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Make up Blog

1 Jun

With his 1887 novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker takes the ancient and largely extinct figure of the “monster,” such as found in Beowulf, classical mythology, etc., and set it in an explicitly modern environment. The monster is characterized by its perversely humanoid features, isolation from a community, and parasitic lifestyle. Certainly, Dracula has all of these attributes; yet he is also possessed of atypical religious connotations that lend the novel a more traditionally Victorian moralizing tone even as it rides the coattails of Romanticism. It differs in this, too, from its notable predecessor, Frankenstein, which mainly glosses over applicable science or pseudo-science it might employ in favour of purely ontological monsterly self-examination combined with tortured artist-as-scientist mentality. Here, we have a regal, crafty old monster, pursued by sophisticates in the epicenter of modernity, London, armed at once with witch-doctor remedies, aimed at physical destruction of Monsieur Monster, and cunning innovations of the communication front, i.e., typewriters, phonographs, telegrams, and so forth. Dracula, with his 17th century sensibilities, seems something of a Luddite in comparison: old-fashioned and backwards. He is a more primal character, in this sense, engaging with the humours and the elements rather than the “science [and] human knowledge” that Seward and Van Helsing so prize, noting that to be “without such it is monstrous.”

 The religion at play here is similarly backwards and out of date; it is Catholicism that Dr. Van Helsing gets the others to reluctantly adopt, in lieu of their Church of England style commonsense that dispenses with such bizarre concepts as transubstantiation, which Dracula so clearly deals in. The near cannibalistic connotations of drinking wine that actually becomes the blood of Christ upon the blessing of the priest have long been noted, and here, Dracula’s consumption of human blood is seen as nothing less than a barbarity to be quashed. Of course, he is, undeniably, something of a superior being. He is largely immortal, capable of preserving his youth, and possessed of superhuman strength, and, like a deity, impenetrable and unknowable: he is the only major character whose psyche we are absolutely cut-off from, he never contributes the narrative by any means.

Most obviously, Dracula is repelled by the crucifix and holy water, the religious undertones become increasingly uncomfortable as we learn more about him. While we can recognize that the associations are meant to draw attention to his character as a sort of antichrist, as a monster, he elicits a certain degree of sympathy from the reader, as an ever-pursued underdog of sorts. In this, he is more Miltonic Satan than unthinking beast; he is well-mannered, aristocratic, and highly intelligent, as Jonathan Harker notes almost immediately in chapters one and two.

His perversity is derived, then, not from a pure disgust reaction that the soulless creature, all teeth and claws, might evoke. He is perverse because he takes the familiar and sacred and uses them for ends that are unfamiliar and destabilizing to the community. Furthermore, he shuns that which is increasingly of most importance, that is, the value civilization and progress that ultimately comes, more than stuffy prudishness, to define the Victorian era.


Sarah Higginbotham

11 May

With the widespread advent of the radio by the 1920s, the era of the machine was seriously picking up speed. This unprecedented medium allowed one-way communication with the outside world, as opposed to previous communication technologies such as the telegraph and telephone. Now, radio announcers become celebrities, of a kind, that would appear in one’s home and deliver content that was new and live, never before heard. Radio broadcasts quickly hinged on the difference between live recording performances, ephemeral material performed for that specific purpose, and recorded content, created for potentially altogether different ends. James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians, was instrumental (obviously) in spearheading “ a complete ban on the broadcast of any type of recording on radio, arguing that records took jobs away from musicians” (Morton 88), while network heads “saw little role for records in all this” (84). The distinction was so crucial that “both transcription discs and regular phonograph recordings now had to be identified as such by an announcer each time they were played” (87). Clearly, it was the sheer immediacy of the radio that was its main appeal, and, ultimately (in addition to a one-time only investment of the machine itself), its advantage over recording.

Along with this immediacy, which must have given listeners a sense of worldliness and sophistication, this collapsing of space wherein radio triumphed over records for music and newspapers for news, comes a sort of invasiveness that had hitherto not existed. Indeed, as Morton notes, the reason that radio was not used for interpersonal communication was its “lack of privacy,” which radio pioneers turned “to their advantage” (82). Instant broadcasts, with all of their real-time quirks and imperfections, were now entering your home straight from the mouths of complete strangers, which also included unwanted and vastly irritating “recorded ads […] which were played frequently between songs or other material,” for which purpose the “jingle” was invented by someone who we can only hope perished less than peacefully (86). The thought of invisible, inaudible voices travelling up to light speed (!!), whizzing through the air around one, must have also been slightly disorienting (as anyone who has ever suddenly and inadvertently picked up radio transmissions through their guitar pickups knows).

The concept of these signals being owned and regulated was also completely unexplored territory, with perhaps the exception of printed materials: intangible ownership; the rights to something that quickly becomes nothing. In addition to radio companies having to pay for the rate at which their radio waves move, record companies, again led by Petrillo, fought for “a revision of the copyright laws which [would enable] the collection of royalties for the playing of records” (88). The rights of the creator to their own intellectual property was, according, put to a real test with the absence of actual property, especially as the opposing argument, that once having purchased a record, one may play it for any purpose, including to lots of people at once, was so convincing.

The quick establishment of governmental regulations on this new medium indicated a palpable uncertainty as to the full ramifications of such an invention. Even today, the more modern medium of web exchange of music and podcasts through, for example, bit torrents,  demonstrate a complex and often troubled relationship with new media. With the advent of offshoot technologies such as satellite and television signals, this relationship would only become more challenged.


Sarah Higginbotham