Discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential election cast Barack Obama as the antichrist, Hillary Clinton as Illuminati, and Donald Trump as Cthulhu, thus establishing public dialogue equating politicians with monsters – a theme developed in BrainDead, a science-fiction/ political-satire television series that premiered on June 13, 2016 on CBS - just weeks before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. It followed Laurel Healy, a temporary constituency caseworker for her brother, a Senator who soon discovered Washington, DC invaded by alien bugs controlling the brains of Congresspersons and their staffs. Though canceled after one season, a four-season arc was planned for the bugs to spread from DC to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood.
Money is often the root of evil in political horror, from the maintenance of slavery in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to the annihilation of the lower-class in The Purge. BrainDead recreated the 2013 government shutdown against the backdrop of the 2016 Clinton/Trump election. The ensuing chaos raised questions about in/humanity with regards to the suffering of thousands of out-of-work capital-area residents at the whim of manipulative Senators – who literally became inhuman when possessed by the alien bugs. Turning politicians into physically perfected political zealots (creating a Stepford Wives meets House of Cards vibe), the insects further represented danger and duplicity in trusted institutions. The scariest moments were created because of unwitting vulnerability to the bugs, reflecting fears about public susceptibility to government corruption.
In 2016, The Economist proclaimed "the death of reason" in democracy, and contemporary horror, too, suggests that rationality is futile in chaos. BrainDead’s political horror highlighted both perspectives. Intelligent victims of the space bugs died when they resisted the corporeal invasion - their heads exploding into bloody goo - implying that thoughtful people cannot survive in DC politics. This was underscored when an infected Senator forced a piece of brain out his ear, equating mindlessness with political power.
Amidst the bugs and blood, the show’s humor was premised in how few people noticed high-profile politicians becoming brainless shells controlled by evil aliens, thus condemning democracy as a thoughtless, monstrous, push for unchecked power. While traditional monsters often represent social fears via the form of demonized Others, and the reclamation of power by the subjugated, in BrainDead monstrosity is instead used to indicate the inhumanity of politics-as-usual.