Final Reflective Post

A couple of reoccurring themes stood out to me in my review of blog posts and a comment I did. The first is my interest in exploring gender and race. I explored both in my first blog post, “The Final Irrational Girl,” and then race again in “Tillich’s Symbol & Baldwin’s Letter.” In both, I discussed where blackness fits into a white dominated genre (horror). I am not too surprised by these areas because throughout my four years at Davidson, I often take on topics of gender and race. When writing about gender, I tend to take a feminist stance, as reflected by the line in “The Final Irrational Girl,” “While horror has treated its female characters misogynistically, it is also the genre that’s given us “the final girl” trope (basically what Pinedo was referring to as female heroes; means the last female alive to confront the monster). Do you think postmodern horror is perpetuating misogynistic images of women in Hollywood or changing them?” I am aware that often in my writing I try to ‘complicate’ my ideas and that quote is a good example of when I complicate my argument by placing it next to an idea that challenges my previous statements and takes my argument to the next level. I often think of my writing as building my paper (or blog post) brick by brick, and I can see that reflected in the way I have composed each sentence.

Another reoccurring topic in my posts is social media and how it produces a ‘lack of the real’. I discuss social media in both “Digital Zombie” and in my comment on Alivia’s “Instagram Memorials” post. In “Digital Zombie,” my post about the Black Mirror episode we watched, I wrote, “Social media cannot fully replicate Ash because it works on the assumption that people put their whole lives on social media, which is impossible. Even with the addition of Martha’s personal messages and videos, the artificial intelligence cannot account for Ash’s life before social media which founded who he is and moments not captured between Ash and Martha, represented by zombie Ash’s inability to react when Martha places his hand on her chest.” Social media cannot fully represent a person and lacks human qualities that Ash cannot recreate. In my comment on Alivia’s post, I mention how direct messaging a memorialized Instagram page makes the living user feel as if they can still communicate with the dead, but of course the account will not respond. I called this form of communication a “digital letter,” but still lacks the same as communicating with a person who is living. I am kind of surprised to see this connection between social media and ‘lack of the real’ because social media plays a big part of my life without much day-to-day thought.

From my first post to my last post, I think I shifted away from topics that I tend to discuss (race and gender) and discussed technology more and how it affects our culture, which was a crucial goal of the class. This is a general theme represented in my final paper discussing autonomous vehicles and marketing, and just by going through these posts I can definitely see what led up to me selecting this topic.

Autopilot Speeds Up Into Wall?

I think the section “A Cautious Future” in the Wired article brought up some really important points that what Tesla calls “Autopilot” is “great for backing up humans whose attention drifts away from the raod, but not yet good enough to take over full-time” (Stewart par. 15). It makes me wonder how important marketing and the idea behind the word autopilot is and the effect is has on how the consumer treats the car. If Tesla were to re-brand the feature and call it something to the effect of assisted cruise control, would consumers give the car less control?

When reading the story about Joshua Brown, a related article about a more recent autonomous car accident related death appeared about Apple engineer Michael Huang (38 yo). Huang was in autopilot on US Highway 101 in Mountain View, California in the second lane from the left. The car approached the gore area (that triangular area dividing a split between lanes) dividing the main lanes from the exit ramp, but moved towards the gore area and collided into a crash attenuator. A Mazda and an Audi subsequently ran into it.

The odd thing about Huang’s accident was that in the last 3 seconds before the crash, the car sped up from 62 mph (under the speed limit of 65) to 70.8. The crash report by the National Transport Safety Board offers a step by step look at the events leading up to the crash:

Like Joshua Brown, Michael Huang did not survive so we can never really know what was going through the driver’s mind or the level of engagement, but the crash report indicates that Huang was alert because his hands were on the wheel during the 60 seconds prior to the crash. However, they were not on the wheel the last 6 seconds. In an effort to pin the blame on Huang, Tesla said “The driver had about 5 seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken” (McCarthy par. 15) It is odd that the driver did not do anything, but Tesla’s argument kind of defeats the whole purpose of the idea of a car that drives defensively. Six seconds is such a quick time and could fall into the category of distraction and not reliance. In both Brown’s and Huang’s cases, Tesla seemed quick to convey their condolences but pin the blame on the driver. While it’s cool that we can access the car’s recorded performance data and know some more about what happened leading up to the crash, it still raises a lot of questions about the car’s technology. Why did the Tesla speed up? Why didn’t it detect that it was not in a lane? Why didn’t it detect the barrier? Was it trying to take the exit ramp or did it know/was effected by Huang’s intended route?

