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Moral Monsters

October 29, 2009

Whether you’re a fan of zombies, vampires, or serial killers, the recent rise of monsters and horror in popular culture has come with more fully developed psyches, perspectives, and mythoi behind the monsters themselves, which should also help us more fully understand what these monsters mean in the context of our social psychology…if only people analyzed things on that supra-popcorn-munching level.

Where some inadvertent monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster for example, are meant to rouse our social pity and awareness of xenophobia, most monsters are quite intentionally conceived as literary sacrificial idols designed to personify our personal flaws and then undergo cathartic immolation to teach the audience a moral lesson.  We are instructed to oppose these monsters on a moral level in order to better ourselves and oppose the personality traits these monsters stand for.

After Freud, monster stories were considered cathartic journeys into our unconscious—everybody contains a Mr. Hyde, and these stories give us a chance to “walk on the wild side.” But in the denouement of most stories, the monster is killed and the psyche restored to civilized order. We can have our fun with the “torture porn” of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger or the erotic vampires, but this “vacation” to where the wild things are ultimately helps us return to our lives of quiet repression.

Perhaps this is what makes the recent uptick in vampire love so obvious and yet so irritating to your average “monster aficionado.”  As I had discussed in a previous post, vampires are a symbol of eroticism, and the ever-increasing amount of sexual liberation is spreading to younger and younger ages, which perfectly explains the legitimate allure of Twilight.  The problem is that these vampires are no longer perceived to be symbolic monsters from which one can learn a moral lesson; instead, they have become impossible aspirations that undermine our own moral psychological development by instilling false expectations.  It would be as if people suddenly began aspiring to become consumption-obsessed, brainless, anti-intellectual zombies…oh wait.  Damn.

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