Disease is a social issue and not just a medical one. This is the central tenet underlying The Kiss of Death: Contagion, Contamination, and Folklore
(Utah State University Press 2019) by Andrea Kitta
, Associate Professor in the English department at East Carolina University, examines the discourses and metaphors of contagion and contamination in vernacular beliefs and practices across a number of media and forms. Using ethnographic, media, and narrative analysis, chapters discuss the changing representations of vampires and zombies in popular culture, the online discussions of Slenderman in relation to adolescent experiences of bullying, the misogyny embedded in legends about kisses that kill, and the racialized nature of patient-zero narratives that surrounding the spread of things like ebola, and the ways in which the HPV vaccine to homophobia. Issues like tellability and the stigmatized vernacular loom large throughout. Although folklorists will already recognize the social importance of vernacular narrative and belief, The Kiss of Death
also shows how medical professionals have often failed to take vernacular forms into account. Through attention to narrative and vernacular belief, folklorists can model new forms of engaging with public health professionals and local communities.
Timothy Thurston is Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds. His research examines language at the nexus of tradition and modernity in China’s Tibet.