Works Cited

McCarthy, Kieren. “Oddly Enough, When a Tesla Accelerates at a Barrier, Someone Dies: Autopilot Report Lands.The Register, 7 June, 2018. Web.

Preliminary Report Highway HWY18FH011.” National Transportation Safety Board.

Stewart, Jack. “After Probing Tesla’s Deadly Crash, Feds Say Yay to Self-Driving.Wired, 20 Jan. 2017. Web.

Spirit Messenger

Spirit Messenger (not actually trademarked) is a choose-your-own-adventure style digital conversation with a ghost and it is your goal to figure out the identity of the ghost and complete the conversation. The concept behind the project is to highlight the similarities of ghosts and the internet/technology. The project is hosted on a website, which is important to both the structure of the project and the idea that both ghosts and the internet are intangible systems. The story centers around Thomas Edison and his Spirit Phone from Natalie Zarrelli’s article “Dial-a-Ghost on Thomas Edison’s Least Successful Invention: the Spirit Phone.” The article reports that in the late 1920s, Thomas Edison was working on a device that would detect personality-based residue and amplify the particles by the device like a human voice could be amplified and recorded by a phonograph. As technology has progressed, people have not abandoned the hope of finding evidence of ghosts and communicating with them. Ghost tracking apps are the modern and consumer friendly version of Edison’s invention. A common feature among the apps are scientific and analytical elements such as radars, negative image coloring, or loading bars. Spirit Messenger makes use of the radar at the beginning and delays the arrival of the “Begin Conversation” button in order to make the user feel as though the website is finding a nearby ghost to talk with.

The project was also inspired by Kate Pullinger’s “Breathe: A Ghost Story,” which is a story about a girl that can talk with ghosts and passages from her perspective are mixed with passages from a ghost’s perspective. The story is interactive in that it takes place on your smartphone, incorporates data using your IP address and camera, and requires you to move from page to page. Much of the invasiveness of the project comes from giving the site access to your phone’s camera which takes a picture of what is in front of you, for most users their bedroom at night. Spirit Messenger takes these ideas but elevates it to the next level by giving you a choice in what you want to say to the ghost, altering the path of the story. Spirit Messenger also takes data from your IP address at the beginning, because both ghosts and the internet share the quality of unexplainable omniscience and is jarring to have that information known without being consciously shared. The choose-your-own-adventure aspect was inspired out of the popularity of Netflix’s Black Mirror production “Bandernsatch.” The interactivity of selecting your response makes the experience more personal than Pullinger’s story. Like a conversation with another person or even ghost hunting technology on skittish ghosts, one wrong decision and the conversation can end.

Spirit Messenger is interactive because of the buttons clicked to make a response to a question the ghost asks. The ghost’s message appears and then the button appears, allowing the user to respond, a kind of controlled instant messaging system. The feel of instant messaging or text messaging is more comfortable than a phone call on Edison’s spirit phone might be or technology that captures supernatural audio. Part of that comfort is that text messaging is a part of our daily lives and allows for thrill under safe circumstances. The article “Insights into the Social and Psychological Effects of SMS Text Messaging” points out that the attractiveness of mobile messaging is its instant quality (1). This website has some minimal delay in typing to mimic the human delay in typing out a message, but it does not have the same kind of suspenseful waiting that ghost hunting technology has that requires waiting to see if there is a presence and if the presence will interact. The study also notes that text messaging provides “an opportunity for intimate personal contact whilst at the same time offering detachment” (Reid & Reid 3). This detachment is a large reason why the website does not elicit fear. Any fear or uneasiness felt comes from the suggestion that the messages are coming from a ghost and the eeriness that results from a failure of presence.

