Good Entomologist/Bad Entomologist
by E. Michael Jones, Ph.D
The result was a mystifying figure whose poetry, cut off from the life which inspired it, remained puzzling and largely incomprehensible: "a beautiful and ineffectual angel," is how Matthew Arnold described him, "beating in the void his luminous wings in vain."
Well, times have changed and the real Shelley has emerged from his Victorian Chrysalis and with him the real Mary Shelley, and as a result Frankenstein, at some point following the decade of feminist liberation, got inducted into the literary firmament, a bit like a baseball player from the Negro leagues—a literary Satchell Paige, so to speak—with lots of post hoc apology about the status of women and all. If anyone is interested in an accurate picture of the literary status of Frankenstein as of, let's say, 1953, they need only consult the cover of the Lion Books edition brought out in that year. In the background stands a version of the monster looking like Marlon Brando on bad hair day, staring at his blood-stained hands. In the foreground, an unconscious Blanche DuBois, exposing in the film poster manner of Jane Russell in The Outlaws, a tantalizing bit of cleavage. Needless to say, the readers of this edition of Frankenstein were probably even more disappointed than the moviegoers of the time, as Hollywood's efforts to break the production code shifted into high gear.
The cover of the Lion Books edition of Frankenstein is just one artifact in the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection exhibit, Shelley and his Circle, on display at the New York Public Library over the summer of 1997. It is in many ways the definitive statement that Mary Shelley has finally joined her husband in the canon of English literature, after all those years of languishing in Hollywood and the environs of pulp fiction. The art has finally been situated in the life of the people who wrote it, which is as it should be, no matter what it does to Mary Shelley's reputation as Victorian angel-making career manager for her dead husband.
The circle is expanded to include not only Shelley's wife but his mother-in-law, the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to his wife, but not before writing a tract on women that the women's movement two centuries later took as its magna carta. "A hyena in petticoats," is how Horace Walpole described Shelley's mother-in-law, and the odium spread to cover the entire irregularly shaped dysfunctional family that contributed so much to the radical branch of English letters around the turn of the 19th century.
But even in getting the connection between art and life right, the culture just can't seem to get it right when it comes to horror or Frankenstein, the book that created the genre. Frankenstein gets lumped in with the sexual revolutionary theories that created it without any understanding that it was written precisely as a protest against those theories by someone who had gotten badly burned by close exposure to them. "The show's curators," AP writer Joan Brunskill tells us in her review of the Shelley and His Circle show, felt that the writings of Mary and her mother "challenged the sexual oppression and possessive morality of their day."
The statement is, unfortunately, only half true. Mary Wollstonecraft was certainly a revolutionary. She went to France in the aftermath of the Revolution to write a book about it, arriving just in time to witness the execution of "Citizen Capet" and the outbreak of the terror. The revolutionary atmosphere was still exerting its intoxicating influence though, and as a result of libido unchained from convention (and about to turn deadly), Wollstonecraft had an affair with an American adventurer by the name of Gilbert Imlay, which issued as this sort of thing still does more often than not in an illegitimate child, heartache and an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Her daughter, Mary Godwin, carried on the family tradition by imbibing the radical philosophy of her father, running off with Shelley, then married to someone else, and realizing over the winter of 1816-17, as Frankenstein went from gestation to parturition, that sexual liberation leads to death. Horror is the name we give to the genre Mary Godwin created, a genre which has increased in cultural importance in direct proportion to the implementation of revolutionary/enlightenment ideals of the sort that wrecked the lives of both Mary Wollstonecraft and the daughter she never knew.
The fact that the lady who created the genre which was an inchoate protest against sexual liberation is feted as one of sexual liberation's proponents indicates that the culture which celebrates her still doesn't get it. Horror is a protest against the Enlightenment in general and the Enlightenment's sexual agenda in particular. Horror is also a way of mounting this protest in veiled and ambivalent form, because the culture is still ambivalent about sexual liberation. Everyone seems to be for it, and yet everyone also seems to know people harmed by it, as the empty promises of the last two hundred years get acted out and empirically verified as increasingly empty. This was precisely Mary Shelley's position almost 200 hundred years ago.
