Who or What are Contemporary Monsters?


The Quintessential Monster…is he real?

Wild eyes bulging out of a face squeezed into vertical ribbons of fury that stretched down to peel back the lips of a snarling mouth filled with gnashing yellow teeth. He stood wringing his blackened hands and stared at me with violent intent.

Conceiving the Modern Monster

Based on the information covered in the Preface, the monster-concept originally contained the idea that a community or group of people perceived something that indicated they faced imminent disaster. Over time, monster evolved to include other meanings. Today, the word, at least the way it’s often used in every day speech in the developed world, has lost much of its original power, and can refer to everything from job searches to cute-but-ugly, little creatures. But this doesn’t mean that modern societies have overcome their monsters. Although the word monster may have been watered-down, the monster archetype (in its full horrifying significance), expressed as an idea, is perhaps stronger and more widely used than ever before. Modern societies incessantly barrage themselves with images and words that communicate the monster-concept in a variety of ways. Much of the time, we in the modern world, are a fear-driven people instead being inspired by more creative forces.

The purpose of this chapter will be to identify some of the symbols that really do frighten contemporary people. Monster, at least in the present analysis, will refer to beings and ideas that instill a sense of deep foreboding. Once they’re identified, the question will turn to examining the reasons why these particular ideas have this power. Keep, in mind, that there are many ideas that inspire people with fear. Many of them do not involve monsters. The monster-concept will be narrowly used in accordance with the definition provided in the previous chapter.

A good place to start making observations about , then, will probably need to include words that most reasonable people agree evoke fear or terror. The table below reports the number of times that a group of words related to these feelings show up in articles published in The New York Times over the last 29 years. The hope is that this will be a good start in determining the level and type of fear present in the United States in recent times.

Words in the Media that Define [Create?] our Idea of Monsters

Search Term(s)# / Occurences 1980 - 9/11/2001# / Occurences 9/11/2001 - Present1980 - 9/11/2001 Average Annual Usage9/11/01 - Present Average Annual Usage
Threat and terrorist1,5013,81671477
Mass and Destruction2,3343,110111389
Sex and Offender5064742459
Children and Attack78185540372693
Child and Suicide1,4811,05871132
TABLE 1: This table shows the number of times that certain words appeared in newspaper articles that were originally published in The New York Times from 1980 to the present. Unless indicated, these words were not necessarily found in the same articles. The InfoTrac database from Gale Cengage Learning, Inc. (web site: http://www.gale.cengage.com) was used to compile this information. It is not known whether the database holds all of the articles published in The New York Times for the given time periods. It should be noted that the two time periods compared in Table 1 are not equal.

As the table demonstrates, there seems to be a significant increase in the use of the referenced search terms (especially the words terror and terrorist) during the time period from September 11th, 2001, to the present. Anyone who’s been old enough to understand the news over the last eight years knows why. The United States of America has been engaged in a War on Terror since that time. Yet it’s interesting to note that the number of recorded terrorist attacks were actually much less in 2001 (348) compared to 1987 (666).1

Although the sitting President and other politicians don’t talk about it quite as much as before, U.S. soldiers are still killing and being killed in the same countries that, the world has been repeatedly told, make up the front lines in the Global War on Terror.

With the exception of that reviled and hair-raising phrase, sex offender, and the titillating word, sex (which describes a high percentage of all advertising—especially images that sell), the keywords in the table above are in some way related to the War on Terror. We don’t even need to do a close analysis to know why the use of these words increased since September 11, 2001.

In a nutshell, the summary below is what big news organizations communicated mantra-like in the years following the 9/11 tragedy. It was repeated ad infinitum by think tanks, university professors, columnists, and television “experts” the wold over.

9-11 Summary

(To remind ourselves of the context in which these search terms have been used over the years, they are presented in bold italics.)

The American people experienced a disaster on September 11, 2001. The consequences, terrifying in themselves, terrified Americans even more because they were caused by individuals who acted with an intent to terrify and destroy. Since they committed acts that were designed to cause terror and were not a part of a country that was officially at war with the United States, they were terrorists.

They also practiced Islam and had, at some point (unbeknown to most Americans) declared Jihad (or holy war) on the U.S. But this was not a legitimate war because the type of Islam they practiced was thought to be a perverted or very extreme form of the religion. To defend her citizens against further attacks, the U.S. Government, in turn, declared war on terrorists all over the world wherever and whoever they may be; as long as they harbored resentments against the U.S. and were planning to attack U.S. interests, without the backing of their own or a legitimate government, they were ipso facto terrorists and this war was directed at them.

As then-President George W. Bush, the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. military forces informed the world, there were people everywhere who resented Americans’ freedoms and wished to destroy “our way of life.” They were either terrorists or potential terrorists and might even be in league with a multinational, super terrorist network, like Al Queda. In this War on Terror, there was even an Axis of Evil that Americans would have to battle against for their very survival. Nothing less than the huge military might of the United States was needed to war against this colossal and threatening monster.

