Technology, Instincts, and Horror
My book Knowing Fear has become one of the standard reference works on the horror genre, which I think is a pretty cool thing. In the new book Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus (Viking, 2012), Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy use my book to help define the appearance and the role of the monster in nineteenth century biological horror:
In reviewing Rabid for n+1, Alice Gregory proposed that this definition of the monster was no longer operative in today's technologically-enhanced world. Oddly, despite having Googled me to obtain the descriptor "xenoarchaeologist," Gregory does not go beyond the quoted material appearing in Rabid.
This is an interesting take, but hardly unprecedented in the history of horror--and pseudoscience. What are the "Grey" extraterrestrials but ethereal humans divorced from the bestial? What of the entire mid-twentieth century genre of robot fiction? Isaac Asimov's I, Robot comes immediately to mind, with its inquiry into whether a robot was man or machine, and how much of the irrational the bestial could exist within a supposedly perfected form.
I don't think that technology does exactly what Gregory thinks it does. In a sociological sense, yes, we worry that the internet is keeping kids from forming social bonds; but in fiction technology is more often used to exaggerate our various bestial instincts, providing free rein to fully give in to unbridled sexuality, fantasies of violence, and lust for power. Part of this is practical: Stories about isolation are by definition claustrophobic and dull. Part, however, is that technology does not separate us from our instincts so much as it empowers us to set them free.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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