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Monsters in America

Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting

By W. Scott Poole

Publication Year: 2011

Salem witches, frontier wilderness beasts, freak show oddities, alien invasions, Freddie Krueger. From our colonial past to the present, the monster in all its various forms has been a staple of American culture. A masterful survey of our grim and often disturbing past, Monsters in America uniquely brings together history and culture studies to expose the dark obsessions that have helped create our national identity.

Monsters are not just fears of the individual psyche, historian Scott Poole explains, but are concoctions of the public imagination, reactions to cultural influences, social change, and historical events. Conflicting anxieties about race, class, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, science, and politics manifest as haunting beings among the populace. From Victorian-era mad scientists to modern-day serial killers, new monsters appear as American society evolves, paralleling fluctuating challenges to the cultural status quo. Consulting newspaper accounts, archival materials, personal papers, comic books, films, and oral histories, Poole adroitly illustrates how the creation of the monstrous"other"not only reflects society's fears but shapes actual historical behavior and becomes a cultural reminder of inhuman acts.

Monsters in America is now online at www.monstersinamerica.com. Visit the new website for more about the book, upcoming events, and to keep up with Scott Poole's blog.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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pp. 1-1

Review, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Photographs

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

...Sometime around the age of eight, my parents banned me from watching Shock Theatre on Saturday afternoons. Shock Theatre brought the black-and-white “famous monsters” of the 1930s and 1940s into the lives of the kids of the 1970s. It also gave me a strange combination of hallucinatory nightmares and intense fascination only matched by my near-religious hysteria over the recent 1977 release of Star Wars....

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Preface: With a Warning to the Unsuspecting Reader

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pp. xiii-xviii

...Entertaining Comics (usually known simply as “EC”) created some of the most subversive images of the 1950s in titles like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. These macabre tales of mayhem, taking place in the midst of middle-class American life, used the conceit of a host known as the “Crypt Keeper” to introduce the horror and mix in some black humor. Late night showings of horror films on local TV used the ...

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Introduction: The Bloody Chords of Memory

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pp. 1-26

...Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s arrival at the MGM commissary followed fast on a night of humiliation. The author of The Great Gatsby had embarrassed himself, in his mind irredeemably, at a party thrown the previous evening by acclaimed producer Irving Thalberg and actress Norma Shearer. Fitzgerald drank too much...

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1. Monstrous Beginnings

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pp. 27-52

...Wes Craven’s 1991 The People Under the Stairs offers a parable of the power relationships of colonial America. Set in an American inner city, the film centers on the story of an African American teenager nicknamed Fool and his struggle with a pair of modern-day colonial overlords, white masters who exude an aura of supernatural evil and control over the economic fortune of their black neighbors. “Daddy and Mommy,” as the white slumlords...

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2. Goth Americana

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pp. 53-80

...The stylish 1992 film Candyman, based on a Clive Barker short story, succeeds by combining a gothic sensibility with genuine terrors from the American past. A graduate student named Helen (played by Virginia Madsen), researching urban legends in contemporary Chicago, begins collecting stories of the mythical “Candyman.” The story of Candyman contains motifs not dissimilar from other well-known urban legends...

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3. Weird Science

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pp. 81-110

...Lightning jaggedly rips the sky as thunder rumbles in the distance. A steady rain beats on the old stone tower. The air has a faint metallic taste. Chemical vats bubble. Massive Victorian machinery sizzles with electric power that surges through the Thing on the table. The first signs of life are barely noticeable. Hands move. Dead eyes flutter open. It is alive...

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4. Alien Invasions

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pp. 111-140

...Legendary producer and director Howard Hawks’ 1951 Thing from Another World featured a group of American scientists and military men at an arctic station who discover a giant craft frozen in the tundra. An Air Force captain suggests to the team that perhaps the craft belonged to the Soviets since “they are all over the Pole, like flies.” Attempting to extract the giant ship ends in its destruction, but the scientists and Air Force personnel manage to save a “Thing” trapped in a block of ice ...

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5. Deviant Bodies

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pp. 141-166

...The story of Marion Crane, a beautiful young woman having an illicit affair, seemed to follow the general outline of Hitchcockian narratives. Crane steals money from her boss in hopes of attaining the postwar American dream of domestic bliss and conspicuous consumption. Then she goes on the lam...

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6. Haunted Houses

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pp. 167-192

...December 1973, film patrons lined up around the block in every American city to watch some of the most terrifying images ever put on film. Using a documentarian style that created both a sense of cinema verite and of claustrophobia, director William Friedkin’s e Exorcist dragged America, literally kicking and screaming, into the bedroom of a teenage girl and forced them to face the devil...

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7. Undead Americans

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pp. 193-218

...George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead opens in a cemetery in western Pennsylvania, well marked with flags honoring the recently buried Vietnam dead. A brother and sister, Johnny and Barbara, are visiting their father’s grave. Both siblings are uneasy. Johnny did not want to come, and Barbara is clearly still grieving their father’s passing. She kneels beside the grave to pray while Johnny, clearly uncomfortable, jokes about a man, perhaps an indigent-...

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Epilogue: Worse Things Waiting

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pp. 219-228

...Freddy Krueger invaded America’s nightmares once again. Ten years after the trash-talking slasher first entered his victims’ dreams, New Nightmare reimagined the Elm Street mythology in a radical fashion. Director Wes Craven’s monster escapes the realm of imagination and stalks Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund, the actors who portrayed the final girl and Freddy himself in the first film. He even stalks his creator, Craven himself...


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pp. 229-230

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A Note on Sources

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pp. 231-234

...Monsters are hiding in the traditional raw materials of American history. Many of the primary sources for this book are evidence of this, revealing how traditional sources contain a substratum of gothic beliefs about the borderlands between the monstrous and the human. is book is an archaeological effort to examine what lies beneath these tectonic layers....


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pp. 235-268


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pp. 269-277

E-ISBN-13: 9781481300483
E-ISBN-10: 1481300482
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583146
Print-ISBN-10: 1602583145

Page Count: 295
Illustrations: 24 b/w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 868220406
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Monsters in America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ghosts.
  • Ghouls and ogres.
  • Animals, Mythical.
  • Popular culture -- United States -- History.
  • Supernatural.
  • Monsters.
  • Geschichte. -- swd.
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