Book Club Channel
America and Its Monsters: A Q and A With Scott Poole
Oh yeah? Well, if the Civil War is all about the reuniting of a nation then why do we come out of it with a new obsession with gore and the dismemberment of the body? If the story of the post-World War II era is that America emerged as a wealthy superpower, then why are we terrified of radioactive creatures from the depths and watching hundreds of films about alien invasion and subversion? If the 1980s inaugurated a new era of optimism, why it is that supernatural child-killer Freddy Krueger becomes our national icon?
Let's rewrite the subtitle. What other pithy phrases sum up this book?
That's pretty fun because I get to play editor. I've had a lot of questions about my formulation "History is horror," so some version of that might have been useful. More than one person has been struck by my description of American history as a "landscape of corpses." Not sure if that really snaps.
Some might think we should have subtitled it "Scott geeks out." Once or twice I've wished I could have just subtitled it "Yes, this does have stuff about zombies in it" so I wouldn't have to answer the question over and over again.
What conversations do you want this book to inspire?
I hope horror fans talk about the films we love in a deeper way. Look, I know people just want to be left alone with their popcorn to watch their movies and I get that. But our monsters are layered phenomena and we should take our monsters seriously. What is going on with gender in slasher films? How do American conflicts over religion play themselves out in exorcism dramas?
I also hope that it starts a conversation among readers who are used to the kind of consensus history I've already mentioned. If Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose have shaped your vision of American history, what does this swim in the dark currents with monsters do for you? How does it change you?
I'd love for political progressives, including the hardy souls who have been occupying Wall Street and other sites of power, to talk about the book and what it tells us about the history of subversion and dissent. Tales of monsters are political tales, often-subversive tales. It's not an accident that a few weeks ago protesters in NYC dressed as zombies to point out the mindlessness of corporations, their voracious hunger for more.
Name one person—or group of people—you hope reads this book. Why?
I'd like Wes Craven to read this book. Fanboy alert. He is my favorite of the great horror auteurs because he has the most complex vision of the monster as metonym for human experience and history out there. Here's a guy who starts his career as a literature professor, then makes one of the most disturbing films ever made in Last House on the Left about Vietnam and the falsity of American visions of home and family. In the Reagan era, he creates a dream demon that haunts the quiet suburban streets. Then he creates postmodern horror.
If he read it and liked it, it would make my year. Maybe my lifetime.
Do you expect this book to change anyone's mind? About what?
Yeah, well not really. Let me complicate that though. Books work slowly and deftly. We are the books we have read over a lifetime in some ways and I think they germinate in us even when we, to some degree, forget them. So I think that it's a work that might leaven the loaf. It gets the thoughtless reactionary to examine the monsters of our own history instead of waving an "Obama is the antichrist" sign.