11 April 2018
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2017 there were 689 active anti-government organizations devoted to fighting or overthrowing a government they see as corrupt that were ready to mobilize against the government in a matter of days; that same study found that forty percent of these groups were militarized: training and arming members to “protect and serve.” Since its literal invention, government has been the center of fear and controversy amongst the population it is meant to serve. From the assassination of Roman Emperors to a conservative American walking into a pizza shop with a loaded AK-47 because he believed the government was harming children, citizens believe that government is moments away from falling into a cesspool of corruption (that is, if one does not believe it already has). Due to this constant anxiety, humans have produced countless volumes of works surrounding the monster that is the government. Movies like “Enemy of the State,” television shows like “Star Wars the Clone Wars,” and even George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” all feature a central theme which somehow involves the government taking power from the people it is meant to serve and using it to oppress, or for personal gain. Monsters are most feared because of the inability to articulate what the monster is; formless and faceless, the government remains terrifying to humanity because of its ubiquitousness and deep ambiguity.
“Enemy of the State” centers around Robert Clayton Dean, a lawyer fighting to uncover government spying while that very government works to expand its spying powers and desperately tries to stop Dean by any means necessary. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, the man who literally wrote the book on what makes monsters scary, published his “seven theses” on why humanity has an obsession with creating monsters. Government envelopes three of these theses: numbers one, three and five. Cohen’s first thesis is “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body” the monster is never just a monster; it represents something bigger than itself, the government represents the people and its body is literally made up of the people it represents. Dean fears the monster that is the government not because it exists far beyond what humans can fathom, but because it is the creation of humanity and any injustice which it can deliver is being delivered by its elective body. Fearing this monster is in reality fearing the worst inside of oneself.
Cohen’s third thesis,“Monsters are the harbinger of category crisis” states monsters defy current understanding and logic and as such cannot be categorized. This lack of categorization in turn makes it impossible to understand completely and know what a monster is thinking or doing. In regards to the government, it is too vast to be understood perfectly, and therefore can do things in the shadows that its constituents are unaware of. Orwell’s “1984” is a story of a government which has already fallen into a state of constant surveillance on its adult citizens and indoctrinates its children to ensure that adults do not grow up to question the regime. Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist does question the monster and is in turn eaten up by it, the government kidnaps and tortures him into submission.
What these two pieces of media are very skilled at showing is the beginning and end of an insidious governmental takeover, “Enemy of the State” showing an oppressive government in its infancy and “1984” showing the regime at the height of its virility. Both share the motif of being unaware of the government’s foul play and, upon realization, trying to stop it. Often times though, when a monster is discovered at the height of its power, that monster cannot be usurped in one fell swoop but through slow and methodical defeat.
Since the beginning of time, humanity has had an almost inexplicable fear of inanimate objects: things such as porcelain dolls and ventriloquist puppets which stoke mankind’s fear of items which are nearly human but are not. “The Uncanny Valley” has been studied by scientists in Japan and has found that humans do not trust things that have human features but lack the ability to convey non-verbal language through those features. Dolls have a human face but do not express emotions that a human brain can understand, clowns wear make-up which make social cues impossible to detect, and ventriloquist puppets even go so far as to use human speech but with no non-verbal indication of feeling. Humans fear these things because at some point during evolution early man learned that seeing signs of a threat coming before it happened by reading facial expressions could come in-handy. In “Star Wars the Clone Wars” this same unease is felt by the senators who are threatened and attacked in order to sway the vote, the senators are aware that a government subterfuge is occurring, but are unaware that it is being conducted by the head of the government those very senators represent.
This same fear is what leads to uncomfortability around government, because from the time of adolescence citizens are told that the government is an extension of those very citizen’s wills. But because that government is human, made up of humans, and elected by humans, it is nearly human in and of itself, but its emotions cannot be read, it demonstrates no warning signs before moving to strike. It cannot even truly be surveilled as meetings and decisions are often made outside of the house of government. Citizens can never know what government officials are doing behind the scenes and will probably never know, this creates unease.
