Our popular culture's changing taste when it comes to monsters says a lot about our national mood. A few years back, as money drained out of the economy, vampires were all the rage. More recently, as we slog through a slow recovery, zombies have become the flavor of the month.
So, it is curious that we have yet to see a Frankenstein craze. After all, so many problems that bedevil us are the wreckage left behind by the cobbled-together creatures in our midst.
Our health care system stitches together public subsidy and private management and delivers inferior outcomes with the highest per-capita costs in the industrialized world. The financial calamities that brought the economy to the verge of collapse happened because we grafted investment casinos onto the essential business of financial intermediation.
Perhaps we feel that we have domesticated this sort of creature, and therefore need not fear it. After all, our supermarket shelves are lined with Frankenfoods, and even our own identities are collages of our physical beings and our digital selves. Our creations don’t inspire fear as much as frustration. They are more tedious than terrifying.
But in the end this is, of course, a question of what we find entertaining rather than scary. We are drawn to the intersection of lust and infection that lies at the heart of any vampire saga. A world populated by zombies may be nothing more than a fanciful but logical extension of our daily lives in which people walk the streets apparently hypnotized by small hand-held devices.
The zombie apocalypse becomes yet another arena for heroic fantasy where the laws of nature are reversed and the social fabric obliterated. The botched creations that do us real harm? They just irritate us.
For an example of this we need look no further than our own federal government. A system of checks and balances is now all check and no balance. It can barely move forward and usually just lurches from side to side. It can only defer and procrastinate, and when it speaks it shouts at itself like somebody locked in a schizophrenic rage.
Who wants to watch that?
With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.
Paul Staley works for a housing non-profit and lives in San Francisco.