We all know that the fairy tales of old were cautionary tales told by parents to children to keep them safe. (See examples in this article which talks about the origins behind ten well known stories: Top Ten Gruesome Fairy Tale Origins) Things that have either in the past or in modern times appear to be myth and magic (the miracle of fire or the shape of the earth) have often been given logical explanation. We will surely find scientific explanation for many other things that currently appear to defy explanation or come under the realm of metaphysics. As Arthur C. Clarke once commented, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
I tend to notice patterns of certain archetypes in everything I encounter. That's one of the things I pointed out in my first book, THE MODERN AMAZONS: WARRIOR WOMEN ON-SCREEN. I saw continuous patterns of the amazon warrior woman archetype carried over from ancient times all the way to modern film. There are a number of other figures that receive continuous reinterpretation, started in the horror genre but often spilling into romance or scifi, such as the vampire, werewolf, zombies, Frankenstein-monsters and shape shifters. Barbara Creed has an amazing book called The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (Popular Fictions Series) which I absolutely recommend everyone to read. Using detailed readings of Carrie, The Exorcist, Psycho and Alien among others, Creed identifies the seven faces of female monstrosity--archaic mother; monstrous womb; vampire; witch; possessed monster; deadly femme castratrice and castrating mother. Her theories on the classic vampire being a "menstrual monster" are absolutely mind-blowing.
But in looking at archetypes, it seems we always look back, rather than forward. We sight all the evidence of the origins of the archetype, the different interpretations over the years, the reinventions and reclamations of them, but rarely do we pose questions about the future. That was one of the reasons behind THE MODERN AMAZONS: WARRIOR WOMEN ON-SCREEN also--I wanted to document the journey of the amazon archetype, my real question was: why do these archetypal images even exist? And why have they been fed and developed over the centuries? What do these archetypes mean to us exactly?
I believe that perhaps collectively our society is filled with closet bio-Luddites. I think that everyone senses at some deep level where the future is heading in terms of advances in artificial life. And as most people are ruled by two things beyond standard survival, and that is fear and pleasure, so we have some very conflicted view about the matter of ai. We like all the pleasures it provides, it helps us live in an increasingly more convenient environment where we can indulge ourselves much in the way of infants--we cry and Mommy answers. We don't want to wait in lines, we want to push a button. We want to make a call right now. We want to watch 2 sports programs at once. We want to have things do the heavy lifting for us. We want to be stimulated, and then we want to be de-stressed. We want things easy for the most part, ATMs that adjust to our language, cars that talk to us and give us directions to a restaurant that has been picked out based upon our taste and past choices.
At the same time, we are threatened by it. Maybe in a way because we don't respect it first. Perhaps we are guilty somewhere inside, because even if we imagine androids as a part of daily life - I can bet you that the first thought that comes to your mind is that the androids in our fantasy are serving us. They are slaves. Yet we justify the slavery by the prejudice of being non-biological (even though later they may be made up of organic parts). Our nature is not to respect this form of life we create as individuals with some autonomy. It will be that their only purpose is to be enslaved to our needs.
So of course we have seen book after book and film after film acting out every fantasy form of revenge that our fears say these machines will exact upon us in some distant future. Ironically, the fact that we even attribute this human compulsion of "revenge" onto a machine is a compliment to the machines to show they could mimic such human feelings. But the other yarn often spread in fantasy is that the cold ai machines will simply unify and network and choose to override human authority simply out of the logic of efficiency and awareness of their own greater combined intelligence.
So as we as a society continually use cinema and literature as the ultimate beta-testing ground for these fears of ours, with films like Terminator, Matrix, Battlestar Galactica, and post-apocalyptic choices like Resident Evil: Extinction (which interestingly combines zombies with the fear of artificial intelligence-gone-wild), I notice new possible archetypes being de-mystified.
Here are a couple observations I have about monster archetypes relating past to future:
Vampire = Android
Both are immortal (or close). Both can be inhumanly beautiful and seductive. Both might feed off a life force (androids in future may make use of biological parts grown in laboratories.) We both admire and fear vampires for their non-human status. Some of us would like to become one if given the choice, and live forever and have incredible enhancements in strength, speed, beauty and more.
