Enjoyed my recent appearance on Coast to Coast (despite the bizarre hour) and was literally flooded with e-mail questions through the site, indeed before I appeared on the show.
Best e-mail so far: “There are werewolves, I don’t care what you say. I know what I saw. U need to read more.”
I hope he is right about werewolves. And I do need to read more.
Coast to Coast apparently has more of a following than I realized, particularly for a show that runs from 10:00 AM-2:00 AM Pacific time. A bafflingly large number of affiliates carry the long-form discussions that, as Bex and Proffitt from Good Girls Gone Geek explained to me, involves talks about everything from” the shadow people” to “Gnomes with jobs.”
Having heard that, and a quick look at previous guests, suggested to me that the program I was about to appear on was something like what the Lone Gunmen from the X-Files might produce. My own prejudices aside, I found Ian Punnett a charming host though one who wanted to talk more cryptozoology than I cared too.
Not surprisingly, he made the kind of arguments about cryptids that Monsters in America suggests is at the root of American mass culture’s misunderstanding of the nature of scientific evidence. Indeed, he and many of his listeners seem to be under the impression that science and religion are both acts of faith, rather than radically opposed modes of knowing. This is an all too common assertion made by Christian apologists. It ignores the fact that the claims of science ask for neither a leap of faith nor for obedience to authority. Its claims, unlike religion’s, are self-consciously falsifiable.
Given the terms on which this debate is conducted, its hard to make the argument I make. Here I am, a historical materialist, who also asserts that monsters must be taken seriously, indeed that they are real.
My own skepticism about the material reality of the monster, its empirical non-existence, almost always makes my assertions abut the reality of monsters as social constructions hard to explain. I suppose this outing was no exception though I did try to make the point that much of what motivates us, much of what we believe in most deeply, are really social constructions. I can’t put “democracy” in a test tube but I still believe its real in the sense that it affects the material structures of everyday life. We don’t have to attribute ontological subjectivity to something in order for it to be real, real in the sense that it has actual historical results, real in the sense that it becomes part of the extended cultural conversation.
This is not enough for those committed to the ontological reality of monsters and it’s too much for those who like to have a menu of beliefs to marginalize and mock. Certainly the caller who claimed to have seen Bigfoot materialize before his very eyes or the one who spoke about “documented” cases of “skin-walkers” in the southwest had a very specific and limited conception of what constituted reality. And one that, in its own way, takes monsters with as little seriousness as those who like to debunk the claims of the “slack-jawed yokels” who have monstrous experiences.
I hope you got to listen to Coast to Coast…I will try to post a link over on our Facebook page. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the discussion.
I’m doing a roundtable this week with scholar James Kincaid where I’ll talk about deviance, innocence and Freddy Krueger. I will post my comments here.