Recent Reading: Monsters From the Id, by
E. Michael Jones
I should start off by saying that this book has provided me the most intriguing reading I've had in recent memory. It is the first time I have waded into the waters of serious literary criticism, and I really
did not know what to expect. The experience was refreshing and thought-provoking. He has an original and fascinating interpretation of the series of Alien movies that alone is worth the read.
Monsters From the Id traces the development of the horror genre. It starts with Frankenstein and works its way through to Aliens III. Jones makes a convincing case that the beginning and continued popularity of horror are due to psychological responses to sexual "liberation" and its consequences. The thesis of the book is encapsulated by the two quotes that make up the first page. The first is from the Book of James:
Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong
desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when
sin is fully grown it too has a child, and the child is
The second is from the classic movie Forbidden Planet: "The
Krell forgot one thing, the monsters from the Id."
If I am reading correctly, his basic argument could be expressed as follows:
- When sexual activity is separated from the moral order the inevitable result is pain, sorrow, horror, and death
- Starting with the French Revolution, the Enlightenment (to which we are all heirs) very explicitly rejected that there was any standard of morality to which men should be bound. In fact, Enlightenment thinkers saw the key to all human happiness to be the casting off of restrictions on sexual activity so that all people could completely fulfill themselves.
- The inevitable pain, misery and death followed the loosening of sexual morals. Different times and locations experienced this suffering in a variety of ways. During the French Revolution it manifested itself in sadism and widespread brutal violence. Germany and much of Europe were haunted by the devastating effects of syphilis. When the "Enlightenment" liberation of sexual morals came to America it brought in its wake divorce, rape, broken families, and the "unspeakable crime" of abortion.
- Western civilizations have accepted at a very deep level that there are no moral values, and the sexual freedom is fundamental to a fulfilled and happy life. This commitment to sexual license is so deep and so axiomatic for so many people that they are absolutely at a loss to explain the suffering that is rooted in immoral sexual behavior. The realization of the connection between immorality and suffering must be repressed. But this repressed idea then surfaces forcefully in other ways. One of the ways is through horror.
- The repression of the connection does not make it go away. Sexual immorality brings with it a general sense of dread, foreboding, or the feeling that things are not right. The monsters of the horror books and films are the manifestations of this dread.
At first, I was skeptical, but Jones has me convinced. His thesis explains one aspect of most horror films that has puzzled many critics. Why do so many films associate the attack of the monsters with sex? Why is it so often the case that characters in films are attacked and killed during or right after sex? The implicit message sent is that sex is dangerous and that having sex will hurt or kill you. Yet one can hardly accuse the horror movie industry of prudishness. Would it not make sense for most writers and directors of these films to send the exact opposite message?
Jones is arguing that the writers and directors of these films can not see the connection between immorality and suffering because of their ideological commitment to the primacy of sexual license. Yet their subconscious makes the connection and so the connection is expressed in these books and films. These films then draw audiences because they are saying something true, even though neither the makers nor the audiences can explicitly acknowledge the truth expressed.
If you're unconvinced, I urge you to read the book for itself. It is well worth it simply for his discussion of the series of Alien films. You can find the book at Spence Publishing.