Franekenstein and modern horror

I was watching a little bit of a Frankenstain movie from the 1950s tonight. It was basically rubbish, but the opening sequence made me think about the current political approach to terrorism.

The monster was lumbering after a nimble young woman, who was constantly screaming, fretting about being chased, and generally not doing a very good job of dealing with the business at hand (running away). The frankly rather rubbish and desperately ineffective monster slowly dragged his limbs along and eventually caught up with her after she had managed to corner herself in a lake (damsels in distress never choose good places to run to in movies, but retreating into waist deep water ranks pretty highly among the more stupid places to go).

This type of slow monster had been around for millenia, transferred from zombies and ghosts through into the modern technological beast that is Frankenstein’s creation, but why are they scary? Certainly there is some existential doubt evoked by them, after all, if inanimate flesh can be brought to life then what is to say that we are any better, maybe this means that we have no soul and that we are similar to the monster chasing us, simply going through life eating, excreting, and reproducing. This doubt is real enough, but I suspect that what the monsters evoke is something more primal than that, it’s a simple fear of ‘I don’t know how to stop this thing, and no matter what I do it still keeps on coming’. Like bad weather, a good monster is a force of nature that seems unassailable and immensely powerful. I think it’s also a feature of a good monster that it is somehow limited, often in time (appearing until dawn, for example), geographically (cannot cross running water, must not leave the haunted house), or simply in reach and ability (lack of speed, lack of numbers).

So what does this have to do with terrorism? I think that terrorism has been turned, by politicians who want a tool to keep the population afraid, into a lumbering mythic monster; capable of striking at the times of ease, implacable, lumbering, without personality, reason, or faces, but also capable of limitation, resources, and being fought. But what are the methods of fighting such a hydra? Cut off one head and another grows elsewhere. I stand by the reasoning I’ve held for several years: you have to combat this not by killing the monster but by tackling the forces that create it. I don’t mean simply apprehending Osama Bin Laden. While I would be as happy as anyone to know of his arrest I also seriously doubt it would make any difference to the level of terrorism in the world. I suggest that you tackle terrorism by disposing as quickly as possible with inequality.

Those are simple words for a massive task, but a good start would be to provide water, food, and shelter for the world. Even a tiny portion of what the US spends annually on the military could solve the world’s water problems in one year, and how much easier would it be to deal with a country that knows it cn drink because of your generosity? How much more stable would a country be if the people all had enough to eat and places to sleep? These are not things that are beyond our capability to grant.

I may be an eternal optimist, but I believe that if people can drink, eat, and sleep under a roof then this makes them substantially less likely to become radicalised into violent action against another country. In partilcular, such provision must be done without strings and for the good of the people, not for economic gain. The scrapping of selected third-world debts is intimately tied to the governments’ ability to permit first-world countries to exploit the new, cheap workforce. I don’t think that it can be a coincidence that in the seven months since China has finally been rumbling and realising that it is one of the most powerful economies in the world that the west has suddenly become determined to promote economic stability in Africa. Scrapping the debt is great, but turning the new populations into sweat-shop workers is not. I may be being overly cynical. We’ll see.

By contrast to my optimistic model, forcing governmental changes, killing families, and destroying basic facilities seems like a perfect method to create an army of dedicated to soldiers against you. Given that terrorist activity appears to be on the increase as a result of the ‘war on terror’ then it would seem that spraying Frankenstein’s monster with bullets is just making it angry, to make it stop you need to go back to the source.

3 thoughts on “Franekenstein and modern horror”

  1. I liked your analogy to a point. I guess I was expecting you to go somewhere else with it in the end, however. Americans have tried helping out poverty-stricken countries, and a lot of the time, the response they get is resentment at the American Saviour Complex.
    Not to say that Americans couldn’t improve their global image dramatically by reducing their consumption of the world’s resources, their abuse of external sources of labour, etc. But it’s the attitude that needs to change, more than the actions.
    And as for terrorism; if it’s a lumbering monster, then perhaps the best response would be, “Hmmm… This fellow isn’t moving very fast, why am I panicking? I have at least 30 seconds to get my bearings and, Oh Look, a boat only 20 feet from where a more panicked person might have run stupidly into hip-deep water.” (Okay, I don’t know what the boat symbolizes in this analogy, stick with the rational response part.)
    The only reason terrorism has any effect is because we respond like horror movie bimbos. But calm, rational thought has no place in Hollywood, and let’s face it, America loves Hollywood.

  2. I agree with you entirely; I think that terrorism’s power is derived precisely from people running around like headless chickens. If the population were to be encouraged to react calmly and rationally to the (minimal actual) threat then terrorist acts would lose a lot of their power and instead we might have a realistic chance of a meaningful dialog. The trouble is that various branches of the media encourage absolute fear in everyone to sell newspapers, playing off the worries of the less cynical members of the public. Sex sells, but so does fear.

    I’m not sure what examples you’re thinking of when you mention the ‘American Saviour Complex’, but I’d be interested to hear! Certainly there have been a fair number of things like that said over the current war in Iraq, but that’s not too surprising considering that many of the people there feel that they were better off under Saddam’s rule. In the long-term they will most likely eventually change their mind, but the operation has been bungled and so resentment is always going to come from that. If I’d had my fresh water supply cut off for the last 18 months ‘for the good of my coutnry’ I’d probably be rather annoyed too. Being told ‘you’ll thank us in the end’ isn’t always a great debating technique!

  3. I guess the American Saviour complex examples I’m thinking of are tainted by war. America sends aid workers and relief in after being the cause for much of the suffering in the first place, like in the Persian Gulf.

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