• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

    Previously at:

    Email me
    (Non-commercial only)

  • Archives

  • Twitter

  • Supporting

  • Recent comments

Snowflake Hacks Denounce Millennials Over Sympathy for Frankenstein’s Monster

For journalists seeking a bit of effortless copy, there is apparently no easier target these days than young adults – aka “millennials” – and their supposed “snowflake” inability to react sensibly to the realities of life. Presumably we are supposed to overlook the fact that it often appears to be the splenetic and offended hacks who are “triggered” by other people’s views, and who seek to police public discussion through mockery and synthetic outrage.

A couple of months ago the moral panic about youth alighted on how some young people respond negatively to scenes in James Bond films, but the nadir appears to have now been reached with a piece in the Sun that is barely coherent in its thesis:

FLAKENSTEINS Snowflake students claim Frankenstein’s monster was ‘misunderstood’ — and is in fact a VICTIM

SNOWFLAKE students claim Frankenstein’s monster was a misunderstood victim with feelings.

A professor has even suggested the lab-created murderer could be protected by human rights laws.

…Prof Nick Groom, of Exeter University, said: “When I teach the book now, students are very sentimental towards the being. But he is a mass murderer.”

The implication appears to be that young people lack the ability to make moral judgements about bad people, perhaps because “human rights laws” promote sympathy towards those who are undeserving of it. Thus while in the case of James Bond’s sexism “millennials” are over-censorious and unappreciative of Bond’s masculine assertiveness and hyper-competence, in the case of Frankenstein they are not condemnatory enough about a killer. The outrage machine can be fed at both ends.

However, this is not just an example of tabloid excess – the inspiration appears to have been a piece in The Times with a headline that again suggested that “millennials” have a peculiar perspective on the book:

Frankenstein’s Monster? He was stitched up, say millennials

Despite the creature’s murderous revenge when he is deserted by Dr Frankenstein and spurned by human society, Professor Groom says today’s students are reluctant to condemn him.

…”It’s interesting when I teach the book now, students are very sentimental towards the being,” he said. “People feel quite a lot of sympathy for the being, but he is a mass murderer.”

He added: “There’s been a gradual shift. Obviously one doesn’t want to be too simplistic, but it is shown by the shift in critical terminology: for years Victor Frankenstein’s creation was known as the Monster, then critics seemed to identify him as a victim and called him the Creature. That fits more with students’ sensibilities today.”

I expect that students reading the novel go in with a vague awareness that this is a horror story involving a monster, and come out with a better appreciation of the work’s themes. Although Groom refers to a “shift in critical terminology”, it is hardly groundbreaking to understand the monster as more than just a rampaging villain. The Monster/Creature is very obviously a tragic figure, both in the book and the early Universal horror films – and I wonder how “snowflake” hacks would react if they ever found out that the second Universal film, The Bride of Frankenstein, even has a scene in which the Monster is tied to a pole by a baying mob of villagers and raised up, in an obvious parallel with Christ’s crucifixion.

I think Groom here means “critics” in the broad sense of “interpreters”, rather than literary scholars, who surely would have got the point long ago – but adaptations have been billing “the Creature” rather than “the Monster” for decades, and this was the term used in the 2011 Danny Boyle stage production, a still from which appears with the Times article. In an interview posted online by the Oxford University Press in December, Groom says that he prefers to refer to “the Being”.

The Times article ends with a Phil Space collection of facts about Mary Shelley, the creation of the book and the first film. We’re told that

Boris Karloff created the modern image of the monster in the 1931 Universal Pictures film, introducing the angular head, electrical bolts through the neck and stiff-legged walk — Shelley had described him as more agile than humans.

Without belittling Karloff’s performance, the “modern image” in fact owes much more to Jack Pierce, who designed and applied the make-up; and while Karloff’s monster lumbers somewhat, the “stiff-legged walk” is more prominent in later Universal films, particularly when Glenn Strange took over the role.

UPDATE: For some reason, the Sun has now deleted a Tweet promoting its article. Groom, meanwhile, has confirmed that the Sun article “picked up on longer interviews that were in the Times on Monday and Observer on Sunday”, and he has RTed some mocking comments about the Sun piece. The Observer interview can be seen here.