Mark Fisher’s article “The Weird and the Eerie” explains that “the sensation of the eerie occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or nothing present when there should be something” (61). Ghosts fall into the former category, and the ghost of Spirit Messenger feels present because the user does not know what it will say next, like a conversation with another person, but similar to a ghost in a haunted space the Spirit Messenger ghost is not visually or tangibly present. Perhaps the eeriest moment of the project is at the beginning when the viewer knows they are waiting for the technology to sense a ghost nearby. He also says that the eerie occurs in certain kinds of spaces, and technology is not traditionally one of those spaces. Movies like Personal Shopper are starting to play with the question of what would happen if a ghost could text and the idea of ghosts in non-traditional spaces. It is a new form of eerie. Ghosts are associated to the past and the vintage, but technology is constantly updating and representative of the now and even the future. It is not a space that ghosts would be expected or welcome. Chatbots, such as Cleverbot or Facebook Messenger, share this eerie feeling in a phenomenon called the uncanny valley. An article called “Chatbots Have Entered the Uncanny Valley” says that “as interacting with them approaches the experience of talking with another human, their robot-ness [or otherness] becomes accentuated” (Waddell par. 5). There is a strong parallel between the eeriness of ghosts and the uncanniness smart technology can have.

Speaking on the connection between ghosts and technologies in general, Heather Duncan says “Because the Spiritualist movement was so closely tied to the development of modern communications technologies, the same idea of energy and flow pervades our relationships with our electronic devices. When these devices malfunction, we experience the phenomenon of glitch, a disturbing disruption of flow that produces an uncanny sensation. Contemporary haunting narratives, particularly in film and in digital media, often play with the idea of the glitch as evidence of or as the entry point for a haunting. Glitches are disruptions in sensory data, reminding us that our technological devices do not really see or sense the way humans do, and, by corollary, might be able to sense entities or forces that we are unable to perceive” (2). During presentations when this website would crash or glitch, I would joke that the ghost was uninterested in continuing the conversation. Glitching is a form of death, in that the website is no longer live and functional. The lack of presence in communication technologies and from the beginning of communication technologies such as the telegraph, there has been an otherworldly sensation associated with communicating from beyond.

Kate Pullinger, in an article sharing her ideas behind “Breathe: A Ghost Story,” says “There’s a long tradition of haunted technology. People have always thought that the loom was haunted, or the printing press, the television, etc. It’s a theme that occurs again and again when it comes to stories about technology” (McMullan par. 4). Jeffrey Sconce in his book Haunted Media expands on this history between technology and the Spiritualist movement by recounting that soon after the invention of the telegraph, two young women known as the Fox sisters began hearing tapping from a spirit and would communicate by tapping back, a spiritual Morse code. He writes about the incident, “Certainly, the explicit connections between the two communications technologies were not lost on the Spiritualists themselves, who eagerly linked Spiritualist phenomena with the similarly fantastic discourses of electronic telegraphy” (24). This history establishes the connection between spiritualism and technology, and the Spirit Messenger project works to highlight the similarities between the internet and a ghost.

The internet’s physicality is a difficult subject to fully comprehend and it feels like disembodied energy floating in the air around us. The metaphor of The Cloud confirms this imagery, but the metaphor could easily be interchanged with The Ghost. Heather Duncan states that “we are entering an age where technology is bringing more and more nonhuman agents into our everyday lives and amplifying the glitchiness of what once seemed to be smooth, seamless surfaces of human experience” (141). While this may be taking more of the form of Amazon Alexas rather than ghosts, each give off the sense of the eerie because they are close to human because of their communication skills, but these nonhuman agents are always marked by being other, usually physically. Fisher suggests that the core enigma of the eerie is the question of its agency, and that the idea of agency forces us to reckon with purposes that are unknown (64). But the eerie also concerns the unknown, and ghosts and technology will always have elements that escape human knowledge or understanding. Ghosts share a lot of similarities with technology, so this project is an interesting experiment to see them entwined and dependent on each other in order to communicate to the viewer.

