Monsters are never just monsters. Zombies are never just zombies, and vampires are never just vampires. Every cult horror trope is successful precisely because it strikes a dreadfully important symbolic note.
Zombies represent reanimated flesh—replacing wilful movement with automation, meaningful exchange with braindead consumerism.
The werewolf’s lunar cycles warn of the recurrent nature of mental ill-health.
Frankenstein’s monster explores the nature of an outcast.
Vampires are symbolic of parasitic violence. Most chillingly in being drawn to violence against the innocent, a monster story is only as good as its victim. Dracula fed his wives an infant child while Jonathon was held captive in Transylvania. This was the apex of the horror narrative—the most monstrous passage.
For a more gruesome example, on the 8th January 2020, Conservative MPs, including Hastings and Rye MP, Sally-Ann Hart, voted to prevent approximately two thousand five hundred unaccompanied refugee children from being reunited with their families in the UK. On the same day, an autobiographical diary she had written about Westminster’s thrill was posted on a local website.
Hart’s confessional dystopian horror was published in diary format by Hastings in Focus:
“I am writing this as your Member of Parliament, sitting at my kitchen table. The early morning house is quiet, and our Jack Russell has gone to find a warm bed to snuggle into. The quiet is welcome, giving me time to reflect on the intense activity of the last couple of months…”
The detail about the Jack Russell is to make her look more human. Do not be fooled.
In Dracula, as in ministerial public relations, when an infant is left to die, it is for a reason. Ultimately, this lets the reader know that the monster can murder a child.
In this case, the political narrative plays out like this:
The pledge to reunite unaccompanied child refugees with their relatives in the UK was initially part of Theresa May’s Brexit deal but was later removed in the Johnson deal.
Alf Dubs, the Labour peer who successfully campaigned for this protection for refugee children in 2016, said it was a “very depressing” development.
“It is very disappointing that the first real act of the new Boris Johnson government is to kick these children in the teeth. It is a betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands,” he said.
Displaced refugee children will have no option but to turn to smugglers and dangerous routes to escape refugee camps and reach their families. This is how kids end up dead in the back of vans, at the bottom of the sea, in paedophile sex-gangs.
This is understood and deliberate.
The costs of accepting the 2,000-3,000 unaccompanied child refugees would be negligible in terms of the UK welfare budget. The point is to be deliberately cruel to a vulnerable group – to be ‘tough on immigration. Their deaths and desperation gain a particular political currency; it helps build the story.
This narrative of violence against children has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Children who usually receive free school meals became the centre of a controversy in delivering these meals during the lockdown. Free school meals were replaced during school closures by £30 vouchers used by parents to buy essential items at participating supermarkets. The government tried several times to discontinue the free meals but eventually agreed to continue funding the scheme as pressure mounted from a campaign led by football star Marcus Rashford. Instead of continuing with vouchers, the government hired contractors to provide food parcels. Contractors pocketed £25 out of the £30 food parcels leading to pictures being published online of peppers cut in half, cheese-single sandwiches, and carrot stubs.
This is storytelling with theatrical cruelty. The story is precisely this: the economically unviable deserve to die. It is a horror story.
Immigrants are perennial victims. As are poor people, anyone claiming benefits, women, black and Asian people, Muslims, Jews, queer and trans people. Even overweight people and smokers make the list of acceptable targets. Capitalism promotes fear of the Other, obsessional micromanagement of poor people’s finances, bigotry, and anxiety.
Antagonistic shills like Sally-Ann Hart enjoy provoking culture wars by sharing articles about Islamic ideology, indicating support for Nazi slogans, spreading antisemitic conspiracies about “cultural Marxism”, or claims that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage. Jeremy Clarkson – who once punched a man for not bringing him a steak for lunch – claims to be “sick to the teeth” with people complaining about free school meals. Newspaper owners and social media companies amplify these voices and accelerate social division.
The Hastings Observer’s comments section is full of people telling other people that struggling parents should be grateful for not quite enough food to feed their kids, that migrants deserve to drown in the channel if they risk illegal crossings or that a confederate flag raised on Hastings seafront has no possible racist symbolism.
On these forums, one must never get drawn into a conversation where you weigh up a person’s right to live in terms of economic productivity. It’s a trap. People are divided somewhat predictably on these issues, such that liberals appeal to humanity, conservatives tend to withhold compassion for the weakest members of society, who can be picked off.
Social media companies monetise this engagement. Nothing drives engagement more than deeply felt unresolvable conflict. So when a dingy full of refugees wash up on the shores of England and ignites a debate as to their legitimacy, billionaires make a profit.
Sally-Ann Hart’s vote to keep the children of refugees separated from their families in the UK works much like one of her posts about Muslims, Jews, or disabled people. It stokes the flames a little bit and she seems to enjoy it.
The horror, you see, the horror is captivating.