In past times, the threats of loss with which society was faced--the monsters of the moment, as it were--were different. After World War II, Japan, with good reason, feared the atomic bomb, and Godzilla arose, a towering monster born of underwater nuclear waste, to terrorize Tokyo as Fat Man and Little Boy had terrorized Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The monster represented the annihilation of the Japanese people, a sort of genocidal doom imposed by strangers from afar.
King Kong, if we are to believe Carl Denham, seems to represent the bestial component not of humanity as such, but of the male of the species, whom only female Beauty can tame. What is the giant ape but the uncivilized and the undomesticated, and, therefore, the hyper-masculine, male? He is masculinity unrestrained, a rampage of testosterone that has not, as yet, met its match in the humanizing effects of estrogen. Too large, to be sure, to be a rapist, Kong is nevertheless an abductor who, quite literally, carries Ann Darrow back to nature, a primitive world in which there is no law other than that of the survival of the fittest. It is only when, tempted, as it were, by Ann, that Kong is captured (emasculated) and taken to the concrete jungle that he is subdued, however temporarily, and, at last, killed. As Denham laments, “’Tis Beauty killed the Beast.” The lesson of this masterful cautionary tale is as simple as it is profound: The undomesticated male is a threat not only to the female but to society--indeed, to civilization--itself, and, if it cannot be tamed, it must be destroyed by the tribe.
The eighth episode of this season, “I Robot, You Jane,” takes on the dangers of the anonymous predators of Internet chat rooms: Willow meets a seemingly sweet suitor who is actually a demon that was released from the book in which its spirit was magically bound when the school’s librarian, Rupert Giles, orders the text to be scanned into the library’s electronic database and the demon escapes into cyberspace.
Of course, that’s just the hell of high school. Once writers realized that there is not one world, but worlds within worlds, the numbers and kinds of hell, like the number and types of demons, multiplied significantly. There is the hell of school, of the workplace, of the home, of the place of worship, of places of leisure, and some hells are not places at all, but states of existence, such as illness, or situations, such as a loveless marriage, or events, such as the death of a loved one. Truly, as Edgar Allan Poe observed, “misery is manifold.” Hell is on earth because, as Jean Paul Sartre points out, in No Exit, hell is other people. It is also ourselves. As John Milton observes, Satan carries hell within himself, for it is a state of mind in which he has alienated himself from God. The same is true of us as well.