Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

Amy Rust, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Scott Ferguson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Todd Jurgess, Ph.D.


Failure, Indexicality, Mastery, Mediation, Procedure, Virtual


Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) offers a critique of the mass media’s efforts to restore American valiance with heroic narratives of ordinary people in the aftermath of 9/11. Amending prior scholarly readings of Zodiac as a serial killer narrative, I reconfigure my analysis by taking Fincher at his word and treating it as a journalism film. Borrowing a term from political theorist Elisabeth Anker, I argue that, unlike other contemporary journalism films, Zodiac is constructed as a “melodrama of failure” that, rather than seeking mastery, unveils the instability of evidence and the obsessive uncertainty of procedure.

With his film sitting between both the failures of journalism surrounding 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, Fincher harkens back to the 1970s to unmask the malignancy of failures past. Manifesting low-level anxiety and doubt within the public, I contend that Fincher presents media as at once looming and intrusive, present and absent, and detached yet affective, privileging fragmentation over unity to put us in touch with temporal potentialities, to what Homay King attributes to the virtual. Fincher’s return to an era of malaise and an apparent obsession with indexicality underscores our unstable epistemological and phenomenological relationships to old and new media.