Georgetown Professor of English Edward Ingebretsen recently published a book on the making of monsters in today’s popular culture. His book analyzes and decries the use of the word “monster” to label public figures from Timothy McVeigh to Bill Clinton.

Ingebretsen’s new work, “At Stake: Monsters and the Rhetoric of Fear in Public Culture,” asks why our culture expends great amounts of effort in the creation of monsters and advocates cleaning up public speech. According to a university release, the book, “explores the social construction of monstrousness in public discourse.”

The book’s use of the term “public discourse” does not relate only to aspects of the media, such as newspapers, magazines, tabloids and television, but also to sources such as popular fiction and sermons. It discusses the history of the label “monster,” which began as a term used in Aristotle’s time when a baby was born deformed, which was seen as a divine sign that the populous was doing something wrong, through present day use of the term.

In his book, Ingebretsen warns that, “As we use this language to create a world of safety, we thereby make of ourselves monsters as well.”

Ingebretsen emphasizes that when public figures use words such as “monster” to label others it is simplifying the larger problem that individual represents. Ingebretsen said in an interview that, for example, when President George W. Bush describes the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attack as “criminals and thugs, he is using language not very appropriately.”

“We who connive in twisting humans into monsters, for whatever reason of thrill, shortcut moralizing or pay, thereby create our own peril,” Ingebretsen said.

Ingebretsen describes society’s use of the term “monster” as a way of emphasizing wrong behavior so as to promote accepted types of comportment. Public examples of monstrous behavior enable a culture to redefine itself or reassert prevailing standards. Yet in his book

Ingebretsen says, “the social burden of this slant speech, and its appalling consequences – the leaden identification of religion and civility with brutality and violence.”

Cautionary lessons learned by the American public which Ingebretsen describes include the problematic extremes of teen rebellion, personified in the Columbine High School shooting, violent sexuality, as in the murder of Gianni Versace, and parental failure, seen in Susan Smith, who murdered her two children.

In his book, Ingebretsen writes, “My study isn’t, for me, merely academic. … My fear focuses me and gives me excuse, if not permission, to speak.”

He identifies to some degree with those society terms monsters, due in part to his homosexuality.

Ingebretsen writes, in the book’s introduction, “Wide-eyed, I wondered what must the monster think, as the crowd draws near, stake and flame in hand, cross raised high? This book is my answer. `This is my life you are talking about; these are the words you refuse me to speak in my own behalf.'”

Ingebretsen is an associate professor in the English Department, specializing in 19th and 20th century American literature.

Courses taught by Ingebretsen fall under the categories of American popular culture, American literature, cultural studies in the construction of social deviancy, and American Gothic culture.

Other books authored by Ingebretsen include: Robert Frost: Star in a Stone Boat, a poetry study published in 1995, and 1996’s aps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from Puritans to Stephen King, On Terror in American Gothic Culture.

He received his doctorate from Duke University in 1989.

Ingebretsen also earned a Master’s of Divinity from Berkeley University’s Graduate Theological Union and both a master’s and a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University.

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