Materialism and Greed: The Real Monsters in Poltergeist
A seemingly "Hallmark" family, although nowhere near perfect, is dropped into the middle of a most bizarre situation. This family fights to reunite themselves after becoming victims of disgruntled spirits in Tobe Hooper's 1982 film Poltergeist. The film attempts to criticize the 1980s boom of materialism, which the Freeling family clearly falls prey to. The external threat of the poltergeists that the Freelings face is merely a metaphorical threat that represents how greed and materialism can lead to the destruction of a successful family. The Freelings are meant to represent the American dream, or at least "phase one" of it, in that they have achieved success on many levels, more specifically that of financial success. They are a traditional nuclear family with dad as the breadwinner, mom as the nurturing housewife, three kids, and a family dog. They have a very nice home with more than enough money to buy whatever stuff they want. Although they are free and unrepressed in many ways, in other ways they are also enslaved by those same material elements. Their house is wedged suffocatingly close to the others, and their growing wealth of possessions is only wedging them tighter. On the surface, this film appears to simply be the common battle of good vs. evil, or even man vs. the supernatural, however, it weaves several criticisms of the time throughout the film as well.
One of the cultural threats that affect those in the time period of the 1980s is that of materialism. "For the satire to work correctly, Poltergeist must define the culture of its characters as corrupt, and that is exactly what the film does" (Muir 89). Although it is Carol Anne who first makes contact with the poltergeists, Steven is most likely the family member who attracts them to the household in the first place. There is "a visible shift in the ascription of responsibility for the breakdown of traditional family...
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Poltergeist. Dir. Tobe Hooper. Warner Studios, 1982.
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