Works Cited

Haunted Apple Watch

We’ve been discussing the idea of haunted media for a few classes now and after Kate Pullinger’s story Breathe began thinking about how ghosts can use technology as a medium to connect to humans. This reminded me of a minisode from the podcast My Favorite Murder where someone wrote into the hosts telling a story of a time a ghost communicated through the person’s Apple Watch (MFM Minisode 103).

For nine years the person who wrote in has celebrated New Years with another family, but a few years ago the hosts husband, Jerry, took his own life. The family has still continued hosting without him and this was the second year he was absent. When the person who wrote in got home, she checked the weather on her Apple Watch. Her weather app tells the weather using snarky language, such as “You’re gonna take these clouds and you’re gonna like them,” instead of saying cloudy. But instead of telling the weather it showed this message:

20 minutes later the app was back to giving its normal weather updates. She finishes this story by saying, “Jerry loved tech. Those that knew him decided that if he was going to send a message, a snarky weather app would totally be the platform.” She hasn’t seen a message like this since.

Messages from ghosts on modern technology such as smart watches and phones feels more invasive and eerie in a new way than we are used to. I think our culture associates the eerie and ghosts to spaces of absence such as graveyards and abandoned buildings (see Mark Fisher). But our phones and watches are extensions of ourselves and something we keep on our person at all times. Smart technology is very present in our lives, so when that safe space is invaded by the unknown, it is even more terrifying and disrupting than we are expecting. The invasion feels personal and uncanny, an experience even felt in Pullinger’s story as it uses your personal data to make it feel as if the ghost knows who and where you are.

Entering Hyperpostmodernism Through Self-Reflexivity

While Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2011) both fit Isabel Pinedo’s definition of postmodern horror, these films surpass her examples of Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Nightmare on Elm Street because of their intertextual references and dissection of horror movie conventions. Scream and The Cabin in the Woods are examples what Valerie Wee calls “hyperpostmodernism,” which she identifies as a new phase of postmodern horror. The evolution of this new phase shows that in order to continue providing the experience of fear Pinedo identifies, the horror genre must reject its exhausted tropes and invent new surprising and terrifying elements that do not rely on familiarity with the genre.

Scream and Cabin fit Pinedo’s guide of postmodern horror in places. Her general definition of postmodernism is a system in which “traditional (dichotomous) categories break down, boundaries blur, institutions fall into question, master narratives collapse, the invetibality of progress crumbles, and the master status of the universal (read: male, white, monied, heterosexual) subject deteriorates” (18). Nick Chandler’s article “Subversion of Genre Conventions in Scream & The Cabin in the Woods” offers an analysis of the meta postmodernist characteristics of self-awareness and echoes Pinedo’s ideas. He writes, “The term ‘meta’ is a post-modern idea that a piece of work is self-aware, and subverts mainstream conventions, or in this context subverting horror tropes, all the while making/implying to different texts, otherwise known as intertextual references” (Chandler par. 1). Another term for this is self-reflexivity. Both movies are overtly aware of horror genre conventions and manipulate them so that the movies engage in hypermediation and remind the viewer that they are watching a movie, breaking some of the tension and sometimes becoming comical. Both movies focus on five teenagers that fit stereotypes of the Jock, the Whore, the Virgin, the Nerd, and the Clown/Stoner and have versions of the haunted house where the characters are partying and then the slasher action occurs.

Scream’s self-reflexivity explicitly discusses horror conventions in the script, often through the nerd character Randy. The scene below takes place between Randy, Billy, and Stu – the latter two are revealed at the end to be Ghostface.

