Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dunbar’s Apocalypse; The Hidden Meanings Behind Monsters

Since the Easter season has just concluded, I thought it would be appropriate to write something seasonal. However, after several uninteresting and meandering drafts, I realized that writing something insightful about the Easter bunny is almost impossible. So in my blind frustration, I entered a Ben & Jerry’s induced coma on my couch, and began watching Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie epic, 28 Days Later. I’m not sure if it was the copious amounts of ice cream or Mr. Boyle’s masterful use of symbolism, but during the viewing, I began to ponder the merits of two specific types of monsters, vampires and zombies, and how there creation is dictated by the modern day zeitgeist.

It is a well-known fact that throughout human history, we have created monster as a personification for society wide fears. This subconscious urge to blame a fictional being when tangible human cause does not exists, has inadvertently created a highly detailed backlog of human fears. The classic example of this is the vampire. During their existence, vampires have transformed from revolting personifications of death due to plague, into mysterious aristocratic foreigners, to the cast of Twilight, which is inarguably the scariest incarnation yet. Yet, monsters still constantly evolve with the times, we set off a nuclear weapon, the result is Godzilla, have a national debate on torture, we get seven Saw movies, and some parents have trouble raising their children, the end product is the Omen. What will the next generation of monsters bring? My money is on something Miley Cyrus related.

In order to have a good monster, which the hero and his party of compatriots can vanquish in the name of peace, justice, and the American way, it needs to be utterly dehumanized. A perfect illustration of this is the Nazi. Featured in every single World War 2 film, they are the perfect monsters, completely evil; the only line they articulate is a muffled “Die Amerikaner”, and the intimidating uniform makes them all near identical. Dehumanization is also aided by sharing no common interests with the monster; this principle is exactly why no war movie ever showcases how much Hitler loved his cat. Yet, my favorite dehumanized monster is one that literally looses its humanity, the zombie. Zombies have had an illustrious career as an integral part of Voodoo folklore, then transformed into a flesh eating metaphor for social upheaval, and in recent years have embraced the idea of modern terrorism. However, you would be shocked to learn that a zombie equivalent is present in our daily lives. In 1992, Robin Dunbar came up with a concept entitled Dunbar’s Number. Conjuring up a definition for the Internet generation, the idea states that as individuals we essentially have a hard limit on our facebook friends. We have the ability to deeply care for about 150 people, and everyone else is essentially Joe Francis, they sound human, and act human, but we have few reservations about fighting them in a bar brawl. This unattached hatred is undoubtedly far easier then caring, but imagine a world that didn’t consist of 150 survivors and 6,692,030,262 zombies. For one thing, the odds of survival would be much higher.

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