the occasion for conspiracyinfused fears.