A frank discussion – the monster in the room
|August 12, 2011||Posted by Georgie Tindale under lifestyle, science|
While watching a horror film, I can imagine there are typical reactions, and highly atypical reactions. A reaction of one young girl (and I’m sure a whole generation of people) back in 1931 was one of complete terror; the idea of an un-dead being with superhuman strength shuffling towards his creator was by no means a cliché, but a chilling possibility. The cult following of old-style horror films, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (though of course dying in 1851 rendered her non-existent in the creation of the film itself), is given explanation by the potency of ideas such as dark science, monsters and a few deaths along the way. However, when I recently sat down to watch this film (the authentic and grainy 1931 version with terrible sound quality of course), my reaction was something entirely different.
No matter how hard I strained at the screen, it was to no avail; all I was able to see was a newly created something (more like an animal or a child with its dumb innocence and ungainly movements) being tortured with flames by the soon-to-perish Fritz – a character earning no sympathy with his hunched and unnecessary malevolence – and being shut out from any light or any hope of freedom. The perfect moment to describe the potential for good, which lies in the heart of this creature (I shrink from the film name of “monster”, which is presented as justification for the misunderstood and pitiful life it leads), is when it steps up in front of its new creator, and reaches its arms up towards the light trickling into the place of its birth, the ominously abandoned windmill, only to be trapped and shut out from the light seconds afterwards. Is it any wonder the creature had no knowledge of the world, leading to the panic and deaths which soon ensued?
The theory proposed by Anne K. Mellor (presented during the re-examination and re-assessment of Shelley’s literature due to the feminist movement of the 1970s) of the story being a representation of “what happens when a man tries to have a baby without a woman” is certainly interesting, and is also supported by a quote from the film, where Frankenstein himself says “I now know how it feels to be God”. However Shelley certainly meant the book to be a dark moral message in a different sense, as she is reported to have said, “Supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world”.
Consider this: doesn’t this sound a little like the ‘playing God’ arguments that are still used today against modern developments in science and research? Although entirely fictitious and based long before the recent crusade in science as we know it, could Frankenstein serve as a warning against creation and the manipulation of nature being in our own hands?
I would argue both definitely, and definitely not. A leading hair and beauty company were recently found to have skirted around the 2008 ban on the cosmetic testing of animals, following in the footsteps of countless companies before them, and testing internationally instead. According to the anti-testing campaign Uncaged, a movement with support as far-reaching as Bill Bailey and Benjamin Zephaniah, scores of pregnant mice were fed doses of a chemical already known to be safe in humans, in doses hundreds of times too strong for human use, were killed in a carbon dioxide chamber, and were then given caesareans, killing both mother and child. Apparently an unnamed scientific expert claims this test “was a profligate and wasteful use of animals”. Although perhaps an extreme example, one could claim that animal testing is the epitome of manipulating nature for our own gain. The campaign has been around for decades (even reaching as far-flung as Whitby; a sure sign of a country up in arms) and the terrible stories of the results of testing never cease to turn my stomach, and I’m positivie I’m not alone. Surely this cannot be a justifiable use of nature, given the often unnecessary pain it causes?
However horrific the consequences of testing may be, there are many who would argue (and with good reasoning), that medical testing is acceptable, and that records of the less appalling testing don’t tend to take the media by storm; as a friend of mine declared, “I have no objections with them shampooing a dog!” The possible alternatives for testing are controversial to say the least, however the most recent one, revealed earlier this month in fact, is both groundbreaking and hugely ironic. Lab-grown human cells could be used to ‘test for allergic reactions, possibly negating the practice of animal testing for certain compounds’. If we had followed Shelley’s advice and stopped trying to create life by our own means, then we would never have found this solution. So we are faced with a paradox: do we stop all research to prevent the suffering of animals (which is unlikely to happen anyway, as large corporations generally take a lawsuit or six to stop something so cost-effective) or do we carry on in a different field, and find a suitable alternative such as this one?
One final look at the scene where the so-called monster befriends a young girl, and throws her into the lake, thinking she will float like a flower, due to his lack of understanding of the world, is powerful enough to convince me of the need for some sort of compromise.
“Ask the experimenters why they experiment on animals and the answer is: ‘Because animals are like us.’
“Ask the experimenters why it is morally okay to experiment on animals, and the answer is: ‘Because the animals are not like us.’
“Animal experimentation rests on a logical contradiction.”
—Prof. Charles R. Magel