SUSAN: What would Shakespeare have done with Frankenstein? As a character.
JILL: He would've made Frankenstein royalty. A lot of Shakespeare's kings
are really no less monstrous than Frankenstein. Leontes, for example, or
ROBERT: Or he might've made Frankenstein an actor who is so exhausted by
his own personhood that he decides to become a monster.
JILL: I'd like to know what Frankenstein would've done with Shakespeare...?
SUSAN: There were only two kinds of creatures in Frankenstein's world:
women and enemies, and --
ROBERT: So essentially Frankenstein was a proto-feminist, then?
JILL: You are Frankenstein, Robert.
SUSAN: What does the Frankenstein story tell us? For one thing that once
someone is dead, you should let them stay dead. Imagine being freed from
earthly existence and inhabiting the warm ubiquitous glow of the afterlife;
suddenly some mad scientist back on earth puts your brain into a corpse,
gives it a jolt of electricity, and all of a sudden your soul is sucked out
of the afterlife and plugged into this earthly body. But now you have no
spirit with which to relate to the world. And probably no real mind, so
you're just --
JILL: I think the problem with Dr. Frankenstein -- the monster's creator --
was that he had no appreciation of Frankenstein the monster _as a person_;
he was interested in the monster just insofar as he embodied a scientific
experiment. Dr. Frankenstein was a lot like a behaviorist; an early B.F.
Skinner, only considerably more original than Skinner.
ROBERT: Wait a minute, Jill; how could Dr. Frankenstein have related to his
creation as a person? He wasn't a person, he was a monster.
JILL: Well, what exactly makes a person?
ROBERT: Come on!
JILL: No, really. If you say for example that someone's gay because he has
such-and-such condition in his hypothalamus, someone's violent because of
such-and-such chromosomes, someone drinks lots of alcohol because they have
such-and-such chemical imbalance, well then...where is there room left for
SUSAN: Can I interrupt? I want to steer this away from becoming an
unentertaining philosophical debate.
ROBERT: Just one more note on that, please. What did Frankenstein want?
He wanted a room with no fire in it, enough food to eat, and a mate. That
was the full extent of his ambition. That hardly seems very human to me.
JILL: Well, what you've just described are the goals of most ordinary
people. We decorate those three main goals -- food, shelter, sensuality --
with all sorts of rituals, but really that's what our lives boil down to.
SUSAN: Let me broach this idea: Could Frankenstein ever have been
integrated into society? What would happen if he were created today?
Certainly we're much closer to being able to animate dead matter today than
we were a hundred years ago.
JILL: Well I think American society has developed extraordinarily
sophisticated techniques for modifying deviant personalities. In some
cases it works backwards; social pressures instead of imposing uniformity
on a divergent person end up pushing him or her further away from the norm,
and that often leads to criminality.
SUSAN: As does forced uniformity, though often in different ways.
JILL: I think if Frankenstein were alive today, he might be turned into a
"normal" individual. You could see him eating a banana split at the ice
cream parlor, or wearing Nikes; you could see him working at a bookstore,
ROBERT: Or teaching at a university, or singing in a choir. Frankenstein
could be a celebrity, like on MTV --
JILL: No, Frankenstein's personality is too strong, he wouldn't make a good
celebrity. Celebrities obliterate their real personalities in order to
adapt to current fashions; once they learn a particular vogue way of acting
and looking, society embraces them, revels in them overnight, then spits
them away. And most celebrities can only mold themselves to one single
fashion; once they come to be associated with that one...context, they seem
out of place in any other context. And anyway, how many times can you
transform yourself without becoming vacuous? So most celebrities only
remain hip for several years. Then after that they're worse than obsolete;
they're embarrassing. They're contemptible. The society that cherished
them for becoming mindless instruments of titillation now hates them for
having had such low standards. Society will never forgive them. And in
their own souls, they can never escape the fact that they were once in the
Partridge Family, or on Gilligan's Island, or whatever.
ROBERT: But there are also people who become celebrities just because they
have such charming personalities, because they're --
JILL: Oh, they're even worse off! Their personalities become public
property and their status as private individuals is wrecked.
SUSAN: Taking your reasoning through a slightly different turn, Jill, I
think some people might see all celebrities as Frankensteins; manufactured
ROBERT: But speaking of Frankenstein not being able to be a celebrity, in
the past decade or so we've seen several movies dealing with Frankenstein.
JILL: Well but that's not to say that Frankenstein is in fact a celebrity;
he's just a role that anyone can fill so long as she or he adheres to the
basic Frankensteinian guidelines on monsterhood. Anyone can be
Frankenstein in this society, just like anyone can -- theoretically -- be
SUSAN: You said "she or he." Let's talk about Frankenstein's bride. Was
the monster couple capable of having a family?
ROBERT: And if so, what church would they have joined? What would their
politics have been? Could Frankenstein himself have become President?
SUSAN: I thought the '80 and '84 elections answered that...
JILL: Well, again, I think if Frankenstein were alive today we'd be hard
pressed to distinguish him -- at least on the surface -- from an ordinary
SUSAN: So you're saying, Jill, that like Dr. Frankenstein who just wasn't
interested in what you called the personhood of his monster and therefore
totally ignored him, contemporary society essentially does the same thing
to its individuals by forcing them to obey some picture of the model
JILL: More or less; I don't think --
ROBERT: That notion's belied by the fact that our society has such
admiration for true individuals, such as Frank Zappa, Henry David Thoreau,
Ross Perot, --
JILL: Well on what grounds do you consider them true individuals? It seems
to me they're just magnifications of features of our social consciousness
which may not be obvious, but which are nevertheless very in keeping with
our national character. When you get real individuals, like Emma Goldman,
Eugene Debs, Polly Baker, these people are hounded by government agents,
periodically imprisoned -- as was Thoreau. Essentially their lives are
spent at war with their society.
ROBERT: But those people were genuine threats to the social order -- for
good or for bad. How do you think Frankenstein would threaten us?
JILL: He'd threaten us in our self-identity. He'd show us that we're just
as monstrous as any of the horror-movie monsters we've imagined.
ROBERT: Isn't it just extraordinary that human beings actually spend time
sitting around worrying about their own status as beings? Why is this so
important to us? Would a true monster go through this ontological
JILL: I think the Frankenstein story tells us this: Lighten up; take it
easy; live and let live; the world is full of evil, so stay away from it as
much as possible. Aside from that, just relax and enjoy life.
ROBERT: That is a such a shallow hedonistic interpretation! How can you
SUSAN: Before we go any further, I'd like to thank you both; we are out of