Randy says that the cops let Billy go because they don’t watch enough horror movies. He says, “There’s a formula to it. A very simple formula.” The irony of this scene is that Randy maps out exactly what the movie plot is because he knows what to look for. The formula Randy is referring to is the combination of horror clichés, such as the final girl, the cell phone excuse, creepy kids, found footage/diaries, and much more. Some people think they have even calculated a mathematical formula for horror movies based on suspense, realism, and gore. The characters in Scream directly refer to the audience’s expectations and also mention specific horror movies throughout the movie. My personal favorite manipulation is about the trope that the virgin, usually “the final girl,” always survives. But in Scream, the final girl, Sidney, is not a virgin and the virgin is Randy. This scene is an example of how the movie plays with the balance between terror and comedy.

Cabin’s self-reflexivity does not explicitly discuss horror conventions, but instead assumes the audience is aware of the worn-out tropes and weaves in references to a long list of horror movies through the monsters in the movie. This video by GoodBadFlicks explains the references in the movie.

A point that is mentioned in the video and in Chandlers article is that the ancient gods that the ritual is seeking to appeal to is symbolic of the audience. Chandler writes, “It can be interpreted that the ‘Gods’ are in fact the movie viewing audience, and the actions of Hadley and Sitterson are in fact the writers trying to please them, through genre conventions and themes that are universally recognized, e.g. ritual” (par. 6). The following clip is an example of horror movies feel for the necessity of nude shots.

And when they get the shot of the girl’s breasts…

Cabin writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon chose to relate the audience’s desire for these conventions to a ritual sacrifice, a relationship that has even been explored by Shakespearean scholars. Derek Cohen’s article on King Lear explains how early modern drama and sacrifice rituals both require an audience, a vulnerable participant, human conflict, and resolution. (385-386). The writers are commenting on how that by including expected and familiar conventions, horror movie creators are sacrificing creating a movie that influences the genre and our culture. Cabin is a pretty boring movie while you are watching the characters get killed one by one, and it is not until the expectations are broken with Marty’s, the Clown/Stoner, survival that the movie becomes interesting. The scientists controlling the ritual explain that Dana, the Virgin, must be the last to die and if she dies before Marty then she is not final girl and the ritual will not be complete. The movie becomes engaging when the horror formula is disrupted. At the end of the movie, Marty and Dana decide not to kill each other and to let the ritual be incomplete. As a result, the gods break out from their dormant state beneath the earth and begin to destroy the world.

Because the movie does not give the audience the horror clichés it wants, the movie as a whole is actually refreshing and blatantly questions the ways our culture crafts horror. Cabin has “changed the way we watch and think about horror movies by treating metaphor as text instead of subtext: It’s an undisguised horror movie about horror movies, much as The Babadook is an undisguised horror movie about being a single parent or It Follows is an undisguised horror movie about adolescent sexuality” (Crump par 4). Speaking about Cabin’s influence on our culture as a whole, Phil Hoad writes, “Whether it’s Cabin’s redneck zombies, or J-horror’s “dead wet girls”, or Indonesia’s pocong (a ghost wrapped in a Muslim burial shroud that often features in its low-budget spookers), they’re expressions of the violence, shame and isolation that underlies whatever collective traumas those cultures are shaped by” (par. 4). The expressions of violence in Scream examines “the issue of trust in romantic relationships, using slasher-film conventions to explore the turmoil of female adolescence” (Wee 57). This is the same idea presented in Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” – “the monstrous body is pure culture” (4). Movies and the culture they are presented in connects back to Wee’s article on hyperpostmodernism, in which she states the Scream films were “specifically created for a generation steeped in pop culture,” and the same is true of Cabin. And as generations and culture adapts, technology also advances, an aspect of late postmodern horror.

Wee writes that “the films reemphasize the vital role that media play in their lives” (52). In Scream, the media take the form of Gale Weathers, a journalist whose career takes advantage of the murders, and the development of new media technologies such as cell phones, cable, and video. The video rental store and the group watching Halloween together represents the community the genre provides. Horror movies are especially important to Billy and Stu since it motivates them to begin the murders – “watch a few movies, take a few notes.” The media presence in Cabin is represented by the constant eye of the science lab who has cameras and microphones all over the cabin. Marty even finds a camera at one point and makes the connection to the lab’s monitoring to reality TV.

