Jeffery Jerome Cohen writes in his essay Monster Culture (Seven Theses) that cultures can be understood by the monsters they have. Through seven theses, he argues for the importance of monsters and reaches a conclusion that monsters can define a culture. These creatures of the imagination are born from fears of the unknown and desires of the forbidden. They are the vampires and zombies, ghosts and goblins, dragons and demons that invade fantasy and fiction, dominating novels, films, and video games. They have grown to be an integral part of the media and common consciousness. Everyone has heard of and seen monsters in the media. Cohen’s first thesis, “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body,” argues that monsters are born out of a particular “time, a feeling, and a place” and exists as “pure culture” (Cohen). The monsters, being a product of its time, represent the views of the people of those times but they can also challenge the public view. So, they serve to reinterpret parts of the culture. People learn to see themselves differently through a monster’s eye. The monsters and what the views they represent linger in the mind of their creators and audience; the monsters become legend. The novel I am Legend, by Richard Matheson, was published in 1954 during the Cold War when people viewed the world as a duality of pure good and pure evil. It was the perfect cradle for monsters. The view of the Soviet Union with its communism as evil and the United States with its democracy as good easily grew into a tension represented by monsters and the heroes that opposed them. In I am Legend, a worldwide disease turns everyone into a vampire-like monster except for the immune Robert Neville, who becomes a killer. Justified by a kill-or-be-killed drive, Neville bunkers in a fortified house at night and hunts the vampires in the morning. He responds to the question of why he kills: “Only to-to survive.” (Matheson) There is the image of a cowboy-like champion conquering a wild world, refusing to surrender to a greater force. This image, created by culture, is that of hero. People wanted to identify with heroes like Neville and oppose villains like the vampires or the Soviet Union. As Cohen argues, monsters can illuminate the secrets of its time. Besides displaying the desire to hate monsters, the novel also reflects its time of a scientific age, after the achievements of Einstein including the atom bomb and during a technological race against the Soviets. People wished for examination of the old and rational explanations of the strange. So, the vampires are explained scientifically. The vampires are sensitive to light because direct sunlight can kill the bacteria that have taken over the monstrous body. In the novel Neville thinks. “Bacteria could be the answer to the vampire.” (Matheson) They cannot stand garlic because its smell chemically weakens the beast. And Christian vampires fear the cross for it invokes feeling of guilt and sin in what’s left of the monster’s mind. With its scientific explanations and new ideas, the novel is called the first modern vampire novel. It popularized ideas of apocalypses, monsters caused by diseases, and lone survivors. Its ideas are alive today, after many other adapted or inspired stories and films, with its 2007 rendition as a movie of the same name. As seen in the Resident Evil series, the worldwide plague that turns people into monsters is now commonplace in media. Like Matheson who is described as “a guy that everybody knows without knowing it” (Hunter) because of all the media he inspired, his novel I am Legend is also a story that everyone is familiar with without knowing it. This familiar idea of human-like monsters remains strong because there is an instinct to believe in them. “The monster always escapes,” as Cohen calls his second thesis. Monsters vanish when they are about to be dissected, changing to suit the culture of the creators; each...
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