Two of the most popular American movies of all time, Frankenstein and Gone With the Wind, have cryptic subtexts which often elude the unwary audience. We stare up at the screen, timid spectators of civil war and a split self.
When will we arise, children of paradise, against these images of splitting that reflect the fractures in our own lives and societies? Even the classic French movie, Enfants du Paradise,has its chilling subtext in the mind/body split. The ancient Indian Kali sect known as the Thugs would kidnap people and take them to walled gardens, ("para/dise" means "walled garden" in Persian), there to strangle the blindfolded victims with scarves. Children of paradise, the victims would go to Kali having experienced paradise as a perfect walled garden seen only for an instant before being strangled. And we, the audience, in the darkened theater, go to our filmic paradise, another two hours strangled. In Enfants du Paradise a mime is estranged from his voice, unable to express his love for a woman, an actress who will in off-screen life later be denounced for giving succor to German soldiers in World War II. The ugly real enters the beautiful garden. The French screen kept mum during the war against fascism, the war against silence.
As any semiotician will tell you, the film screen/film director wants to dominate the passive audience. American film, American hegemony. One watches Peter Brookss Mahabarata, and everyone in it, including the Hindu God Ganesha, speaks English. Well, why not? Sanskrit is the mother of English in Proto-Indo-European. But one thinks of the American musical Camelot and how the English quietly lifted the story of King Arthur from the Celts centuries earlier. The audience watches, mum before the Queen Mums theft. Later, the Hollywood Jews would appropriate the Celtic Avalon (meaning "Island of Heaven") for their own in the movie Avalon about the Jews in America. And then one remembers that the Jews took the Noah story from the Babylonians, that portions of the Songs of Solomon are lifted word for word from Egyptian poems written a thousand years earlier, that theres a baby-hidden-in-the-bullrushes story in the Hindu Mahabarata that mirrors the later story of Moses being left in the bullrushes, that the ancient Hindu Eight-Fold-Way resembles the Ten Commandments, that Krishna-as-Savior-in-the-Last-Days parallels Christ-as-Savior-in-the-Last-Days, and one realizes the oneness of all things perhaps begins with cultural theft.
Gone With the Wind concludes with Scarlet OHara clutching a fistful of red earth at her now-blasted plantation, Tara. Her husband, Rhett Butler, leaves her after their child dies. In despair, she finds hope in the land. "Ill always have Tara," Scarlet intones. But "Tara," in Tibetan Buddhism, is the Bodhisattva, or Buddha of compassionate activity. She is loved for her miracle-working wisdom-in-activity. The Tibetan green Tara (green, the color of Ireland) overcomes all obstacles and saves beings in dangerous circumstances. Scarlet, in the wearing of the green gown she sews for herself from window curtains, leaves the window open to let in the light, allowing enlightenment after Shiva destroys the plantation system. Tara, the protector-Buddha-consort, is a powerful female protecting her clan in a dangerous world. The American Civil war is a war against slavery, the split-self, North against South, good against evil. It is our Bhagavad-Gita, a story of brother against brother, with Rhett Butler as Arjuna, at first refusing to take up arms, but then relenting as he accepts his dharma. Still, the story is really about Scarlet, the red earth of Tara counterposed to the green of the cotton crop. She is the compassion of all the Buddhas, even weeping for the war-blighted earth. Scarlet OHara will always have Tara, but more than that, she will always be Tara.
What is beneath the earth, and that which in horror rises from it? The planted dead. The Chinese emperors planted tens of thousands of slave workers cadavers in the Great Wall of China as it was being built. They were buried where they fell. Today the Chinese harvest organs from their prisoners. A harvest of organs by Dr. Frankenstein, gravedigging doctor and man who dares God destroy him. It is all so very spooky. We, who sit in rows of tombstone-shaped seats in a darkened theater, sit up and come alive only when the picture starts. The flickering light beckons us to life. Like Frankensteins mute monster, we sit silent, our eyes harvested from their sockets. An eerie confederated fantasy grows from those sockets toward the light of the screen.