Even though America waged a war. The other side was terrorizing or waging, at best, an insurgency. We are soldiers; they are terrorists or insurgents. Their goal is to rise up against the established order and topple it. Soldiers fight to defend and preserve the status quo. In the words of President George W. Bush, you are either for us or against us. You either support the current power structure or you oppose it.

To avert more disaster and destruction, bombs, torture, and prisons will be useful to fight and defend against the terrorists and evil-doers. Doubling of the already massive pre-2001 U.S. military budget would be necessary. The international terrorists ringed the Americans in on all sides.

To drive back the mounting threat, America must resolutely fight should-to-shoulder and stand back-to-back with a coalition of friends, like Hungary and Poland. Even the good graces and blessings of China and Russia would be required. And there was also Great Britain. As Bush himself announced during his State of the Union Address following the 9/11 attacks, the United States had no better friend in the whole world.

Monster # 1: Terrorists

Islamic Terrorists

In one corner there is the USA, the UK, New Europe, wavering elements of Old Europe, and possibly China and the quintessential part of the former USSR. This is the side, we have been told, that represents good. The Axis of Evil is in the other corner and is represented by some lunatics in the Middle East and North Korea. The story that has been communicated to Americans and other westerners is that these people have intentionally clasped the world in an iron-grip of fear for over a decade.

Since the terrorists purported intent is to terrify and harm Americans and their allies; and since American officials and news media have made a tremendous effort (which has been summarized above) to make the public believe that the terrorists have the ability to inflict profound harm; we must believe for the present that they—the Islamic terrorists—fit the definition provided in the previous post for “monsters”. We will therefore proceed under the assumption that Islamic terrorists are monsters that afflict contemporary people in western and possibly other developed countries.

The next step will be to investigate these terrorist monsters. Who are they and why do they want to attack America? Are there specific motives? There have been a number of suggestions made by a wide array of U.S. officials in public and private sectors. Many of these, some of which have been quoted below, repeat the story that Islamic terrorists are half-crazed from believing in a perverse religion that dictates they eradicate Americans whenever and wherever possible. Other stories that have also been widely repeated are more blunt, stating simply that Islamic terrorists are manifestations of pure evil. But if the latter, what does this really mean? That Satan himself created them and sent them to terrorize American citizens? What for? What’s the devil up to?

Or are there other reasons that explain why Islamic terrorists attacked the United States? We’ve heard that they envy our freedom and riches. Yet most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. This raises a number of questions many of which have not been adequately discussed in the public sphere. As some leading thinkers on the subject have noted, there could very well be a connection between the 9/11 tragedy and the fact that the U.S. supports an unpopular and brutal Saudi government and has had a large military presence on the Arabian peninsula since the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991.

If there are really so many terrorists in the world today, where do most of them come from? Is it true that they hatched out of primarily Middle Eastern countries and North Korea? If so, why? Have these countries always been predisposed to rearing terrorists? Or have they, for some reason, increased their output over recent years? Again, why? Does practicing an extreme form of a religion incline one to engage in acts of terrorism? Would this rule apply to religions other than Islam? There are, of course, many fundamentalist religious sects in the world today that strictly adhere to a rigid set of religious precepts.

Other Terrorists / Lone Wolf Domestic Terrorists

What about other kinds of terrorists? Are there other terrorists that Americans should fear? Timothy McVeigh and his band of merry men were pretty quickly replaced by al Quaeda, the super terrorists. Yet we don’t hear about Osama bin Laden running into schools or workplaces shooting everyone in sight. Unfortunately, however, this type of tragedy seems to be happening with greater frequency in the U.S. and possibly other western nations. What shall we call someone who commits one of these acts? Most of the recent incidents seem to be carried out by people acting alone; unlike the case of McVeigh, who was affiliated with a U.S. based terrorist group

Perhaps the important point to make for now, at least, is that there a similarities between the way Islamic terrorists and other perpetrators of violence are communicated in the media. They are both depicted as beings that are driven by forces of destruction. The reason provided is that they are either evil or mentally unstable.

The U.S. public—especially over the last decade—has been presented with a lot of questions and implications but few good answers. It doesn’t seem to be reasonable to merely state that large groups of people are evil or radicalized by a religion. To leave an explanation here is an affront to intelligence itself. We in the U.S. have two costly wars on our hands and are facing an increase in the rate of incidents involving mass violence here at home. The answers frequently offered by officials and the media are simply not good enough. There must be better reasons other than there is more evil people around. If so, than the logical question is why are there more evil people? Most news stories, however, never make it to this question. If and when they do, they usually wind up offering one of the tired, stale explanations about someone not fitting in or being radicalized, etc. Subsequent chapters will attempt to learn more about who the terrorist monsters are and whether there is any more to these stories than what is traditionally offered. The next couple of sections immediately below will provide a little more context about how terrorist monsters are typically portrayed in the western media.