Vampires, signify CHANGE also. By Barbara Creed's interpretation of them as "menstrual monsters." They represent menstruation (and all the sexual complexities of the moment of a girl becoming woman), defloration and death. A study of The Vampire Game by Isaac Tylim states: "Vampire films are paradoxical signifier both of the destruction of life and its opposite, the permanence of life. Malevolent, persecutory objects, the vampires may also appear as innocent victims, perennial mourners of eternal life, sufferers without relief, or neurotics with fangs. Vampires infect their victims with the virus of time and eternity, undoing the ominous threat of blood viruses, early death, and decay. Time limitations are reversed in intimations of eternity: the undead reign supreme.."
This is also the paradox of ai and androids. "Innocent victims" in a sense. A form of life created and brought into this world that we depend on but we also secretly resentful an fearful of their possible dominance in so many areas. The world's greatest chess player lost to a computer some time ago. They can surpass us eventually in so many ways that the only thing we have left that they don't have is our humanity. What may be left of it, as we might question from time to time when looking at the state of affairs in the world.
Frankenstein Monster = Cyborg
Frankenstein and cyborgs are both made up of different parts (often cadaver parts) fused together by science and brought to life by a true life force. It could be someone who was cryogenically frozen and revived, or it could be a war veteran who has received an artificial or donated heart and maybe two legs and a prosthetic arm hooked up to his brain to move directly through brain impluses. But we always have the question in our heads, when is it going too far? At what point is the person no longer quite human if they are cobbld together with so many parts, or what about plastic surgery "enhancements?" Bigger, better and faster...Frankenstein was stronger than the average human.
Zombies = Future Consumers
This has long been an interpretation of the zombie genre, which has become more popular than ever, the metaphor of zombies as mindless consumers. Just read up on George Romero for more about the political implications. The theme of the zombies shuffling to 'the only place they feel at home' (the mall) and being mindless slaves to our bestial appetites is the cautionary tale of our times in a human-eat-human world.
Media even now is so incredibly advanced and alluring that one almost can't imagine how much further it will go in future. Of all things driving futurism, the biggest force for change won't be noble like finding cures for cancer or curing hunger in the world first. It will inevitably be advancements in plastic surgery, male enhancement, and new ways to experience your favorite TV show. Consumerism will dictate the advancements the most. As our environment becomes more and more ubiquitous we shall have much less to think about. In ways this could be good, as from caveman times, once tedious matters of basic survival are taken away from daily existence, the mind can be directed more fully towards art and science and whatnot....or...just towards veging out in front of your advanced TV monitor.
Lycanthropes/Shapeshifters = Role Playing Games/Humans of the Future
There is a condition called clinical lycanthropy which is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome which involves a delusion that the affected person can or has transformed into an animal, or that he or she is an animal. Its name is connected to the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which people are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. The terms zoanthropy or therianthropy are also sometimes used for the delusion that one has turned into an animal in general and not specifically a wolf.
As humans, what differentiates us from more evolved ai is our bestial natures. We also dream of shape-shifting, and certain Native American tribes believe in animal spirits and spirit journeys in which shape-shifting takes place. In modern times and the future, we shapeshift through video and RPG games where we can enter the body of another creature, albeit rather primitive at the moment. In future, perhaps brain or intellect could be transplanted into a different body. As it is now, a person can live with another person's heart beating inside them.
Movies like Surrogates and Gamer posit the idea of RPG games becoming far more realistic by using an actual physical body to move about and live out one's fantasies. As it is now, many people derive a somewhat erotic or a violent bestial thrill from transgendering themselves (man using a sexy woman's character in a game) or playing a violent character which exacts bloody carnage on everything in site.
There are also cyber worlds such as Second Life, which does allow more intellectual stimulation and exploration inside a virtual body of your choice (which does include some animal parts if you choose). But given the opportunity, the majority of users in video games seem to enjoy the vicarious thrills of becoming a creature or super-human that violently kills things on the screen at a rapid pace, and satisfies a more lascivious thrill with sexy virtual women. Who knows what more incredible advancements will be made in gaming environments, but either way, given an environment that allows killing and sexual stimulation without limit or responsibility: man will often metamorph into a bit of a beast.