In the section on irrationality, Pinedo writes “the trajectory of the classical narrative is to deploy science and force to restore the rational, normative order, whereas the postmodern narrative is generally unable to overcome the irrational chaotic forces of disruption” (22). Cabin plays with this statement directly in the role of the science lab to perform the ritual to restore order to the gods. The scientists use their control of the property to influence the characters decisions, such as releasing pheromones in the forest to prompt a sexual act and increasing the lighting when a character complains that it is too dark.

The technology the scientists have implanted in the house is a sharp contrast to the eerie antique cabin, and the power that the technology has over the teenagers is scarier than the cabin. The lab is symbolic of the classical horror narrative, but the teenagers present the chaos that disrupts the scientist’s deployment of horror tropes. Because of their refusal to behave according to the scientist’s plan to appeal to the gods, they cause an apocalyptic ending. A crucial rule violation in each movie is the refusal to give one final girl. Scream gives two, Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers, and Cabin gives one final girl, Dana, and one final boy, Marty. This is the final attack on genre conventions and a re-writing that questions the biggest horror cliché. Scream suggests the overall importance of female survivors in the face of male suppressors and Cabin seems to suggest that gender and genre conventions as a whole should not matter to the goal of scaring audiences. Cabin continues the conversation that Scream started, and as our culture, youth, and technology continues to progress, horror conventions must also adapt.

Works Cited

Chandler, Nick. “Subversion of Genre Conventions in SCREAM & THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.” Medium, 21 Aug. 2016.

Cohen, Derek. “The Malignant Scapegoats of ‘King Lear.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 49, no. 2, 2009, pp. 371–389. JSTOR.

Cohen, Jeffrey J. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p. 3-25.

Crump, Andy. “Why Didn’t ‘Cabin in the Woods’ Change the Horror Genre?” The Hollywood Reporter, 5 Sept. 2017.

GoodBadFlicks. “Every Reference in The Cabin in the Woods.” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Oct. 2014.

Hoad, Phil. “The Cabin in the Woods Shows Horror Speaks an International Language.” The Guardian, 10 Apr. 2012.

Pinedo, Isabel. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR.

Wee, Valerie. “The Scream Trilogy, ‘Hyperpostmodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 57, no. 3, 2005, pp. 44–61. JSTOR.

Pledged: LMC

Digital Zombie

Ash embodies remediation, a term that appeared in Ewan Kirkland’s article “Resident Evil’s Typewriter: Survival Horror and Its Remediations,” and was defined as “digital media’s deployment of old media formations in constructing new media” (115). In the Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back,” the real Ash at the beginning of the episode is the ‘old media’ and the new robot Ash is the ‘new media’. Basically, he is a digital zombie. But the problem presented in the episode is the difference between digitized memories and memories that social media never experienced, such as Ash’s memory behind his childhood photo which was sad and connected to his brother’s and father’s deaths. But when zombie Ash sees it, he calls it funny. Social media cannot fully replicate Ash because it works on the assumption that people put their whole lives on social media, which is impossible. Even with the addition of Martha’s personal messages and videos, the artificial intelligence cannot account for Ash’s life before social media which founded who he is and moments not captured between Ash and Martha, represented by zombie Ash’s inability to react when Martha places his hand on her chest. As Kirkland writes, “the lack of ‘the real’ in digital media represents a central problematic for horror video games whose affect depends on evoking a tangible experience of imperilment, embodiment, and spatial depth” (116). Zombie Ash struggles with the same problem. Part of “the lack of ‘the real’” is the navigation between 2D and 3D, which Kirkland gives the example of video games making the connection between the player and the avatar body by using “erratic uncontrollable avatar movements combined with joypad vibration” (117). The joypad vibration is the physical connection between the player and the avatar body and attempts to cross the border from 2D to 3D, but still lacks the real. Ash’s avatar body is physically present in 3D and has the visual details of the human body like pores and lines, but his skin is smooth. When Martha asks him how he is so smooth, Ash replies, “It’s texture mapping. The really tiny details are visual, 2D.” He then tells her to touch his fingertips, and she feels no fingerprint. It is the little details like that and breathing, sleeping, and eating – the lack of the real – that remind Martha he is not Ash.