Pictures of Terrorists in the News

It’s felt that the images below represent the way terrorists are often depicted in the news media of Western and other developed nations. The pictures below are displayed as thumbnails using image links to the articles on the Internet that contain them. Each of the articles and their publishing web sites have been cited below, along with hyperlinks to the article in which the image was found. Respective copyright owners are not connected or affiliated with ModernFolktales.com. It is assumed that these owners produced or licensed these images for the purposes for which they were obviously intended on their web sites.2 Clicking on the links below will direct your browser to open the web page on which the images were originally found. Clicking on the thumbnail picture will cause your browser to display the image in it’s original size.

Interestingly, it was not particularly easy to find a profusion of terrorist pictures in the U.S. mass media. After reviewing hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures in Google Image searches for terrorists and terrorism, it became hard not to observe that the U.S. media shows a marked preference for offering images of officials (e.g., government, military, or pundits) in stories related to terrorism. Showing the results of terrorism in general (e.g., blast rubble and injured people) also seemed preferred to displaying pictures of actual terrorists. Occasionally, however, the media has deigned to offer pictures of terrorists—especially high-profile ones.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the terrorist pictures the media does communicate are not powerful or memorable. If anything, the relative paucity of terrorist pictures may actually serve to enhance their monstrosity when they are revealed. Notable exceptions include high-profile stories, such as the 9/11 attacks or the Fort Hood shootings, when editors want to clearly associate tragic consequences with a particular personality. Immediately after something like this occurs, the face and identity of the perpetrator is repeatedly displayed virtually whenever the story is communicated. Viewers will also notice that the mass media often displays the same picture of the criminal regardless of the news outlet. The picture is chosen based on its recognition ability and whether it communicates something about the villain that may offer some insinuation of his inherent evil. These pictures, along with all the analysis and incessant dialog that goes hand-in-hand with the round-the-clock reporting of sad events like these serves to hype them into super-stories and turns the perpetrators into super-fiends (i.e., monsters) devoid of any humanity with which normal viewers—the “you” that the news refers to and is packaged for—can relate. For stories like these, the reason to watch rests almost entirely on a prurient fulcrum that oscillates between the tragic consequences that were perpetrated and the implied monstrosity that must have existed within the individual to have been able to commit something of this magnitude. This type of news story is tantamount to a Coney Island sideshow dressed up with respectable experts eagerly spicing up the dialog with their grim commentary.

The strategy of showing U.S. officials more than terrorists probably has more to do with ensuring that the public dialog concerning terrorism remains on government terms and not those of the terrorists.

To reiterate, the pictures offered below were chosen because it is thought they best represent the picture that most news viewers in Western societies have of terrorists.

1.) Picture of a terrorist in one of Israel’s many terror alerts.3

2.) Dinno-Amor Pareja, leader of with links to al Qaeda-affiliated Abu Sayyaf, is said to have planned attacks on US, British and Israel embassies in Manila.4

3.) The picture used in many U.S. media outlets to represent Kalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind who, as of November 2009, is scheduled to be tried in New York City.5

4.) The godfather of international terrorism himself: Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington DC.6

5.) Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon and al-Quaeda’s second-in-command behind bin Laden.7

6.) Picture of what was believed to be Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi threatening American captive Nicholas Berg with a sword prior to beheading him. The Times article containing this picture begins by explaining that, “The killer lives in shadows, a phantom menace whose whereabouts are known only to a few trusted deputies.”8

Recent Lone Wolf Terrorist Pictures

Although not strictly terrorists in the sense that they were known to be part of a terrorist group, the two men shown below carried out mass shootings that rank among the worst in U.S. history. Based on the data that has been made available in the news media, the shootings seem to have been motivated by men who were alienated, shy, and unbalanced. In short, the media’s explanation has pierced so far into these matters that Major Nidal Malik Hasan and Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrators of the well publicized Fort Hood and Virginia Tech shootings, respectively, engaged in these uber violent acts because they were social misfits.

There is also a competing theory that Maj. Hasan fell under the spell of Islamic fundamentalism, which inevitably led him to commit mass murder. There are perhaps other reasons, but this will be dealt with in a subsequent chapter. The point of offering these pictures here is to show another aspect of the terrorist monster’s public face. Like the pictures above, these have also been repeatedly shown in the media. But as of this writing, it is believed that these men acted alone; not as members of a group carrying out a defined campaign.

While not members of terrorist organizations, Messrs. Cho and Hasan are part of a frightening trend in American violent crime that started in the early eighties and continues to this day. Incidents, like these, started out as what came to be known as workplace rage due to the fact that several of them involved postal workers walking into their places of work and opening fire on coworkers. Over the years, this grisly phenomenon has occurred in many other types of work settings, as well. The trend has also spread to schools as the tragedies at Columbine and Virginia Tech demonstrate.

Regardless whether these men meet the classic definition of terrorist, it is felt that their representation in the media and their impact on society is powerful enough to warrant a place in this discussion of modern monsters.

