I enjoyed reading George McCartney’s review of Monsters From the Id in the November 2000 issue of Chronicles (“Frankenstein’s Children,” Opinions). However, it contains some misrepresentations of what I had to say on the relationship between sex and horror. To begin with, the Ford Foundation never funded Alfred Kinsey’s sex surveys; it is the Rockefeller Foundation that holds that dubious distinction.
In addition, I do not propose Andrea Dworkin’s writings as models of sexual morality any more than I propose Alien as a model of sexual behavior. Dworkin’s writings support my case, but not in the way Professor McCartney claims they do. They represent an instance of the revulsion to things sexual that the sexual liberation of the 1960’s and early 70’s caused. In this, her writings are in the same class as Alien—an inchoate reaction to the unfulfilled promises of the sexual 60’s produced by a person who can’t really follow the line of moral causality back to its source. Like Alien, Andrea Dworkin’s writings are the sequel to Deep Throat, an indication that oral sex is no longer fun. In fact, the whole project of sexual liberation had become something horrific by the late 70’s, even though no one could admit it openly. The only way the culture could face this fact was through the medium of horror fictions, which allowed those who produce and consume them to say simultaneously that sexual liberation is good and that they were hurt badly by it. That is less painful than following the chain of moral causality to its inescapable conclusion by admitting that “what I did was wrong.”
This brings us to the idea of intention. Professor McCartney seems to think that writers’ intentions have hegemony over the texts that they produce. If this is the case, he needs to explain why Hollywood, which has been the leading promoter of sexual liberation since at least 1960, would produce films such as Halloween, which subvert their intentions by consistently portraying sexual misbehavior as being subject to the most brutal retribution and punishment. The only teenage girl who makes out of Halloween alive is the one who refuses to have sex.This is so because a writer’s intentions are constantly subverted by larger things—including his imperious desires and the moral law written on his heart. This is not to deny intentions; it is only to say that intentions are not the final word. As St. Augustine once said, “Even those who set themselves up against you, do not copy you in a perverse way.” Reality—in this case, moral reality—has a way of subverting intention: That is precisely what the horror genre is about. Its fictions are created by people who espouse Enlightenment morals and, at the same time, know that they and others they know have been hurt by them. In this regard, the concept of divorce in Invasion of the Body Snatchers is much more uncanny than Professor McCartney would have us believe. It is nowhere associated with independence (as he claims). In fact, it is never explained. It is associated with monsters by mere temporal juxtaposition, the favored form of causality in horror fictions. As soon as Miles Bennell finds himself within sexual striking distance of Becky, pods appear to interrupt his desires.
As for my own views, Professor McCartney does his readers a disservice by understating them. I believe not only that to the morally licit all sexual activity must be confined to the marital bed, but that marital sexual intercourse—in order to be moral—must be open to procreation. What this has to do with “holding hands” escapes me. Just who is the Puritan here? The man who defends the moral order, or the man who confuses the moral order by putting courtship rituals on the same level with adultery?
The real issue, however, is not what I believe, but what horror writers from the author of The Bacchae to the author of Halloween think, and here the testimony is all but unanimous. If a teenage girl removes one article of clothing, a monster will leap out of the bushes and stab her to death. If a couple is found making out in an automobile, the Blob will not only kill them but destroy the entire city. If the women leave their looms to worship the Asiatic god Dionysos on the mountainside, the city is faced with destruction. If the king goes to watch the women dancing naked on the mountainside, he will end up being torn limb from limb. All of these fictions describe what Professor McCartney would call “the consequences.” All of them indicate that sexual immorality—especially in women—is a threat to the social order. All of them indicate that sex disconnected from morals leads to horror. Taken together, these fictions embody the sexual moral patrimony of the West. A culture superior to our own might have learned these lessons the easy way, by reading these texts with respect. Our culture, however, decided to learn these lessons in what Ben Franklin called the “expensive school of experience.” What horror fictions make clear is that that lesson will be learned willy-nilly. The monsters that our dissolute behavior creates will ensure that.
—E. Michael Jones
South Bend, IN
Dr. McCartney Replies:
First, let me say—as I did in my review—that I agree with Dr. Jones’ central thesis: The modern attempt to regard sex as a form of value-free recreation disconnected from its procreative potential has been widely destructive.
If anthropology is at all correct in its assumptions, what we call “civilization” received one of its most formative revelations when our species began to realize that there was a causal connection between a woman’s birth pangs and the pleasurable frenzy that preceded them by nine months. At that moment, sex became at once sacred and fateful, an activity that required special handling. That people have in recent times been so desperate to break this procreative linkage is, as Dr. Jones argues, horrifically ironic. In full possession of the facts of life, many have chosen to abandon them in hopes of enjoying unfettered pleasure. The results—broken homes, abandoned children, abused women, venereal diseases—have been catastrophic.
So far, so agreed. I must, however, take issue with Dr. Jones’ proposed remedy. Although sex is liable to be misused, limiting its expression to a purely procreative functionalism won’t work. As a Roman Catholic, I am, of course, familiar with this prescription. But I’ve always thought it a cure worse than the disease, and so have many within the Church. Do we eat only to nourish ourselves? Drink only to quench thirst? Clothe ourselves only to keep warm? Our basic needs and appetites have given rise to an infinite panoply of aesthetic expressiveness. That’s what we call “culture.” If we were to follow Dr. Jones’ declared regimen regarding sex, then we would have to dump the Odyssey, Dante, the sonnet, and Cole Porter—to say nothing of handholding, which, I believe, can be quite stimulating without being necessarily adulterous or even fornicative. Dr. Jones sometimes seems to want to corral us into Swift’s Houyhnhnm herd, rationally proscribing our appetites to their purely utilitarian applications.
Following Dr. Jones’ readiness to dismiss authorial intentions, I could willfully interpret his own writing. Does he not show signs of siding with the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, especially the one who righteously justifies their collectivist mission to convert humanity to their cause? As this well-meaning alien explains to the film’s human principals, Becky and Miles, they should be glad to join a world without emotion, love, and individuality because it is infinitely more reasonable than the one they know. Unquestionably; but it would be inhumanly dull, also. I’m sure Dr. Jones doesn’t deliberately intend to adopt the pod position, so I won’t say that he does on some subconscious level.
On Andrea Dworkin, I reread Dr. Jones’ remarks in Monsters From the Id, and there is nothing there to suggest he recognizes her obsessive lunacy for what it is.
Finally, I must thank Dr. Jones for correcting my mistake regarding the foundation that supported Alfred Kinsey, a pod person of a different—but just as alien—stripe. Discredit must be given where discredit is due. Dr. Jones may be amused to learn of the circumstances that extenuate my otherwise unpardonable mistake. I was writing my review while visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Seattle. Ensconced in their cramped back bedroom, I found myself occasionally distracted by the joyful consequences of libido in the person of my clamorous month-old granddaughter, Flannery.