More human than human: American monsters



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Monsters disrupt. They stomp, fly, slither, and saunter through our stories in ways, which due to the spectacular nature of monsters, cannot go unremarked. Monsters are the harbingers of cultural disruption. Contemporary American culture has become saturated with zombies, aliens, and vampires. Book stores, movie theaters, and cable channels burst at the seams with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and aliens. The film version of a series of vampire books, The Twilight Saga, is the 9th highest grossing film series of all time. The same series has also spawned an astounding line of tie-in merchandise. Toy manufacturer, Matel, has released a line of Twilight Barbies. At the Target retail chain you can purchase the Edward Cullen fleece blanket, water bottle, and temporary tattoos. And Twilight is not the only popular monster tale invading America. As of its third midseason return AMC’s zombie drama, The Walking Dead, snagged a higher percentage of the all-important adult viewer demographic (18-49) than any cable series ever. We cannot escape ever-present monsters. The omnipresence of monsters in contemporary American television, film, and literature begs the question: Why monsters? Why has current cultural discourse become so thoroughly invaded by monsters? What purposes might be served by deploying monsters in contemporary works? Why are they so hugely popular? And, why are some monsters horrifying and others sympathetic?

While the 2010’s gave rise to an explosion edited collections that bring together essays on particular monsters, such as zombies, or particular approaches, such as the Popular Culture and Philosophy series, relatively few studies recognize the significance of monster narratives in the last decade of the twentieth-century and the first decade and a half of the twenty-first-century. Monsters have acquired a new flexibility in representation never seen before. Rather than simply serving as metaphors for what violates the boundaries of society, monsters have come to satisfy a range of cultural purposes. They are neither wholly horrific nor are all monsters sympathetic. While monsters can be manifestations of cultural crisis and anxiety they can also be manifestations of cultural evolution and accommodation. Most especially evolution and accommodation made necessary in a Postmodern America facing the difficult questions of redefinition. Redefinition not only of the idea of what it means to be “American,” in an increasingly heterogeneous nation but also redefinition of the “normalized” meaning and demarcation of concepts of such as humanity, sex, gender, and race. In other words, monsters do the cultural work of threatening established identity categories and the cultural work of aiding in the accommodation of ever expanding and shifting identity categories. Using a variety of theoretical approaches allows for a much broader examination of contemporary monsters. To that end every chapter varies in critical approach.



American Literature, Theory, Ecocriticism, Gender Theory, Postmodernism, Posthumanism, The Walking Dead: Twilight, Warm Bodies, The Gilda Stories, Fledgling, World War Z