7.) Seung-Hui Cho, an English major in his senior year as an undergraduate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, gunned down 32 fellow students and wounded 25 others in what is the worst shooting rampage of its kind in American history. The tragedy has been called the Virginia Tech massacre.9

8.) Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, a psychiatrist who had been in the U.S. Military since 1995, was facing deployment to one of the wars in the Middle East when he suddenly went on a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood army base in Texas. He killed 13 and wounded 30 others in one of the worst mass shootings at military base in U.S. history. Most of the casualties were military personnel.10

Memorable Quotes of Western Officials Regarding Terrorists Since 1998

1.) UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in response to the September 11th, 2001 attack in the US:

“This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today.

“It is perpetuated by fanatics who are utterly indifferent to the sanctity of human life and we, the democracies of this world, are going to have to come together to fight it together and eradicate this evil completely from our world.”11

2.) Outgoing [UK] Conservative leader William Hague, in a burst of rhetoric that would be replicated by Blair, Bush, and other US officials:

“Whoever has committed these atrocities has committed a monstrous act of war against the civilised world.

“Britain must, and I am sure will, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States of America and peaceful nations across the world in deploying every possible resource to bring to justice the people responsible, and make sure terrorism never prevails.”12

3. ) Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, in a camera interview shortly after the September 11th attacks:

“This is Pearl Harbor, 21st century.”13

4.) In a speech to Congress14 about a week and a half after September, 11, 2001, President George W. Bush summarized the way that Islamic terrorists and the Global War on Terror would be portrayed in the media for years to come. Variations of Bush’s war of good against evil, citizens against monsters, would become the over-arching perspective that would repeated by other public figures over and over again.

The following are unconnected snippets taken from this speech:

“And night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.”

“The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.”

“There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.”

“They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

“They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.”

“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”

“They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens, may be next. Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments. And you know what? We’re not going to allow it. ”

“Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger, we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us.”

“Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war. And we know that God is not neutral between them.”

5.) It should be noted that high flying rhetoric about terrorism was not invented by the Bush Administration. According to a Y2K Times article, “Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen called the bombing of the Cole ‘an act of pure evil’.”15

6.) It is also worth remembering that Bush II did not declare war on terrorism either. This essentially happened back in 1998 when President Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes against suspected terrorist sites in the Sudan and Afghanistan. The following are taken from a series of quotes in a Times article that sound eerily similar to the verbiage coming out of Washington after September 11, 2001.

” ‘This is, unfortunately, the war of the future,’ Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said. ‘The Osama bin Laden organization has basically declared war on Americans and has made very clear that these are all Americans, anywhere.’ ” Weiner, Tim. “((AFTER THE ATTACKS: THE OUTLOOK; Raids Are Seen As One Battle In a Long Fight.” New York Times 8-23-2998. The New York Times. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName=23950_mtcpls.
Gale Document Number:A150147801 [accessed 11-30-2009]))

“The national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, said: ‘This is an evil that is directed at the United States. It’s going to persist.’ ”16

” The Under Secretary of State, Thomas R. Pickering, said, ‘We are in this for the long haul.’ ”17

” ‘This is going to be a long-term battle against terrorists who have declared war on the United States,’ Ms. Albright said. ‘That is what Osama bin Laden did. He basically made clear that all Americans and American facilities were potential targets, and he used the word ‘war.’ ‘ ”18

“One of her [Albright’s] spokesmen, James Foley said: ‘A new era, in effect, is upon us. It’s imperative that the American people understand and prepare themselves for facing this kind of a threat into the 21st century for as long as it’s necessary to face the threat.’ ”19

The reply was al-Qaeda was terse and eerie:

“…the real battle has not begun, Mr. bin Laden’s spokesman told Al-Quds al-Arabi, a London newspaper, on Friday.”20

Monster # 2: The Sexual Predator

The search terms “sex”, “sex offender”, and “pedophilia” should also be examined. Table 1 above indicates that the average annual usage rate of these words have, coincidentally, increased significantly during the last eight years. Why is this? Has there been an increase in the number of sexual predators over this time span? Anyone who keeps up with the news is aware that, regrettably, these people have been around for a long time. Yet there seems to be more public dialog and concern about them nowadays. It is also interesting to note that there has been an increase in the usage (in The New York Times, at any rate) of the word sex by itself (see Table 1 above). Might this suggest that there has also been more talk or interest in sex in general?

Sadly, as Table 1 also demonstrates, there has also been a pronounced increase in Times’ news articles that contain the words children and suicide; as well as the words children and attack. For the search term suicide (by itself), an even greater increase has occurred. Over the same time period, the word molestation has increased in usage too. Yet this is hard to believe given the huge amount of media attention child molestation received in the ’80’s and ’90’s concerning Catholic priests and day care centers (some of which, regarding the latter, turned out not to be true).

The question is what does this data reveal? In other words, should sexual predators be included in the present study of modern monsters? Let’s sketch this out and apply our monster definition to some publicly known facts to make this determination.

Like the terrorist, the pedophile directly threatens the public. Lurid news stories communicate that parents and children must be on their guard. Sexual predators are everywwhere. Like terrorists, they generally inspire a high level of fear, and the consequences of their actions are often severe.

