The Jason Bateman Algorithm: Horror in the Age of Behavioral Surplus

Close-up of a disfigured man in a hoodie from 80s horror film The Outsiders. Trayvon Martin in a hoodie

Curator's Note

In the age of behavioral surplus, data mining as a subset of surveillance capitalism has become the standard for programming and media distribution. According to Shoshana Zuboff, the rise of computer-mediated transactions has deeply impacted the modern economy in terms of data extraction and analysis, new contractual forms due to better monitoring, personalization and customization, and (the especially ominous proclamation) continuous experiments. How does this apply to 1980s horror?    

In the case of Jason Bateman, genre theory and industrial perspectives and influence assume the form of an 80s icon and newly rebranded dark prince of prestige television. Beginning with Silver Spoons (NBC, 1982–1986), Knight Rider (NBC, 1982–1986), and The Hogan Family (NBC, 1986–1990), Bateman’s wholesome brand of American teen masculinity is followed by a run of successful video on demand programs, including Arrested Development (Fox, 2003–2006; Netflix, 2013–present), Ozark (Netflix, 2017–present), and The Outsider (HBO, 2020). In the case of Ozark and The Outsider in particular, Bateman has responded to the morally ambiguous male protagonist represented in Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–2013) by shifting away from the heartthrob and comic roles that have served him in the past. Regarding the intersection of crime and horror, The Outsider, based on the 2018 horror novel by Stephen King, is developed by Richard Price, author of the 1992 crime novel Clockers and screenwriter for The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008) and The Deuce (HBO, 2017–2019). In other words, 80s icon + horror + police procedural = television that is designed according to algorithmic visibility, or the effort to mitigate platform-specific risk.            

Yet as Sophie Bishop points out, “how new media producers negotiate platform visibility […] also speaks to long-standing questions about how the management of risk in cultural industries shapes symbolic production” (1). The horror implicit within The Outsider is not only coded and platformed by the cultural function of the figure of Jason Bateman. More specifically, it is the social and political implications of the racially ambiguous monster, clad in a hooded sweatshirt and prone to home invasion, which underscores the fantastic biology and structure of horror imagery. Indeed, the horror implicit within The Outsider is embodied by a supernatural monster that not only looks like Jason Bateman but is impervious to stand-your-ground law. 

Regarding the 1980s horror milieu, The Outsider eschews aesthetic and narrative influence in favor of the algorithmic visibility of 80s icons Jason Bateman and Stephen King. Yet the cultural function of the unstoppable killer owes more to the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida. Identified as suspicious and threatening by George Zimmerman, the image of Trayvon Martin, clad in a hooded sweatshirt, is synonymous with Florida’s stand-your-ground law and Zimmerman’s acquittal of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013. Ultimately, the embodiment of horror in The Outsider is embedded within a practice of symbolic production that fails to critique the fantastic biology and structure of horror imagery in light of racial profiling and civil rights.  



Alvarez, Lizette, and Cara Buckley. “Zimmerman is Acquitted in Trayvon Martin Killing.” The New York Times, 13 July 2013,

Bishop, Sophie. “Algorithmic Experts: Selling Algorithmic Lore on YouTube.” Social Media + Society, Jan.-Mar. 2020, pp. 1-11.   JSTOR, doi:10.1177/2056305.

Carroll, Noël. “Fantastic Biologies and the Structures of Horror Imagery.” 1990. The Monster Theory Reader, edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, U of Minnesota P, 2020, pp. 136-147. 

Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Public Affairs, 2019.         

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