Following the graduation of 2016’s MA English Students, Katie Watson, is still intent on using her knowledge of theory, to address the matters of today. This piece, provides a detailed account of political pattern, and highlights the concerns circulating society, as we are faced with the current daily news reports. Katie graduated with a BA Honours in English and Drama, and an MA in English Studies.
In the wake of what can only be described as a hyper-capitalist political movement in the US, with the appointment of Donald Trump as President of, essentially, the free world, it’s no surprise that our monsters are beginning to talk about it.
We all know the Gothic rule of thumb – your monsters epitomise the cultural fears that keep you up at night. The Other, consumerism, illness; every era has their monster.
With the movement towards, sadly, a post literate era, as it’s being described, one must turn to the monsters of the movies to see where exactly our anxieties now lie.
Introducing KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), a remake of the classic favourite, set about a beast of a bygone era that man must conquer, tame, and ultimately show off to his friends back home…
King Kong (1933) in all its formats has always discussed the famous argument epitomised fantastically in Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus (1818): who is the real monster, here? Often, by the end of the novel, comic, film or other, we’ve concluded that it is: man. Is anyone surprised?
KONG: SKULL ISLAND is no different. What is interesting, however, is the political and social narrative that becomes incredibly relevant to the movements of today, rather than simply the anti-imperialist message of the original King Kong, SKULL ISLAND expands upon this, satirically creating a dialogue with the capitalist agenda that perforates throughout Hollywood, the industry that ironically funded this film.
First, the period. Set in the early 1970s, the film immediately harks back to a Cold War America, an America where to be Communist was to be a traitor, an America that invaded an east Asian country simply on the fear of the ‘domino effect’ – that of the movement and growth of communism throughout the east if not quashed by the heroic west (yes, you can taste heavy bouts of unapologetic sarcasm throughout this article).
Second, the terrain. Unexplored, exotic landscapes, uncivilised tribes, sub-human in comparison to the progressive American gentleman. If this is not a reference to the Americans’ opinion of the Vietnamese then I’m not sure what is. This idea that the west must save the barbarous easterners is a prevalent theme throughout Gothic literature. Note, the Crew of Light in Dracula (1897), two Englishmen, a Dutchman and an American who band together with their intelligence, bravery and valour to destroy a creature from the dangerous and wild east. This fear of the unknown and the Other is one that can be acknowledged throughout literature no matter what era. It is one that is resurfacing now as Trump’s fear propaganda floods the media.
Third, the title. Does anyone else find it rather notable that the film chose to drop the term ‘King’ from the title, disregarding the fact that the title has been King Kong since its creation in 1933? I am attributing that to the creator’s wit as they continue to refer to the Vietnam War.
The central threat to the US Military, during the Vietnam War, was a group of fighters named the Viet Cong. Coincidence? I’m really beginning to doubt it. These fighters utilised the rainforests that the US Military could not negotiate, much like Kong uses the landscape to his advantage. A shot in the 2017 film sees a group of helicopters who, from a perspective, seem tiny. One, however, we have mistaken for a dragon fly looking to land on a leaf, perhaps to symbolise how quite out of their depth – and blissfully unaware of that fact – the Americans were as they “choppered” in to Vietnam.
These Viet Cong soldiers used the craft of guerrilla – note the use of Kong, an oversized gorilla, as a metaphor for this – warfare to decimate the US Military and demonstrate their resilience to an overbearing west.
I have not seen the film, unfortunately, as the release date is not until March but my neurotic brain simply could not wait 2 months to produce this piece. However, what is apparent is that there is a social dialogue in place against the monster that is American capitalism and is not, in fact, the Communist monster, Kong.
The Americans in the film resort to imperialist methods of destruction, their capitalist veins filled with a lust for power, they leave an undisturbed island in pieces as the credits roll. Fuelled with a fear of the Other, they must control it, cage it and display it as another example of Capitalist success.
Trump’s hypercapitalism, hatred of communism, and fuelling of the fear in Muslims, represents everything the new KONG film labels as monstrous. Like many other Gothic pieces, the reader/watcher comes away not actually knowing if the monster is the hideous beast, or, in fact, man himself.
King Kong (1933) Directed by Merian C. CooperErnest B. Schoedsack
Kong: Skull island (2017) Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts USA.
Shelley, M. and Johnson, D. (1984) Frankenstein, or, the modern Prometheus. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Stoker, B. (2011) Dracula (Oxford world’s classics). Edited by Roger Luckhurst. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.