An indication of the way sexual offenders are viewed by society at large is borne out by the fact that since 1995 six U.S. states have enacted legislation that allow the death penalty to be applied in the rape of a child under age 8. This was even further illustrated after a sharply divided Supreme Court effectively overruled these laws in Kennedy v. Louisiana, No. 07-343, last year in 2008. It was a contentious ruling that elicited strong reactions from many sectors of society, including from the two major presidential candidates.

Said John McCain, ‘That there is a judge anywhere in America who does not believe that the rape of a child represents the most heinous of crimes, which is deserving of the most serious of punishments, is profoundly disturbing.”21 He went on to call the decision ”an assault on law enforcement’s efforts to punish these heinous felons for the most despicable crime.”22 Candidate Barack Obama made a somewhat more moderate statement also disagreeing with the high court’s decision.

Similar to terrorism, child molestation also seems to be going international. A 2007 story on Fox News recounted a high-profile bust of a pedophile ring that involved over 700 people in some 35 countries. 13 of them lived in the U.S. A central aspect of this ring involved what the media dubbed “molestation on demand” because some of the children were molested live on streaming video. See Fox News for more on this.23

In Vienna, Austria a man who worked for an Internet business discovered child pornography on one of the computers. Although he blocked access to the content, he logged over 8,000 attempts to download the material from2,361 computers in 77 countries.24

Like terrorists, the pedophile must be identified and kept beyond the pale of society. Recent federal legislation named after children murdered by pedophiles has been passed since 1996. Under Megan’s Law, all states are required to have a procedure in place for registering sex offenders and making information publicly available when one is released into their communities. Political pressure continued to build as the fire of public outrage was fanned by highly publicized and shocking tragedies involving children. Adding to this pressure were the vigorous efforts of a plethora of well organized victims’ rights groups and revelations of child abuse by members of the clergy.

In response, The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was passed to strengthen Megan’s Law. It was reported at the time of the law passed that there were more than 100,000 sex offenders were unregistered in the U.S. The law established a national sex offender registry, requires states to make specific information available on publicly accessible web sites (names, pictures, and addresses, places of employment, etc.). It also makes it mandatory that certain sex offenders update their registration information for life, making it a felony if they fail to do so.

Many municipalities and counties in the U.S. have felt the need to go even further. Residency restrictions have been popping up in cities and towns across the country making it illegal for sex offenders to live in designated areas. Some of these laws have been so restrictive that as to make it virtually impossible to an affected city. Binghamton, NY, is one such case. Its residency restrictions were, however, quickly struck down as unconstitutional. Some observers have been concerned that a number of the harsher laws, such as this one, have been brought up for political reasons due to the public fears and anger over sex crimes against children.25

Public actions and dialog make it clear that most people in the U.S. (and other developed societies) believe that, like terrorists, pedophiles’ malevolence is entrenched. According to opinions that have been widely disseminated in the media, rehabilitation rates are extremely low and recidivism is very high.26 Hence the reason for the thinking behind the laws outlined above: if they’re not locked up in prison, they must be tracked and their whereabouts known at all times. Another important law that was explicitly created to ensure this happens was Jessica’s Law, which passed by the Florida legislature in 2005. It was named after the brutal rape and murder of Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her home in Homossassa Springs, Florida. She was brutally raped and murdered. Like similar past tragedies, it was also heavily publicized in the media. The law requires mandatory minimum prison sentences and life-term electronic monitoring of adults convicted of sexual offenses against minors under 12 years-old. Other U.S. states have passed similar versions of the law and many others are considering it.

In recent years, a nationwide system called Amber Alerts has been established to help rescue children who’ve been abducted. It was also the threat of pedophiles that motivated the creation of this system. The “Amber” in Amber Alerts honors the memory of Amber Hagerman, another 9-year old girl who was kidnapped near her home in Arlington, TX. She was sexually assaulted over a period that may have encompassed as much as two days, at the end of which she was brutally murdered.

A number of U.S. states have mandated chemical castration for certain classes of convicted sex offenders. Louisiana became the latest state to pass a mandatory chemical castration law in 2008. Pfizer’s Depo-Provera is the name of the drug used to effect this treatment in the United States. A number of European countries are also debating whether to use the procedure on violent sex offenders. The Czech Republic has already allowed 94 prisoners to be surgically castrated over the last ten years.27

Of all the major contemporary criminals, are there any that are perceived in the public sphere to be as universally loathsome as terrorists and pedophiles? What about the classic John Wayne Gacy serial killers? Aren’t they universally feared and despised? The answer, of course, is yes, but perhaps not as much anymore. Perhaps 25-30 years ago they were. Serial killers haven’t been the subject of constant media attention over the last decade, unlike terrorists and pedophiles. Most people don’t go to sleep at night worrying about serial killers to the same extent they once did. Most people are not afraid of being accused of being a serial killer. The same claims cannot be accurately made concerning terrorists or pedophiles.