Horror is a sign that the culture may be "getting it" when it comes to the Enlightenment, but getting it in spite of itself. If the culture could make up its mind about sexual liberation as the culmination of Enlightenment, it wouldn't need horror. It would either embrace sexual license wholeheartedly, as Mary's husband did, or repudiate it as wholeheartedly as Christianity, Shelley's arch-foe and candidate for universal radix malorum, did. Horror is a sign that the culture is having doubts about the Enlightenment, but not quite ready to relinquish it completely.
Horror is a sign of ambivalence. It's so bad, people like Mary Shelley seem to tell us through her fictions, I can't talk about it, but then she turns around and says the exact opposite too. It's so bad, I can't not talk about either. Hence, the monster, who in many ways does the talking about the unspeakable for her.
If ambivalence signifies the beginning of horror and the end of the Enlightenment, then the recently released film Mimic is a sign that both phases may be coming to an end, which is to say the unconscious repudiation of the Enlightenment that was always the basis of horror may be becoming conscious. Other evidence exists that the horror genre may be becoming aware of itself or at least making the attempt. Wes Craven's Scream is an attempt to make sense of the clichés of the slasher film, but without much success. Mimic, however, is neither campy, nor self-conscious. It is a classic creepy film in the tradition of Them!, the '50s film about atomic bombs creating giant ants. Mimic begins with a plague carried by roaches in the subterranean tunnels of New York city. In order to stop the plague, which is killing the city's children, a female entomologist, who wants to have children herself but can't, invents a new bug by recombining DNA from two different species. The bug is supposed to be sterile but, as we know from other movies, never is and so three years later it has gone one to mutate and multiply throughout New York's subway system.
It's first victims are the homeless who choose to live in the city's subway tunnels. The "mole people" (who are a lot like the proletarians in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, a film which he did after seeing Manhattan by evening by ship when arriving in America) are the first sign that the Enlightenment has failed. The second sign is the decaying subway system itself which provides the setting for most of the film. At this advanced date, there are, according to the Enlightenment view of scientific progress, supposed to be no more dirty poor and no more dirty cottages in which they are to live. The Enlightenment fantasy of the "radiant city," depicted in Metropolis and at the 1939 World's Fair and in the general boom in Bauhaus architecture after World War II, was supposed to make squalor a thing of the past. "Shelley," wrote Claire Clairmont, when Shelley eloped with her half-sister and Claire tagged along for the ride and to do translations from the French,
said there would come a time when no where on the Earth, would there be a dirty cottage to be found—Mary asked what time would elapse before that time would come—he said perhaps in a thousand years—We said perhaps it would never come, as it was so difficult to persuade the poor to be clean. But he said it must infallibly arrive, for Society was progressive and was evidently moving forwards towards perfectibility—and then he described the career made by man—I wish I could remember the whole — but half has slipped out of my memory—only I recollect men were first savages—then nomadic tribes wandering from place to place with their flocks—then they formed into villages—then to towns, and the improvement in mind , morals comforts etc. set in —and then next came ArtÑand then the Sciences and from this point, Society would go on step to almost perfection.
And then, of course, men started living in abandoned subway tunnels, after two hundred years of progress which included the Gulag and Auschwitz and sexual liberation in places like New York City. Mimic is, you may have gathered, deeply pessimistic when it comes to the promises of the Enlightenment, a fact underscored by its setting which is in the ruins of the advanced industrial age, in rusted, dripping, dank, bug-filled, darkened tunnels, which is where the Enlightenment seems to have found its final culmination in the popular imagination.