Tillich’s Symbol and Baldwin’s Letter

Cohen defines the monster as a representation of culture and uses medieval, Biblical, and Greek myths to fuel his “monster theory.” The ideas in “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” are reminiscent of Paul Tillich’s essay “The Religious Symbol,” in which Tillich defines “symbolics” as “a general science of the self-expression of all groups, tendencies, and communities” (4). Cohen’s chapter feels like a branch from Tillich’s essay in that the monster is a specific form of the symbol used to embody abjection to “the other.” Cohen emphasizes sexuality, disability, and race as specific areas of anxiety to our culture. Tillich goes onto say that symbols may change unconsciously as cultures change, and thus create myths, which are used to explain one culture’s interpretation of existence (Tillich 9). Cohen references multiple myths in this chapter to show how many monsters appear throughout the history of storytelling. While Cohen includes that monsters represent a “certain cultural moment,” I wonder what he would think about a monster’s implication of that culture’s existence?

Part of the anxiety of monsters is a fear of the foreign or racial fears. On page 11, Cohen writes, “The political-cultural monster, the embodiment of radical difference, paradoxically threatens to erase difference in the world of its creators… Difference that exists outside the system is terrifying because it reveals the truth of the system, its relativity, its fragility, and its mortality…” This language reminded me of James Baldwin’s “A Letter to My Nephew,” in which Baldwin is explaining blackness in America to his nephew, but it was published in his book The Fire Next Time and meant to be read by both black and white. He writes, “…The danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations” (par. 9). This quote echoes Cohen’s statement that monsters threaten to destroy the world of its creators, who “have been mainly European [and American] and male” (Cohen 15). Cohen also mentions a fear of darker skin, and Baldwin’s language easily depicts the black man as a monster destroying the white man’s world, and even defying laws of nature or disrupting the order of things.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “A Letter to My Nephew.” The Progressive. Dec. 1, 1962. Web.

Tillich, Paul. “The Religious Symbol.” Daedalus, vol. 87, no. 3, 1958, pp. 3–21. JSTOR. Web. 

The Final Irrational Girl

In the section on irrationality, Isabel Pinedo mentions that many of postmodern horror’s heroes are women, and that the genre requires instrumental rationality and a reliance on intuition from the hero. This initially sounds like a positive thing, seemingly giving women more agency as lead characters and more of a presence. But then Pinedo explains that “according to the Cartesian construction of reason, rationality is masculine, associated with mastery, and requires the domestication of irrationality, which is feminine and associated with the bodily and disorder” (23). Horror Hollywood is telling us that women are allowed in the role of hero because women are irrational. This explanation reveals the sexism behind female heroes in horror movies and makes me wonder what postmodern horror female heroes Pinedo is referencing. Albeit I do not know much about recent horror films, horror has a history of sexism towards woman – victims of monsters are often female, sexually active women always die, or perhaps the film doesn’t pass The Bechdel Test. While horror has treated its female characters misogynistically, it is also the genre that’s given us “the final girl” trope (basically what Pinedo was referring to as female heroes; means the last female alive to confront the monster). Do you think postmodern horror is perpetuating misogynistic images of women in Hollywood or changing them?

Another little thought: Pinedo writes “Characters who insist upon rational explanations in the face of evidence that does not lend itself to rationality are destined to become victims of the monster” (22). She might as well have replaced the word characters with white men. But this made me think about African Americans in horror films, and while they are majorly underrepresented, there is also the stereotype that black characters are the first to die in horror movies. But when quickly looking up more information on this, I learned that while black characters almost certainly die in horror movies, they almost never die first (Fact Check). I’m interested in learning more about the role of women and people of color in horror films.