Largely due to the massive amounts of media attention in the last couple of decades, it’s possible that there may be an element of ingrained, mass phobia or hysteria that surrounds terrorists and pedophiles. Moreover, the implications of media stories during this time leads many people to deduce that society is virtually surrounded by terrorists and pedophiles. Do we really feel the same intensity of fear nowadays with respect to other types of criminals? While other types may fit the monster definition supplied in the previous chapter, most contemporary members of society probably believe that there are not enough of them to threaten society in the way that it is commonly believed that terrorists and pedophiles do. Nobody, for example, wants to gut the U.S. Constitution or give up freedoms to protect themselves from serial killers. Again, the same cannot be said with respect to terrorists and pedophiles. As insinuated above, this situation would probably change in response to changing conditions in the media environment. At one point in time, for instance, many people were afraid that anarchists were about to overthrow the state. Many of these fears had to do with a small reality that became bigger each time a news story or public official recounted it. According to the precepts laid down in the Prologue to Modern Folktales, stories that are repeated in the modern mass media often enough become a part of societies’ shared beliefs and therefore have a profound impact on members.

This is not to say that monsters are purely media fabrications or are not borne out of real forces. Yet in a modern, highly populated and fragmented society that encompasses a significant geographical territory, as in the case of the U.S. (and many other contemporary societies), both conditions must exist in order for there to be a modern monster.

As any TV news-watcher can attest, nightly news broadcasts are filled with stories about an assortment of violent local crimes in a neighborhood near you. You can count on television news not to concern itself with mundane (yet important) community board or school board meetings; nor with more exciting topics like the amount of chemical and biological pollutants that advertisers so generously provide to the environment. As home security giant ADT and other program sponsors know, murder and mayhem make up a staple part of the nightly television news diet. Violent criminals are therefore on many peoples’ minds a lot of the time. When there is a dearth of more exotic monsters, we can always count on getting our daily fill of the more common variety.

Since most people are pretty familiar with the public dialog surrounding the run-of-the-mill, violent criminal (and even—to some extent—the serial killers), this category per se will not be a subject of focus . It may be useful as a foil or point of comparison against which the other two monsters can be analyzed and interpreted.

Pictures of Sexual Predators in the News

1.) Phillip Riback, a former pediatric neurologist, was convicted of sexually abusing his young patients and sentenced to 48 years in prison. A high-profile case back in 2004, it made its way back into the news recently because New York’s highest court overturned the conviction on 12-02-2009 due to prosecutorial misconduct. The case is expected to come up for retrial in the near future.28

2.) Tony Alamo, founder of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, was sentenced on 11-13-2009 to 175 years in prison for a conviction on multiple charges related to sexually abusing children.29

3.) Timothy David Martyn Cox, a 27-year old British man, was arrested in September, 2006, for running a web site involved in a global pedophile ring that shared horrific images of children being molested. The arrest tied into an international sting that started in the U.S. where law enforcement agencies were conducting a multi-state investigation of “molestation on demand”. The bust ultimately involved over 700 suspects in 35 countries. Cox was sentenced to an indefinite jail term during which he’ll be incarcerated until authorities feel that he no longer poses a threat to children. Police discovered over 75,000 explicit images on his computer.30

Memorable Quotes About Sexual Predators

1.) ”Let’s knock out the psychobabble,” he continued. ”This guy was a pervert, was a child molester. He was a pedophile. And to be giving this much coverage to him, day in and day out, what’s it say about us, our country?”

United States Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Long Island, commenting about all the sentimental media coverage of Michael Jackson’s life and career that ensued after the singer’s recent death.31

2.) “Is there anything more offensive and repugnant than being called a child molester?” Mr. Menkin asked the jury during his opening statement. “I can think of one thing worse: being called a child molester when you are not one.”32

Defense attorney, Edward Menkin, in his opening statement during the 2007 trial of client, Albert Scerbo, a music teacher accused of sexually molesting 17 girls at their small elementary school on the Onondaga Indian reservation in New York State.

3.) “They should put him in jail and let the prisoners in jail have their way with him, like he treated the children,” Mr. Engle said. ”I never thought something like this would happen in this town.”33

Ed Engle, a resident of the northeastern Pennsylvania town where school crossing guard, Dale Hutchings, was arrested and charged with over 1,000 counts of child molestation.

4.) “I’m just a West Virginia country lawyer running for office,” Justice McGraw said. Of the advertisements, he said: “They say our court let a child molester loose in our schools. It’s absolutely untrue. I’m embarrassed to go out in public. They’ve absolutely destroyed me.”34

Justice McGraw, a former judge on the West Virginia State Supreme Court, talking about the the media ads that were run against him in his re-election campaign in 2004. The “rough and arguably misleading”35 ads were financed by multi-millionaire Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of the nation’s fourth-biggest coal mining company. The judge who ended up beating Justic McGraw subsequently joined the 3-2 majority that overturned a $50 million jury verdict against the coal company. The question of whether this judge should have recused himself went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.

