Halloween is coming!
If you're new here you are likely unaware of my annual odes to Halloween. As will become clear, I really like the holiday. For theological reasons.
Next Tuesday, All Saints Day, the day after Halloween this year, I'm speaking in the "Monsters Chapel" being hosted by my friend and colleague Dr. Kyle Dickson.
I am really excited to speak in the Monsters Chapel, a themed chapel using "monsters" as a way to talk about spirituality and morality, because I've written some about the theology of monsters and I have a chapter on monsters in Unclean.
I was planning on using my chapel time to talk about scapegoating and monsters (sharing the analysis from Unclean). I was going to build the talk around Nietzsche's famous quote:
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.I was going to show these two clips--one from Beauty and the Beast and the other from the classic 1931 Frankenstein movie (which is great fun to watch)--where angry crowds head out with torches and pitchforks looking to lynch and kill the monster. As Nietzsche warned, in these scenes of hunted and hunter who is the greater monster?
But when I found out that I'd be speaking about monsters the day after Halloween my thoughts turned toward the existential. As I've written about before, I think Halloween functions as a collective memento mori. And in this age of death avoidance, I find this aspect of Halloween to be very healthy.
So with this in mind I wanted to show a clip connecting monsters with death. Zombies are good for this illustration. And the first zombie clip I could think of, being a child of the 80s, was Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
Now the part I want you to pay attention to starts at the 6:30 mark when Vincent Price starts his creepy voiceover (which, I've discovered, is called a sprechgesang).
Now what did you notice about those zombies?
I'll tell you. They come out of graves.
Now why is that of interest?
Well, because you just don't see zombies come out of graves much anymore. In modern zombie movies zombies are more likely produced by toxic waste, radiation, or a virus. In modern movies zombie etiology is biological, not occult. So it's a bit of a surprise to see zombies coming out of a cemetery.
This observation brought to mind another Halloween-inspired essay I wrote about modern vampire films. In that essay I make an observation similar to the one I've made here about zombies. Specifically, in older vampire movies the vampire was the product of the occult. The vampire was undead. But in modern vampire movies, like modern zombie movies, vampirism is caused by genetic mutations and viruses. Again, the etiology is biological.
My argument in that essay, one that struck me again while watching the Thriller video, is how modernity--this Age of Reason--has been hollowing out the monster story. That is, even monster stories have become scientific. Full of talk about genetics and viruses and illnesses and toxicity.
We see a similar hollowing out regarding spiritual categories. Sin is no longer a spiritual condition. The etiology of sin, as with zombies and vampires, is more likely to be biological. Sin is an illness, a disease, an addiction, a product of genetics.
I'm not saying this is necessarily bad. I'd rather not go back to an age were schizophrenics were considered to be demon possessed. I'm just noticing the hollowing out that is occurring during this age of disenchantment where even traditional occult stories are now about science.
More, the rise of science, as I recently argued, is creating increased death denial. Modern medicine and technology creates an illusion of immortality. That through our technological power we can defeat death. And this death denial and avoidance is even creeping into zombie movies. How bad has it become that even zombies can't be associated with death?
But the reality, despite our illusions, is that we can't defeat death with science. And we should remember that from time to time. (Like, say, on Halloween!) To remind ourselves that zombies and death do, actually, go together.