As Halloween approaches, Paul Pastor offers a theological gloss on monster stories, calling them “a quick route to our hearts” and holding that “our fears shed light on our loves, on our priorities, on our hopes, on the thousand things that form who we are”:
Our monster stories reveal deep-set fears, but they also unveil our hopes. In the popular modern zombie flick, for example, we see that even in the total collapse of human society, we can hope for not only survival, but for community, for beauty, for something more than the Western dreams of brainless consumption and the cannibal exploitation of our neighbors. We can find a sense of belonging, of dignity. Modern Westerners long for a satisfying level of self-sufficiency, for friends that we could trust our life with, for a sense of clear purpose, however bleak the surrounding world might be.
In America, where our folk culture is steeped in red-hot brimstone and rapture theology, we both dread and long for apocalypse. We’re afraid of being killed or “left behind,” but secretly believe that we’ll be one of the chosen few who survive the end, to help usher in a new age. This apocalyptic narrative has extended far beyond Christianity or pseudo-Christian cults. It’s embedded firmly in our cultural imagination regardless of our collective American faith or lack thereof. As such, the modern zombie tale is a classic example of apocalypse in the 20th century. We long for a reset button, for upheaval that will leave something better than what we have now when the dust settles.
(Image: The Head of Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1618, via Wikimedia Commons)