‘Killer Bee’ movies emerged as a popular strain of ‘creature feature’ films in the Cold War era of the 1960s. Films such as The Deadly Bees (1966), Genocide (1968) and The Swarm (1978) established a genre based around formulaic ‘nature’s revenge’ plot lines in which insects, often mutated in scientific experiments, escape from laboratories to attack and kill human protagonists. In The Bees (1978) swarms of mutant bees bring down military aircraft, target politicians and deliver an ecologically-driven ultimatum to the United Nations via a human interpreter. Such fantastic narratives can be read as popular cautionary tales about the modern sciences empowering humans to ‘play god’, underpinned by a Cold War fear of biological warfare and the scientific supremacy of ideological rivals. Curiously these films attribute direct agency and political action to swarms of angry, organised non-human actors, entertaining the prospect of non-human rights.
The phenomenon of disappearing bees synonymous with Colony Collapse Disorder has compelled lobby groups such as Mellifera e.V. in Germany to interfere on behalf of this ‘subaltern species’ in human affairs, resulting in a temporary ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the EU, which is soon take effect in the US as well. In his book The Politics of Nature (2004), Bruno Latour details his vision for a collective yet-to-come of human and non-human agents that would supersede the society/nature divide upon which modern institutions are founded.
Might this most recent phase of human-bee relations provide an entry point to consider how such ‘multinatural’ political associations are actually taking shape? Furthermore, is it only in fiction that a species capable of collective decision-making and with which human cultures share a long history–and also food–could have ‘thought’ to take actions in order to change our behaviour?