American Gothic: A Walk On The Darker Side… 7

Halloween wouldn’t be complete without listening to the songs which illustrate American’s love of having fun, being scared and wearing costumes. The following videos symbolize this side of North American culture:

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is perhaps the most famous and best loved of his music videos and played again and again during Halloween. It is  the most modern incarnation of American Gothic music having been voted as the most influential pop music video of all time and having sold over 9 million units. It was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, the first music video of any kind to ever receive this honor. It was described as being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant. The recorded song contains a passage spoken by actor Vincent Price who was the symbol of American Gothic movies. The story takes place in a movie theater with a 1950s décor (first generation rock ‘n roll music) with Michael Jackson and his girlfriend watching a fictional “Vincent Price” horror “werecat” film (we only see them after a few minutes). Michael’s girlfriend is scared by the movie and leaves the theater with Michael catching up to her and saying: “It’s only a movie”. Then the action starts with a foggy road, a graveyard, zombies, all the trappings of a horror movie when suddenly Michael becomes a zombie himself. There is a blur between reality and fantasy which is in a way the “fun” of Halloween… At the end of the closing credits, a disclaimer appears, saying that “Any similarity to actual events or characters living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental.” The same disclaimer appeared in An American Werewolf in London, directed by the same director of “Thriller” John Landis:

Going back in time Monster Mash” is a 1962 novelty song and the best-known song by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. It was released as a single in August 1962 and by October reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart…just in time for Halloween. It has been the holiday favorite ever since then. It’s a take on the mad scientist story (Frankenstein and Boris Karloff)  who creates a monster who late one evening rises up to perform a new dance. The dance quickly becomes a big hit when the scientist decides to throw a party for other monsters.

The 60s also gave birth to two television shows which reflected the interest that Americans show in the macabre and the occult. The Addams Family  which was a inspired by a cartoon created by the American cartoonist, Charles Addams. His characters represented a satirical version of the typical American family who were being portrayed in other television series (“Leave It To Beaver”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Danny Thomas Show, etc.) while also satisfying the Gothic spirit of the American psyche. The Addams were an eccentric, wealthy clan who lived in a haunted house with macabre customs believing naively that their habits were part of the mainstream and were always shocked that people found them bizarre or frightening.

The other sitcom that was quite popular was The Munsters. It depicted the home life of a family of monsters who also considered themselves “normal” and in addition fairly typical working-class Americans. Perhaps the beginning of “Political Correctness” and the acceptance of social singularity, the Munsters (based on the classic monsters of Universal Studios films from the 1930s and 1940s) were more outgoing than the “Addams Family” and made numerous attempts to fit into society at large.  Herman, the head of the household and a Frankenstein monster look alike (Boris Karloff’s role) was the sole wage-earner and took pride in “bringing home the bacon”. The patriarch of the family “Grandpa” was inspired by Bela Lugosi’s vampire character “Dracula” that was also very popular in the 40s (Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff were the 2 major icons at the time symbolizing the “scary movie genre”). Take a look at a clip which calls attention to the desire for this “monster” family to be considered normal…a precursor to the many social events that were to come in the 70s and 80s.


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