5.) “As embodiments of evil go, sex offenders are better than terrorists — and apparently much easier to deal with, to judge from the state’s [New Jersey’s] spotty efforts, in the four years since the Sept. 11 attacks, to secure its ports and nuclear and chemical plants.”36

Quoted from an article in The New York Times about the massive amount of media and political attention raised by a press release disclosing that 200 sex offenders on Medicaid prescription drug plans in New York State had charged taxpayers for Viagra. The story was soon picked up by the national media causing “what sociologists call a ‘moral panic’ about sex offenders.”37.

For those interested in learning more about moral panic, see the book, Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America, written by Philip Jenkins, who teaches history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. Professor Jenkins argues that the 1990’s raised exaggerated horrors of pedophiles as the 1980’s did of crack mothers.

Other Monsters?

Are there other monsters that afflict modern societies? Most certainly. The intent of these chapters is not to provide an exhaustive list of all modern monsters that there are or ever will be. Rather, our goal is to examine some of the biggest that currently exist. The hope is that our monsters will lead us to a better understanding of our societies and also ourselves. It is quite possible, as suggested in the prologue, that in analyzing the well advertised monsters we may discover other monsters of which we weren’t even aware.

Remember, to be defined as a monster, it is necessary for members of society to agree that the monster is a credible threat to either each one individually or all collectively. It is also necessary that the quality of the threat be powerful enough to produce feelings of profound fear and foreboding in most members of the general public.

In recent years, both terrorists and pedophiles seem to meet this standard. With the exception of the crazy dictator archetype (a la Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il), there does not seem to be any other contemporary personalities that inspire as much fear in the general public as terrorists and pedophiles. The deep extent to which they have permeated the public psyche during this time establishes them as good candidates for analysis on this web site. This does not imply that there aren’t any other monsters present in society today. Up until now, we’ve been focusing on the types of people that are portrayed in the media in a way that meets our modern monster. Broadly applying our definition may quite possibly yield other unsavory candidates. We will revisit this question in future chapters.

‘Is there anything more offensive and repugnant than being called a child molester?” Mr. Menkin asked the jury during his opening statement. ”I can think of one thing worse: being called a child molester when you are not one.”
  1. Pape, Robert, Dying to Win (Random House, 2005) ISBN 0-8129-7338-0 []
  2. The images shown below are not intended for commercial distribution of any kind. They are being used solely for the purpose of displaying some of the images that have been used to reference individual terrorists in the past. ModernFolktales.com does not endorse or support copyright infringement of any kind. If you are a copyright owner that has a question about a link to one of your images, please feel free to contact us using the contact form provided in the top menu of the ModernFolktales.com web site. []
  3. Israel News Agency Staff, “Israel Issues High Terror Alert For Goa, India”, Israel News Agency, 12-13-2005, http://www.israelnewsagency.com/terroralertwarningalqaidaindiagoaisrael
    [accessed 11-23-09] []
  4. “Philippines arrests terrorist who planned attack on Israel embassy”, Israel News, 8-25-2009, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3766873,00.html, [accessed 11-23-2009.] This article attributes the image’s ownership to the Associated Press []
  5. Saul, Michael and Yaniv, Oren, “Gov. Paterson: 9/11 mastermind Kalid Shaikh Mohammed shouldn’t be tried on NY soil, near Ground Zero”, New York Daily News, 11-16-2009, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2009/11/16/2009-11-16
    [accessed 11-23-2009]. This article attributes the image’s ownership to the Associated Press. []
  6. “Osama bin Laden,” Times Topics > People > B > Bin Laden, Osama, The New York Times web site, http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/osama_bin
    [accessed 12-01-2009]. Article attributes the photograph’s ownership to the Associated Press. []
  7. “Ayman al-Zawahri,” Times Topics > People > Z > Zawahri, Ayman Al-, The New York Times web site,
    [accessed 12-01-2009]. Article attributes the photograph’s ownership to Reuters. []
  8. RATNESAR, ROMESH, “Person of the Year 2004; Face of Terror,” Time Magazine, 12-19-2004, http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/personoftheyear/2004/
    , [accessed 12-03-2009] []
  9. Image search results for “Seung-Hui Cho” on msnbc.com, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/?id=11881780&q=Seung-Hui%20Cho&p=1&st=
    , [accessed 11-24-2009] []
  10. Hess, Pamela and Gearanm Anne, “Nidal Hasan Emails Could Indicate Fort Hood Shooting Was A Terrorist Plot”, The Huffington Post, 11-21-09, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/21/nidal-hasan-emails-could-_
    [accessed 11-24-09] []
  11. “Blair condemns terrorist ‘evil'”, BBC News, 9-11-2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/1537539.stm, [accessed 11-28-2001] []
  12. Ibid. []
  13. Rosenbaum, David E. “Live images make viewers witnesses to horror. (attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon).” New York Times 9-12-2001: A25(N); A25(L). The New York Times. Web. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName=23950_mtcpls. Gale Document Number:A78228089 [accessed 11-28-2009] []
  14. “President Bush’s address on terrorism before a joint meeting of Congress.” New York Times September 21, 2001: B4(N); B4(L). The New York Times. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName=23950_mtcpls.
    Gale Document Number:A78482966. [accessed 11-28-2209] []
  15. Myers, Steven Lee. “Clinton leads tribute to the Cole’s crew; tells throng at memorial service that terrorists won’t escape.” New York Times 10-19-2000: A6(N); A10(L). The New York Times. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName=23950_mtcpls. Gale Document Number:A66209498 [accessed 11-28-2009] []
  16. Ibid. []
  17. Ibid. []
  18. Ibid. []
  19. Ibid. []
  20. Ibid. []

