Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Male Monsters and Phallic Panic

What is the role of monsters in contemporary culture and cinema? How do we connect them to current issues of sexuality (sensuality) and gender?
Barbara Creed explores these issues in Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny (2005) through figures like Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, Freddy Krueger, the Fly, Dracula and others, using Freud's notion of the 'uncanny' and focusing on sources of horror like the woman, death and the animal.
Panizza Allmark reflects on the idea of phallic panic in her illuminating review of the work:
The uncanny male monster arouses dread and horror and unsettles the symbolic order. Thus he disturbs identity, disintegrates meaning and is a point of resistance and rebellion. This is what Creed terms as 'phallic panic'. It is generated from an uncanny form of anxiety about the disruption of the phallocentric symbolic order in which the monster is constructed by and within. Hence, significantly, Creed highlights that the male monster sometimes registers a cry not of the victim but of the monster itself. It is a cry that alludes to the fragile concepts of masculinity. Significantly, it is a cry that resonates a phallic panic.
This fragility of masculinity and its constructions is reflected in the work's questioning of phallic power ans shown in horror films. Annelike Smellik examines these issues in her Senses of Cinema review of the work:

Through a type of analysis that is typical of early 1990s film theory, Creed advances her main argument that the horror film questions phallic power by undermining the notion of a coherent, stable, and civilised masculinity. By collapsing boundaries between inside and outside, man and woman, man and animal, life and death, the horror film points to the possible collapse of patriarchal civilisation or, at least, to the desire for such a collapse. The horror film thus foregrounds the knowledge that civilisation is a myth. This raises an uncanny form of anxiety that she terms “phallic panic”. For Creed, the horror film discloses a fundamental anxiety about phallic masculinity in contemporary society.

Smelik's review also discusses the binary oppositions present in the work, concluding that 'although Creed obviously argues that the horror film questions and even undoes this binary opposition, the book unwittingly ends up reinforcing it.' However, the work also 'brings horror back to the primal uncanny' and thus represents a useful source for reflecting and discussing the modern male monster, the psychoanalytical approach, issues of masculinity, castration anxiety and power relations as depicted in horror films and popular culture.

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