What Frankenstein means to us now
Philip Ball on the uses and abuses of the monster myth @ New Humanist.
When Time magazine interviewed Ian Wilmut after his team announced the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997, it remarked that “One doesn’t expect Dr Frankenstein to show up in a wool sweater, baggy parka, soft British accent and the face of a bank clerk.” It was one of many examples of how Frankenstein, supplemented by other myths both ancient (Faust) and modern (Brave New World), sets the context for media commentary on new developments that allow us to modify and perhaps to create living organisms. Even the “synthetic” microbe created by Craig Venter and his co-workers in 2010 was quickly dubbed “Frankenbug”, and reports dwelt on the perceived Faustian overtones of “playing God”. Some might say that, in the age of assisted conception and cloning, Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel is more relevant than ever. But that’s to put the case back-to-front: we shouldn’t be asking what Frankenstein has to tell us about reproductive technologies, but rather, how this 19th-century tale came to supply the journalistic shorthand that makes us fear them.read more