Of Monsters, Moms, and Metal Men

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

What do psychology, Jurassic Park, Star Trek, and Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have in common? They represent lessons in developmental miscarriages, deadly toilet training, and inflamed bestial passions, according to three Modern Language Association (MLA) professors.

Jurassic Park

Robert Samuels’ interpretation of one of the more humorous scenes in the first Jurassic Park movie—where Lloyd is consumed by a female T-Rex who finds him cowering on the toilet—is unorthodox, to say the least.

Ignoring the original intent of Steven Spielberg, Samuels, a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) said that “Calling this scene unconscious I’m referring to Freud’s important insight that great artists [have] the ability to produce unconscious creations that relate to the unconscious of their audience.” Therefore, he argues, “this theory of unconscious communication rejects the traditional notion of the intentionality of the author and power of the individual audience member to interpret a particular text.”

Samuels said that “this scene depicts a reactionary unconscious fantasy illustrating how the breakup of the…family and the loss of the protecting father figure leaves the child and male adult threatened by the imagined aggression of the maternal superego.”

“Moreover the primal origin of this encounter with the aggressive female figure is the mother who attempts to toilet train and socialize the child. Toilet training can be read here as representative of aggressive demands of the mother, who wants the child to learn how to master natural urges and bodily functions. Toilet training is also the shared origin of social shame…and any failure to master the clean body results in the flooding of impure fluids as witnessed by the streak of mud and water during the dinosaur attack.”

Aware that some in the audience may consider this interpretation a fantastic projection, Samuels—who heads the faculty union at UCLA—argued that “While this reading may appear to be the wild projections of my own unconscious fantasies, I want to place this interpretation in a larger social context by connecting it to a reading of Howard Schwartz’s Revolt of the Primitive: an Inquiry into the Roots of Political Correctness.” (Schwartz’s book outlines the intersection of political theory and gender, concluding that modern society is becoming increasingly feminized).

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In her lecture titled “The Mismeasure of Desire: Freudian Negroes, Ravishing Simians, and Envy at the Limits of Civilization in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Ph.D. candidate Zakiyyah Jackson, who studies African-American Studies at UC Berkeley, endeavored to “consider the implications of [the film] for questions of racial affect and desire by examining how monstrosity is racialized in the film as a black animal other.”

She reminded the audience that the 1931 film, produced during the “classical era” of “American horror cinema” was released the same year as the Scottsboro trials. (By the way, the original story was published in 1886, before any of the Scottsboro boys were born).

Jackson devoted significant time to the sexual (and racial) messages she saw in the film, saying “The specter of heterosexual interracial sex in the triangulation between Jekyll and two white female leads, Ivy and Muriel, is obvious, so the film becomes kind of a narrative about raping white women very quickly, and may distract us from noticing two other forms of desire present in the film: Jekyll’s desire for black men and bestiality.”

She later added,

“So when you see the metamorphosis scenes, they’re scenes of rapture…They look like sex scenes…When Dr. Jekyll begins his metamorphosis into Hyde, there is an interval where pain and pleasure collide…In this racial fantasy blackness’ subliminal status between man and animal is the site of tremendous pleasure. It is a release of repressed sexual energy; when he’s done metamorphosing he says ‘Free, free, free at last.’ Consequently, we have to ask how black male and animal bodies have served as props of the erotic fantasy life of whiteness…”

Star Trek the Next Generation

Data, the Star Trek android who desires to become human, provided the show’s authors significant opportunity to reflect on what it means to be human. Professor Esther Rashkin explored the implications behind one 4th Season episode, “Data’s Day,” in which ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher endeavors to teach the android how to dance so that he can act as Father of the Bride in Keiko and Miles O’Brien’s upcoming wedding.

The University of Utah professor argued that “The dance lesson Dr. Crusher gives to Data…is not just a dance lesson, it’s a cryptic narrative of psychological birth and parenting.”

Drawing upon Donald Winnicott’s theories on human development, Professor Rashkin described Data as first experiencing an infant’s sense of omnipotence and then transitioning to become aware of relational needs, under the care of the “good-enough” mother Dr. Crusher. “But there’s something very wrong here,” she said. “As endearing as Data’s efforts to dance are, the plastic artificial grin on his face as he partners the holographic woman at the end of the lesson underscores how virtual and illusory his apparent growth towards humanness really is.”

“Dr. Crusher is not, in fact, able to be the ‘good-enough’ mother or father Data needs to feel human,” Professor Raskin argued, and therefore she later abandons him “in order to attend to the needs of a truly human child” about to be born. Therefore, she argues, “Data’s dance lesson is thus not really the story of psychological birth, gender identification, and the emotional process of becoming human; it’s the story of an illusion of psychological growth, a virtual human development and the fantasy of gender identification.”

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.