In the Television series, “Star Wars the Clone Wars” season three episode eleven, “Pursuit of Peace” the government is standing on a precipice, oscillating between giving more power to banks by expanding the war and those defenders of truth trying to keep government funds in the hands of the people. This interpretation remains the most spine-tingling because of the puppet master working behind the scenes. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine heads the republic senate, the body working to keep the galaxy united and fight the war while providing for citizens. Even still, the separatist alliance, the government working to separate from the republic and fighting the other side of the war is commanded by Palpatine’s underling. Chancellor Palpatine is the head of this governmental monster, controlling all sides of the conflict without either side knowing. Hopelessness should be the feeling that follows such news. Literally nothing can be done to stop this tyrant from his mission. Hopelessness is what creates the climax of a piece of monster media.
Fighting tooth and nail against this hopelessness Senator Padme Amidala fights to stop a spending bill which would cut funding to public medical, housing, and utility benefits and allocate it towards the military and escalating conflict. Surviving assassination attempts on her own life, as well as the key-note dissenter’s, the Senator is ultimately able to sway the body’s opinion and stop the bill, calling on the lack of care for the poor and downtrodden. All of this is achieved even as the entire government is stacked against Amidala, and a dark omnipotent force manipulates both sides from behind the scenes. Palpatine even goes so far as to say, “Isn’t it remarkable, that one can have all the power in the galaxy, and yet the words of a single senator, can sway the thoughts of millions?” An integral part of a monster story is that the monster has a weakness. Frankenstein has fire, vampires have sunlight, and werewolves have silver; a weakness makes a monster just as much as terror does. In the end it is the voice of the people exposing the monster of the government’s weakness, in the form of the elected official devoted to justice, that saves the galaxy.
Elected government is an extremely distinctly human occurence. In every story featuring the government as its central antagonist, “Enemy of the State,” “Star Wars the Clones Wars,” and especially in “1984” there stands a moment of realization, awakening to the monster’s sinister actions. “Star Wars the Clone Wars” stands out as the sole example of a preemptive strike which stopped mistreatment. What this teaches is that the government’s greatest weapon is apathetic citizens, people who remain unaware of transgressions and take no steps to understand more fully or, even worse, people who know that injustice is occurring but take no steps against it. Senator Amidala stops the monster because she inspires empathy, she inspires action, she even manages to inspire courage. Today, elections happen with less people voting than people who refuse to, rampant apathy has run amok. Government could very easily become corrupted, the slumbering monster is moments from waking. In response, the United States is waking up, from the Women’s March to the March for Our Lives, citizens are ramping up against a monster that those very citizen’s apathy has created. Monsters are constantly under the bed, but humanity is always ready to rise up with a flashlight.
- “Active Antigovernment Groups in the United States.” Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/active-antigovernment-groups-united-states.
Used this source to understand the fear and anxiety the surrounds government. I was raised in California. By extension, I have not been exposed to that much radical anti-government bias. This article helped open my eyes to the widespread distrust and supposed need for action against the government. It also demonstrates the scale of these groups, and how spread across the US they are. Proving the universal discomfort in regards to the government. Used in the essay to show that people are still afraid of the government.
- “Navigating a Social World with Robot Partners: A Quantitative Cartography of the Uncanny Valley.” Cognition, Elsevier, 21 Sept. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027715300640.
I have always wondered why there was a nearly universal fear of clowns. Based on nearly every person I spoke to, clowns make them uneasy. Dolls scare me as well, their eyes always made me afraid as a child. This study explained to me how and why this fear exists. Also I’m afraid of the coming robot apocalypse, and now I know why. Used in the essay to explain why the government is feared because its emotions cannot be read.
- Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
We talked a lot about this book in english class. It showed an interesting insight into what makes a monster just that, a monster. It taught that monsters are in reality, humans that have become unhuman. This piece inspired me to write about government .