At Stake: Monsters and the Rhetoric of Fear in Public Culture

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University of Chicago Press, 2001 - Social Science - 341 pages
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Anyone who reads the papers or watches the evening news is all too familiar with how variations of the word monster are used to describe unthinkable acts of violence. Jeffrey Dahmer, Timothy McVeigh, and O. J. Simpson were all monsters if we are to believe the mass media. Even Bill Clinton was depicted with the term during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But why is so much energy devoted in our culture to the making of monsters? Why are Americans so transfixed by transgression? What is at stake when the exclamatory gestures of horror films pass for descriptive arguments in courtrooms, ethical speech in political commentary, or the bedrock of mainstream journalism?

In a study that is at once an analysis of popular culture, a polemic on religious and secular rhetoric, and an ethics of representation, Edward Ingebretsen searches for answers. At Stake explores the social construction of monstrousness in public discourse-tabloids, television, magazines, sermons, and popular fiction. Ingebretsen argues that the monster serves a moralizing function in our culture, demonstrating how not to be in order to enforce prevailing standards of behavior and personal conduct. The boys who shot up Columbine High School, for instance, personify teen rebellion taken perilously too far. Susan Smith, the South Carolinian who murdered her two children, embodies the hazards of maternal neglect. Andrew Cunanan, who killed Gianni Versace, among others, characterizes the menace of predatory sexuality. In a biblical sense, monsters are not unlike omens from the gods. The dreadful consequences of their actions inspire fear in our hearts, and warn us by example.
  

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Contents

2 Driveby Shouting
43
Cunanans Killing Queerness
71
When Angels Fall
99
Scandal and Auguries
125
6 Death by Narrative
153
Matthew Shepard
177
Common Weal Common Woe
203
Notes
209
Selected Bibliography
295
Index
329
Copyright

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Popular passages

Page xii - St. Michael the archangel? Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray, and do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Page xi - Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

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About the author (2001)

Edward J. Ingebretsen is an associate professor of English and director of American studies at Georgetown University. He is the author of Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King and Robert Frost's Star in a Stone Boat: A Grammar of Belief.

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