|Week of: |
July 23, 2000
|A Nightmare, Horror-Movie Culture
by: F.R. Duplantier
In his new book, Monsters from the Id, Jones contends that the literary scholars and critics of today misinterpret the novel Frankenstein and misconstrue the motivation of its author, Mary Shelley. "The fact that the creator of the horror genre is celebrated as a proponent of sexual liberation indicates that our culture still does not understand horror," he asserts. "If our culture could make up its mind about sexual liberation," Jones argues, "it would not need horror. It would either embrace sexual license wholeheartedly, as Mary's husband did, or repudiate it wholeheartedly, as Christianity does. But horror," he reiterates, "is a sign that the culture cannot make up its mind."
Jones traces the development of the horror story from its earliest incarnations in the novels Frankenstein and Dracula to its modern and postmodern manifestations in films like The Forbidden Planet, Them, The Body Snatchers, Psycho, and Alien. He analyzes the typical horror story formula, which invariably begins with a violation of traditional sexual morality, which in turn is followed by the appearance of a monster who attacks the transgressors and threatens to destroy the entire community. Jones interprets the form as an unconscious critique of the sexual permissiveness promoted by the Enlightenment and the fateful consequences for three centuries of lust-ridden victims. "The Enlightenment tried to drive out religion and morality, but found that they returned in the form of a monster," he comments. "The Enlightenment is dead," Jones declares. "Its only lasting legacy will be the horror stories told by its survivors."
Horror stories are, in essence, "protests against the Enlightenment's desacralization of man." If man has "no transcendent purpose," Jones stipulates, "then he can do with his body what he wants. But, if he can use other bodies in that fashion, then other bodies can use him. And so the transformation of man into a machine -- that is, sexual liberation -- is quickly followed by terror." And the terror ends in carnage, as abortion rates attest. "By following our illicit desires to their logical endpoint in death," Jones concludes, "we have created a nightmare culture, a horror-movie culture, one in which we are led back again and again to the source of our mysterious fears . . . by a mysterious force over which we seem to have no control. That force is our conscience," Jones reveals. "The only way we can escape its clutches," he confides, "is by admitting that what it has to say about our guilt is true."
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