So, as in Them! we're back in tunnels fighting giant bugs that resulted from our tampering with nature. When Hollywood did Them! it had more of the patrimony of the West to draw upon, and so the Army is brought it but restrained in its use of force. The generals can't just nuke the entire Los Angeles sewer system because two children are in there in need of rescue. Eventually one soldier loses his life rescuing the children from the ants, which are then toasted by the army's flame-throwers. Technology triumphs, but it is a technology in the service of humanitarian ideals like defense of innocent life. Species is a remake of Them! without the residual humanitarian patrimony of the West informing it. In Species the "monster" is a woman whose chief flaw is her desire to have non-contraceptive sex. As in Them!, the final climax occurs in the sewer system, only this time the multi-culti P.C. SWAT team which has replaced the army has as its goal not the destruction of killer insects but rather the destruction of the mother and her child. Species is an indication of the deterioration of the dominant culture's values in the wake of 25 years of abortion on demand, and a good indication of the guilt the culture feels at the carnage it has promoted in the name of sexual liberation. Instead of accepting the guilt, the culture has to project its own guilt on to the victim and kill both the mother who refuses to go along with the eugenic/contraceptive project and her child as well. Because of this, Species is a pro-Enlightenment film of the crudest and most brutal sort. The army is still there, but its job is now to use technology to preserve the gains of the sexual revolution and punish the people—depicted as aliens—who won't go along.
Like Species, Mimic follows in the tradition of Them! but it is different on both counts. To begin with, there is no army anymore waiting outside the tunnels ready to save the people from the giant bugs. Beyond that, there isn't even a scientific plan to deal with the bugs. The female entomologist who created the bugs by mixing DNA spends a lot of time wandering around the subway station, but doesn't really have a plan. In fact no one does, which leads one to believe that there is no plan anymore.
Which is not to say that there isn't a lot of the diehard American ingenuity, which characterizes plotlines when the protagonists get in a jam. In this case, the story's main characters, who get split up trying to track down the bugs and are only reunited by chance in an abandoned subway station, don't have a clue about how to stop the bugs other than by shooting at them or chopping them into pieces. The entomologist who created the mess is not like the entomologist in Them! who also figures out a scientific way out of the mess. She is as clueless as everyone else. Eventually, it is the black cop who comes up with what we might term the Enlightenment solution. After repelling an assault of huge killer insects by taking refuge in an abandoned subway car, the team, which now includes a rosary-toting Italian whose son has fallen prey to the bugs, decides that the way out is to get the electricity running and drive the car back to Grand Central Station. This necessitates going back out into the tunnels again and getting the electricity going by connecting the green and the blue wires (This sort of scene is usually reserved for defusing bombs, where the hero has to cut the black wire but not the red one, or else the bomb will explode. Or was it the red wire and not the black one?)
True to Enlightenment form, the wires get connected, the lights go on in the subway car, and the wounded black policeman starts driving the car back to Grand Central station. But then things go wrong. The train isn't going to make it; the female entomologist has to run out and save the son of the Italian, and—here is where the Enlightenment starts to break down—the black policeman, knowing that the bugs are attracted to blood, starts walking down the track to distract the bugs from the child. In other words, the Enlightenment solution, involving know-how and electricity, has failed. The only solution left is one which involves self-sacrifice—in this case, the ultimate self-sacrifice. As the bugs swarm over the black policeman, the entomologist and her husband and the Italian kid now have their chance to escape up a dumb-waiter. But even here, more self-sacrifice is involved. The husband puts the women and children in the dumb-waiter equivalent of the lifeboat, but slams down the door without getting in himself because he has to haul it to the surface. The wife protests but up she goes, only to find that the way is barred at the top and after a few futile attempts to get out, an insect severs the cable and she and the Italian kid fall back down into the subway again. Another technological solution has failed.
Eventually the husband sets off an explosion which kills all of the bugs but one, the male upon whose loins the reproduction of the bug community depends. If the male gets out, the show goes on, and humankind becomes lunch for a new race of killer bugs. But the male at this point suddenly sees the child and decides to have a meal before flying the coop. The female entomologist, who is pointedly childless in the film, at this point starts screaming at the bug, a pointed reminder that entomology, as the film's designated Enlightenment science, is, as H. G. Wells once said in another context, "at the end of its tether." In other words, there is no plan. The scientists have created the monster, which the kindly, scientist father figure and mentor played by F. Murray Abrams, refers to as a "Frankenstein," and now there is no plan for stopping it. It is out of control, and all the Enlightenment and its entomologist representative can do is shout impotently at its backs as it stalks toward one more child victim.
