Scripts of fear

Convinced as it is that the Powers that dominate reality are at best indifferent toward us, and at worst opposed to us, works of popular culture in this vein depict our helplessness in the face of unknown forces - forces both external to us and inside of us. The Gothic is the purest variety of this subcategory of broken faith. Slasher movies, vampire tales, films like Silence of the Lambs, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers about the sociopaths among us, the work of Stephen King (who has 250 million books in circulation), a generous portion of music videos and rock star fashion, even comedy films such as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands by director Tim Burton - terrify us with supernatural foes and, perhaps more interestingly, with the lingering effects of past human transgressions that haunt us with a vengeance. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the ur-text of this genre. She established the archetype in which some humanly initiated reordering of nature, often done with noble intentions, went awry and circled back upon its creator and any innocents who stood in its way. We can expect punishment for our hubris. This is a versatile idiom, and it is particularly useful for its identification of which specific acts of hubris dominate our collective consciousness at any given time. Apocalyptic novels and movies rise out of this Gothic fear script, warning us of the unforeseen and horrible consequences of our manipulations of atoms, genes, viruses, and the temperature of the atmosphere.

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