American Monsters

Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Scott Poole, Dr. Sky, Lynne

Ian Punnett was joined by Professor of History, Scott Poole, for a discussion of how the monster, in all its various forms, has been a staple of American culture since the earliest settlers of the country. "Academics ought to take monsters seriously," Poole said, explaining that, regardless of the veracity of their existence, the belief in these entities "has real world effects in the material structures of society." To that end, he was reticent to provide "an abstract definition of a monster" because their identity and meaning have changed over time. "Monsters are products of the context that they come out of," he said, noting that, during different eras, monsters could be sea serpents, serial killers, or "the thing with a thousand eyes."

Tracing this concept back to the very beginnings of America, Poole observed that the early Puritan settlers arrived in the New World actually expecting monsters, which is what informed their perception of the Native Americans. He cited a long standing written history in Europe which suggested "monstrous races that were out beyond where the maps ended." As such, Poole said, when the settlers arrived in the New World, their intention was not to convert the Native Americans, but to eliminate the "monsters" which they so greatly feared. Beyond the Native Americans, he said, early settlers believed they were surrounded by Satanic forces and, thus, were troubled by the concept of witches as monsters and even regarded black bears as "diabolical creatures."

Looking at monsters in modern times, Poole pointed to the emergence of zombies in pop culture as a glimpse into the psyche of the contemporary populace. He observed that the popularity of zombies coincides with America becoming greatly fearful of viral outbreaks as well as obsessed with body image. He likened the zombie to "the ultimate nightmare of American culture's fascination with bodily fulfillment," since it is a decaying version of the human form that is "hungry all the time." Additionally, he surmised that zombies represent "our relationship with the dead" as well as people who are disconnected from society. Over the course of the evening, Poole also discussed the societal implications of other "monsters" like Bigfoot, werewolves, and the Jersey Devil.

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