Boogeymen Past and Present

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Boogeymen Past and Present

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It’s the first of October today, which means yet again famous monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula invade our media from children’s costumes to decor. It’d be surprising meeting someone unfamiliar with these pop culture titans as all throughout many collective childhoods of at least those raised in America, they’ve been parodied and referenced in cartoons, movies, Halloween costumes, and even inspired many modern adaptations. We accept these monsters as just part of “spooky culture” every passing year, yet it seems many are unfamiliar with the literary and societal context behind these monsters.

Nearly every monster were familiar with has a historical and literary backing to them. They remain staples for their respective time periods, written embodiments of the contemporary societal anxieties at that time. To us, these fears might seem obsolete, but to the citizens then, the fears these monsters embodied were very real.

Dracula was written in the Victorian English society and represented the fear of men putting their lust before love for their women, general sexual promiscuity, and even foreigners taking their women. In that time, women were expected to be one of two things – “pure” virgins, or married and loyal to one man. The monster, Dracula, threatens this idea, which horrified the people of that time.

Frankenstein is a bit less shrouded in metaphor (such as Dracula’s bite being an innuendo for sexual contact and so forth, which could be easily overlooked from anyone not looking for more than just a vampire story), and instead is actually quite straightforward with its message. The idea is simple: scientific advancement can be bad. Science has always been a societal fear from era to era, especially in the days when religion was typically put above provable fact. It’s not hard to see that the monster Dr. Frankenstein pieces together is to show the horrific lengths science could go to – which scared many back in 1818.

There are many other monsters that we’re familiar with that could fall into this cultural fears category – you could even go as far as to interpret that zombies represent the very American fear of communism and putting groupthink above individualism. But why talk about this? Aside from it being an interesting topic, it’s still affecting our media today. Knowing history helps you recognize it, and it’s not hard to see our monsters that we both fear and marvel at.

Technology remains a point of contention between generations, and also, with the years, had grown to be somewhat of easy target for our “big bad” in media. The way we attack this issue though, is just a bit different from the ways of old literature. We don’t shroud it in compelling mystery and give it a horrific mask to go along. It feels too broad for that. Instead we attack it head on. There’s no subtlety to the discontent and discomfort many feel with the ever growing boogey man that is technology.

Black Mirror is an increasingly popular show – despite its increasing drop in thoughtful, profound think pieces it used to be known for, but that’s for a different time – and its politics are essentially that there will always be a tension between humanity and technological advancements. It presents this idea that if technology continues on its path, it will always be at odds with a happy, human society – and Black Mirror isn’t the only media to take this stance. To an extent, one could argue this point. How far is too far? There’s a discussion to be had there, but yet there seems to be generational disconnect holding us back from that.

Speaking to a younger millennial, or gen Z, you’re nearly guaranteed to get a positive experience and viewpoint on the very general idea of technology. They grew up with it, what would one expect? But then, if you talk to someone from an older millennial, all the way to baby boomer, you’re much, much more likely to get a more negative response. Just the other day, I was talking to my stepdad about a particular hot take from a newer Black Mirror episode that social media is holding people from really having “real” communication or “listening” to each other. Just saying that made my eyes roll. But my stepdad seemed to agree with this idea.

Once again, a generational disconnect that prevented us from having this discussion. Neither of us had experiences quite like the other. It almost seemed like technology had developed too fast for him to catch up, and for me to step back. From my generation, to his, only one apart chronologically, we have experiences so different that neither of us will ever be able to fully understand.

It’s hard to see what media like Black Mirror is getting at, or what the end goal is. Just as with the new “woke” kids who have effectively withdrawn themselves by announcing they were born in the wrong generation. Why? To just be “profound” and counterculture? Just to get the message across that technology can lead to a bad place? Okay. That’s true. It was much easier to decipher the message in olden literary monsters – Dracula is showing the horrors of sexual promiscuity, Frankenstein shows a horrific creation of science overstepping boundaries. It’s hard to tell what the more recent, more vapid hot takes on new tech are getting at, but the art of critique and starting a compelling conversation feels lost in this new age mongering.