  21. Greenhouse, Linda. “Justices bar death penalty for the rape of a child. (National Desk).” New York Times 26 June 2008: A1(L). The New York Times. Web. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    =23950_mtcpls. Gale Document Number:A180582632 [accessed 12-01-2009} []
  22. Ibid. []
  23. Donaldson-Evans, Catherine, “Global Pedophile Ring Investigation That Netted 700 Suspects Stemmed in Part From Earlier U.S. Case,” FoxNews.com, 06-19-2007, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,284137,00.html, [accessed 12-01-2009] []
  24. Smith, Craig S. “Child Pornography on Vienna Computer Prompts Worldwide Hunt.” New York Times 8 Feb. 2007: A5(L). The New York Times. Web. 3 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    =23950_mtcpls>. Gale Document Number:A158999764 []
  25. Nahas, Donna Kutt. “Limits on Registered Sex Offenders Are Also About Where the Law Can’t Go.” New York Times 12-11-2005: 10(L). The New York Times. Web. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    =23950_mtcpls. Gale Document Number:A139641913 [accessed 12-02-2009] []
  26. Although in her controversial book, Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex (Univ. of Minn. Press, 2002), Judith Levine, cites a 1996 study by National Center for Institutions and Alternatives that concluded only 13% of former sex offenders were rearrested for crimes involving sex. This compares with 74% rearrest rate for criminal offenders overall. []
  27. Bilefsky, Dan. “Europeans Debate Castration of Sex Offenders.” New York Times 03-11-2009: A1(L). The New York Times. Web. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    Gale Document Number:CJ195307196. [accessed 12-02-2009] []
  28. CARLEO-EVANGELIST, JORDAN, “Sex abuse retrial may begin soon,” timesunion.com, 12-02-2009, http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=872259&
    , [accessed 12-02-2009] []
  29. Julia in Crime and Punishment, “Pedophile Evangelist Tony Alamo Sentenced to 175 Years,” The Village Voice New York News Blog, 11-13-2009, http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2009/11/
    , [accessed 12-02-2009] []
  30. Donaldson-Evans, Catherine, “Global Pedophile Ring Investigation That Netted 700 Suspects Stemmed in Part From Earlier U.S. Case,” FoxNews.com, 06-19-2007, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,284137,00.html, [accessed 12-01-2009] []
  31. Hernandez, Raymond. “Long Island lawmaker calls Michael Jackson a ‘lowlife’.” New York Times 7 July 2009: A17(L). The New York Times. Web. 3 Dec. 2009. http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    =23950_mtcpls. Gale Document Number:CJ203162582 []
  32. York, Michelle. “Some Charges Dropped in Music Teacher’s Molestation Trial.(Metropolitan Desk).” New York Times 26 July 2007: B2(L). The New York Times. Web. 3 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroup
    Name=23950_mtcpls>. Gale Document Number:A166806130 []
  33. Hurdle, Jon. “School crossing guard is charged with 1,000 counts of child molesting.(National Desk).” New York Times 22 June 2007: A14(L). The New York Times. Web. 3 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroup
    Name=23950_mtcpls>. Gale Document Number:A165420392 []
  34. Liptak, Adam. “Case May Alter the Election of Judges.” New York Times 15 Feb. 2009: A29(L). The New York Times. Web. 4 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroup
    Name=23950_mtcpls>. Gale Document Number:CJ193749132 []
  35. Ibid. []
  36. Mansnerus, Laura. “Stoking ‘Moral Panic’ Over Sex Offenders.” New York Times 29 May 2005: 2(L). The New York Times. Web. 11 Dec. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/start.do?prodId=SPJ.SP21&userGroupName
    =23950_mtcpls>. Gale Document Number:A132822506 []
  37. Ibid []

One thought on “Who or What are Contemporary Monsters?

  1. Lakshmi Emrit

    After reading this, I agree with the explanation of the contemporary monsters and what is considered a monster today. I agree that the two major monsters are terrorists and sexual predators. Living in a society where rape percentages are very high especially among young women. This raises fear among everyone, these rapists terrorize families and young girls in fear of being raped and for those that have already been raped, their feeling of safety is taken away. I know what it feels like to constantly be afraid, and unable to trust those around you, living in the same neighborhood where rape and murder occur when its least expected, as well as robbery. The same neighborhood that Levi Aron, murdered Leiby Kletzky.

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