Thoughts on Frankenstein Day

Today, the birthday of Mary W Shelly, is Frankenstein Day. However, Frankenstein style monsters are not as popular these days. Now it’s all about zombies, and before that vampires.

I accept the theory that the popularity of different monsters reflects the changing fears of our culture. Vampires about about being seduced by the attractive side of what’s we know is wrong. Werewolves are about losing control and hurting those we love. Zombies combine the fear of what looks like someone we love, but is really dangerous, with a certain inexorability- they’re slow, but they keep coming. Frankenstein, though, speaks to our concerns that maybe we can’t really blame our problems on what we’ve created, but have to accept responsibility for that destruction ourselves, even though it’s “once removed”, the typical “mad scientist” theme.

From its very inception the monster (Adam) himself has been portrayed sympathetically. Like many characters, he combines the attributes of that which is feared and misunderstood by those who don’t know it, with the problems of an innocent who has been given more power than he can handle. Since the movies especially, the Frankenstein monster is the image of an abuse victim: he responds violently because of the abuse he has suffered. We understand that he must be “put down” or destroyed because he is dangerously out of control and cannot be contained. We feel sorry for him, and identify with the times we have been misunderstood, and have struck out in pain, doing harm inadvertently. We still fear him- like a storm or other natural disaster. He is tragic because he is self-aware, and still cannot stop himself from causing harm or save himself. All the blame falls on the one who created the monster, the scientist who, for whatever reason, allowed his curiosity or ambition or whatever motivation to override caution, and create a hazard that could not be controlled.

I think we don’t have Frankenstein’s monsters in fiction as much these days because we’ve gone beyond our ability to deal with the issue. Many of the modern Zombie Apocalypse scenarios are variations on this theme- the dead walk because some experiment that was supposed to benefit mankind had unexpected consequences- radiation or viruses have turned us into our own enemies. Like compassion fatigue, we have horror fatigue. We can’t maintain a state of high alert anymore because everything is a potential threat.

We can no longer respond as a mob and “burn the mill” or “run the monster off a cliff”. Most movies have a moment where the scientist realizes what a irresponsible thing he’s done, and redeems himself by sacrificing himself and his work to destroy enough to stop the imminent destruction of everything else (in the last few moments). In magick there is a principle “do not raise that which you cannot banish”. I assume that in science there are similar cautionary tropes. I’m not sure that business has a similar concept. If you can’t sell more than two shoes to a person because they have only two feet, convince them that they need more than one pair. Perhaps the lesson of Frankenstein Day should be “Enough is as good as a feast”. If we have enough, we need not look for more.

 

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