Recently, in the United States, high school boys have been going berserk shooting their bullying classmates. The killings at Columbine High School occurred in part because the boys on the killing spree admired Keanu Reeves Neo character in The Matrix. John Brown, the early American abolitionist, tried to foment a Civil War over slavery in much the same way, killing slave owners and rescuing slaves. Some argue that though he was hanged he was successful. Karl Marx, who admired the gladiator-slave-revolutionary Spartacus, contended that robbers were pre-Communist revolutionaries - revolutionaries without theory. This sort of individual interventionism was Charles Mansons logic in the murder of Sharon Tate. Are American high school bully-killers todays John Browns, or mere Charlie Mansons? Something is brewing in America. High school bullies mirror corporate bullies. To see the high school bully and bully-killer as media-driven emanations of corporate bullies and terrorists, of George Bush and the PLO, is to see things clearly. Bushs pro-gun "family values" bullying mirrors the pro-gun underground "family" of the high school boys. And Hollywood is the mirror.
In January we celebrated the tenth anniversary of our Gulf War victory with Gulf War leaders General Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell standing at attention on the Super Bowl football field as Stealth bombers flew ominously overhead in V-formation. The man voted Most Valuable Player in the game was facing contempt of court charges for refusing to testify about a murder hed witnessed. The chief advertiser for the game was Warner Brothers promoting their new movie Exit Wounds. When asked during a halftime break what message he had for America, George Bush said, "Love thy neighbor."
Dr. Frankenstein's monster says to his creator, "Youmademe butdidnotgivemewhatIneed!"
In David Hedrich Hirschs essay, "Liberty, Equality, Monstrosity: Revolutionizing the Family in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein", he maintains that Shelley wrote her novel as a cautionary tale regarding the ferocity of the French Revolution. All those bloody beheadings, so many minds separated from their bodies, hallowed French society halved and hollowed. Families were broken by the demands of fraternité. Brother set himself against brother, the body politic rose up against the monarchic head. In revolution, as in civil war, monsters, both Jacobin and monarchic, walk the land. Hereditary wealth, the plantation system, slavery, the sans-culottes, Irish Republicans and Orange Ulstermen, Napoleons spies, the Ku Klux Klan, radical feminists and Fundamentalist Christians: politics creates strange grave-fellows.
Victor Frankenstein attempts to create life with tomb as womb. In this sense he is God the Father raising Jesus from the tomb. But Frankensteins fashioning of whole from hole might also be seen in light of extra-Christian religions. Seth kills Osiris and scatters his brothers body parts in the Nile, but Osiris is reconstituted by Isis. The Buddha counsels us that he is nothing, yet this empty counsel is the origin of Buddha-consciousness. Krishna deludes his seven milkmaids into believing he loves each of them, an empty delusion, but by this delusion he brings us to enlightenment.
Is Frankensteins creation of the monster anti-family, or a revolutionary premonition of the 21st Century family? In this century the family will include harvested organs, cyborgs and clones. Frankensteins revolution is a grisly revelation from below. The doctor splits open the body to create a new body, a Caesarian section of the dead. In this way he is a forewarning of Charles Manson and the Manson "creepy-crawlies." Manson was an LSD-dropping American hippy who "rose up" to slaughter the actress Sharon Tate in her Hollywood home in the 1970s. Tate was pregnant at the time her belly was slit open by the creepy-crawly Manson clan. Their goal was to start a race-war when the murders would presumably be blamed on African-Americans. Mansons helter-skelter murders were meant to be revolutionary acts that challenged notions of state and family. He called his cult "the Manson family". His family of fraternité replaced the genetic family. The mad Dr. Manson split Sharon Tates body in order to unify "the people." He was our Victor Frankenstein, our Abraham Lincoln splitting America in two in order to save it. His monstrous "family" rose in Jacobin terror against false Hollywood, false home, false family. His guillotine, the knife, his piercing eyes seeing through the screen to a brave new world in which organs and fetuses are harvested. Already our genes are owned by corporations, our organs harvested for the rich. Oligarchic horror mirrors Mansons terror.
Brian McCormick is the founder and editor of Wrong, an art journal published by Art Center College of Design. He currently teaches at Art Center and is an artist in Los Angeles.