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Screams of Reason: Mad Science in Modern Culture Hardcover – July 1, 1998
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The words "mad scientist" inevitably summon up the picture of a deranged, obsessive individual with a lab coat and bad hair, working on some grandiose project that probably means trouble for humanity at large. Behind this cartoonish figure, however, lurks a complex series of ideas, emotions, stereotypes, and archetypes. In Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture, David J. Skal investigates the whole issue of "our multilevel cultural waltz with the maniac in the lab coat" over the last two centuries.
The first few chapters focus on the origins of the mad-science mentality in the early 19th century. The age of Darwin and the Industrial Revolution saw the birth of many of the stock figures and themes of horror and science fiction: Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dr. Moreau; creation of new life forms, contravention of natural law, science out of control. Then, in the early 20th century, the new medium of film helped make all of these into staples of popular culture. Succeeding chapters deal with types and trends in the mad-science phenomenon, touching on a variety of subjects, such as the classic horror movies of the 1930s, nuclear-age mutation and invasion fantasies, medical horror, the union of man and machine, apocalyptic entertainment, and "Alien Chic."
Movies certainly play a significant role in the whole mad-science phenomenon; Screams, however, is much more than a catalog of the classic horror and sci-fi entries. Skal's insightful, eloquent history gets at the psychological and social roots of our uneasy relationship with science and technology, and our attempts to master the fear of them.
Screams includes abundant notes, many black-and-white illustrations, and an appendix listing dozens of mad scientists from popular culture. Highly recommended. --M.V. Burke
From Publishers Weekly
Art imitates life, which imitates art in this witty and knowing exploration of "mad science" and modern culture. The demonic scientist of pulp novels, B movies, and comic books is extraordinarily popular, says Skal (Hollywood Gothic; The Monster Show), because he "serve[s] as a lightning rod for otherwise unbearable anxieties about the meaning of scientific thinking and the uses and consequences of modern technology." Skal ranges from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau, from Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Frank N. Furter of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in his entertaining analysis. The author is equally at home with Hollywood trivia and with postmodern cultural analysis?which identifies a gay subtext in horror films and finds the evocation of an "all-male reproductive paradigm" in the Bride of Frankenstein monster's deep forehead scar (a symbolic vulva!). Skal shows how cultural anxieties about race, gender and class roles, technological changes, economic depression and threats of war found their way into horror classics. Of particular interest are Skal's views on UFO sightings?which he finds always correlate with periods of intense social unrest?and "mad medicine" as seen in such works as Coma and Silence of the Lambs (he sees Hannibal Lecter as "an inevitable... iconic representation" of the perceived greed of big medicine in the HMO era). Skal even associates the recent spate of blockbuster invasion fantasies with fear of AIDS. Though Skal's analysis sometimes lacks sufficient depth, it is always fresh, hip and lively. The book is illustrated with 100 well-chosen photos and period illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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From Dr. Cyclops to Dr. Moreau, author David Skal discusses the relevance and art of introducing the weird physics and mutations of these half-cocked brainiacs who usually end up causing more harm than helping.
I got into the Mad Scientist persona some years ago when I began to explore Radionics, Psionics and take vitamin supplements. No I don't have a white lab coat (but I may remedy that soon! lol) however the idea of unleashing some sort of havoc upon the world has excited me to the point of wanting to create the ultimate Frankenstein monsters.
The scariest part is that art imitates life (or is it vice-versa?) and where a lot of people used to fear the devastation of a nuclear holocaust, now it it's the mad scientists who create the ultimate germs which kill everything. There have been some good films done in the past 20 years covering this aspect of Mad Science and Mr. Skall discusses them as well.
If you'r a fan of the Mad Scientist archetype, then this book is a fun and entertaining read (also quite easy as well) and you'll enjoy the last section where he lists the many Mad Scientists and the movies they appear in. For that alone, the price of the book is worthwhile!
I rate it five out of five stars for its completeness and worthiness to add to your collection of material about the Mad Scientist. Plus if you're a fan of the 50's weird Sci-Fi films, this will help flesh out some you may have missed. Recommended.
By chapter four, he gets to World War II and the post-war period, when mad scientists had become a significant part of popular entertainment. He tries to write about how the public reacts to the Manhattan Project and scientists like Einstein, but his analysis seems to be part of a different book. Is he writing about Mary Shelley, horror movies, science, or what?
Chapter five is all about alien visitations and flying saucers. Chapter six is about mad medical doctors like Mengele, doctor Frankenstein, Robin Cook's book 'Coma' (and the film), Dead Ringers, and AIDS. Chapter seven has something to do with flesh and cyborgs --- I think. It's not clear what that chapter was supposed to be about. The author wraps it all up with a list of famous mad scientists. The list is filler, but I enjoyed reading the "mad ambition/achievement" for each one.
This is good bathroom reading. The subject matter is fun because it's about popular culture and mad scientists, two topics that are never dull. But it's poorly-edited, with the feel of an enthusiastic rough first draft. My guess is that after the success of The Monster Show, Skal sent the idea for this book to his publisher, they loved the proposal, and he hammered it out quickly for fun. That's no crime, but I was really disappointed with it..
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