But then our scientist heroine remembers something. When the Italian kid's father died, he dropped his rosaries on the track and the entomologist picked them up. Now standing there on the subway tracks as the giant bug is about to devour another child victim, the film's representative of the Enlightenment takes the crucifix at the end of the beads and stabs it into the palm of her hand and then, like Jesus Christ standing before the Apostle Thomas, she holds up the bleeding palm and shows it to the bug. Distracted by the scent of blood, the bug turns and flies at the entomologist only to get squished by an oncoming subway train.
We have in this scene a gesture which constitutes nothing less than a complete repudiation of the Enlightenment, and as a result something which presages the end of horror as well. If we think for a moment of Dracula as the historic mid-point in the trajectory which began with Frankenstein and ends in the present day, we detect a note of ambivalence when it comes to science. We never know whether Professor Van Helsing is going to reach for garlic or the crucifix or a revolver when it comes to combat with the vampire. In Them! there is still a post-WW II optimism that the culture can make use of technology as wielded by an essentially humanitarian military to conquer the monster.
In Mimic, however, all such hope is gone. There is no army out there ready to rescue us from the monsters science has created. We are all left to deal with them alone, after our technological solutions have failed—alone amidst the ruins of the Radiant City in a dank, dripping subway tunnel. The only solution left is the Rosary. You probably find that statement as far-fetched as I do, but the film admits of no other interpretation. Out of the bowels of Hollywood, the headquarters of the secular humanist regime—in other words, from the quarter where we would least expect itÑwe have not just generic religion, but the prime totem of folk Catholicism, the rosary, employed as the only possible hope of destroying the monsters created by Enlightenment science. This is a movie that would warm the hearts of the children of Fatima, although Billy Graham might not like it, nor would anyone else offended by four-letter words. But in a post-Roe world, would Going My Way be persuasive anymore? We live in a world where human beings have become disposable. And the fact that the mole people in the subway got gobbled up by big bugs is probably something that Mayor Rudi Giuliani would applaud, since he is both pro-abortion and anti-street people. Mimic is the quintessential fin de eclairissment film. The setting is ruined subways, Le Corbusier's radiant city overrun by bugs, and the big question, which the black policeman asks bug-eyed while gazing on the decapitated form of the thing that just tried to eat him alive is, "What the f--k was that?"
What, indeed? We have been asking ourselves this question, ever since it popped into the mind of Mary Shelley during the fall of 1816 when first her half-sister and then Shelley's wife killed themselves as a result of the lived experience emanating from Enlightenment thought.
Did the Blue Army write this script? No, the Blue Army had its chance to make a movie a few years back, and it was terrible. This film bespeaks something deeper than conspiracies involving Vatican agents writing Hollywood scripts. It implies nothing less than a thinking through of the premises of the Enlightenment to their logical, self-contradictory conclusion. Reliance on "scientific" reason, which became very quickly nothing more than a front for illicit desire, led not to light and peace but to ruin and darkness and very large bugs. The antidote to all this, Hollywood is now telling us, is faith and self-sacrifice and, most shocking of all, the rosary, the ultimate expression of benighted folk Catholicism. Nor is the rosary some cheap superstitious prop, as it is at Medjugorje. In the film, the rosary is a vehicle for self-sacrifice; the crucifix at the end of the beads is an instrument for the shedding of blood, just as the prototypical crucifix was an instrument which shed the blood of Jesus Christ. As in the first instance, this sacrificial shedding of blood is redemptive as well. The entomologist who created the monster by the application of Enlightenment science redeems herself by shedding her blood in defense of an innocent child. The rosary both defeats the Enlightenment and redeems the science that drives it. At the end of the film, after being told by the wise father figure scientist mentor that no one could have survived the gas explosion that killed the bugs, the lady entomologist gazes into the subway and sees her husband emerge miraculously like Lazarus from the dead. In the final scene,husband and wife and newly-adopted child embrace and the camera tracks fondly over the rosary firmly attached to the lady's wrist and dangling, crucifix and all, over her husband's back.
So in the end, the Enlightenment failed, and all we have to depend on when the monsters it created attack is self-sacrifice, family ties, and blood willing to be sacrificed for a greater good—the blood of the cross, the blood of martyrs, the blood of the lamb. Are you washed in the blood of the lamb? If not, you might want to consider that option as you stand around in the ruined subway station of Enlightenment culture aware that all of the technological solutions to moral problems have been tried and found wanting.
Did someone say, "Ecrasez l'infame"? Shelley used to ends his letters with this slogan of Voltaire as a way of stirring up anti-Catholic animus among the devotees of scientifically enlightened sexual liberation. Now, it turns out that the infamy, in its most flagrant and funky folk manifestation—namely, the rosary—crushed the Enlightenment that was supposed to crush it. At least that is what Hollywood seems to be telling us now. Is there some subversive script writer out there in the pay of the Vatican? Is Guillermo del Toro, the film's director, an secret agent of the Blue Army?
Or is this simply the return of the repressed? I suspect the latter rather than the former. Take The Song of Bernadette, which won the Academy Award as best film in 1943 and repress what it represents for 50 years in the interest of Enlightenment inspired sexual liberation, and in the end the repressed Bernadette Soubirous will return as a lady entomologist with a rosary around her wrist slashing her palms with a crucifix. Mimic is nature's revenge for the overthrow of the Hollywood production code. After 200 years of Enlightenment-inspired horror resulting from Utopian experiments gone bad, even the most obtuse moviegoer realizes, in his heart if not in his head, that the Enlightenment has failed, which is, of course, what horror has been telling us cryptically ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
The Enlightenment tried to drive religious and moral nature out with a pitchfork, but found that nature only returned through the back door, in the form of a monster. That that monster has destroyed the fondest hopes of the Enlightenment should be obvious by now. For those in need of further evidence, I cite the case of another entomologist, this one not as benign as the character played by Mira Sorvino in Mimic.
"The names of Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Pascal," Kinsey writes like an importuning dwarf trying to drape his arm over their shoulders ,and most of those who attempt to explore the physical realities of the universe appear in indices of prohibited books dating back not more that two or three centuries, and in some instances as recent as the last hundred years. How many persons would venture today to condemn all further physical research?
Just what Professor Kinsey meant by "physical research" has become much clearer with the publication of James Jones's biography of the great entomologist from Bloomington. Kinsey was a homosexual, a sado-masochist and an exhibitionist, a man, in Jones's words, "who, as he grew older, pursued an interest in extreme sexuality with increasing compulsiveness." Kinsey, it should be remembered, staked his reputation on the accuracy of his scientific sampling technique. Now it turns out that the basis of his science was homosexual compulsion; Kinsey was driven by a compulsion to witness bizarre sexual behavior, to engage in it himself, and then to justify it by claiming that large segments of the population were doing it too. Now, it turns out that Kinsey cooked his own books and in Jones's own words, that Kinsey's "methodology and his sampling technique virtually guaranteed that he would find what he was looking for."
Kinsey, it is now obvious, was looking for a way to justify his own homosexual behavior. So Kinsey's "science" was nothing more than a front for his compulsions, which included among other things having his wife filmed while masturbating and having himself filmed (from the neck down) while inserting pipe cleaners into his penis. When it came to gratifying his compulsions, Kinsey was not above coercion either. The wife of one of his the staff of the Kinsey institute reported on the "sickening pressure" that was exerted on her to have sex on camera as a way of promoting her husband's career.
How was it possible to justify behavior like this? "The strategy behind the first Kinsey Report," James Jones candidly admits, "was to shout 'Science!' through an exhaustive accumulation of technical jargon and massed statistics." Those in the know, including Abraham Maslow, knew that the statistics were bogus all along. Kinsey was obsessed with homosexual behavior and beginning in 1939 spent hundreds of hours in the homosexual demimonde of Chicago and New York. That in addition to all the time he spent in prisons and whorehouses gave him a fundamentally skewed view of American sexual mores. Kinsey's methodology was a function of his homosexual compulsions, and, as Jones now puts it, "his methodology and his sampling technique virtually guaranteed that he would find what he was looking for."
So in the end we have a story of two entomologists—one fictional, one real; one good, one bad—but both of them arriving on the scene simultaneously to announce that the Enlightenment is dead. Its only lasting legacy is monsters and ugly, machine-like architecture and the horror stories told by its survivors
E. Michael Jones, P.h.D is the editor and publisher of Culture Wars magazine.
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