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Review: A Journey into the Supernatural


Reviewed Work(s): Red, White, and Spooked: The Supernatural in American Culture by M.
Keith Booker
Review by: Kristin Noone
Source: Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 37, No. 2 (July 2010), pp. 308-310
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25746413
Accessed: 06-11-2019 17:38 UTC

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308 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 37 (2010)

BOOKS IN REVIEW
A Journey into the Supernatural. M. Keith Booker. Red, White, and Spooked:
The Supernatural in American Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009. xxiii + 204
pp. $49.95 he.
M. Keith Booker introduces his discussion of the supernatural with Neil
Gaiman' s American Gods (2001), a book that serves as both a starting point and
a first example of what Booker calls the "doubleness" of the American
experience. Booker claims that the American popular interest in supernatural
worlds and narratives at once reinforces the status quo and reflects a desire for
"dimensions of life that go beyond the day-to-day" (x). Supernatural narratives
in American culture tend to be dominated by consumerist desires, Booker claims,
as they become mass-produced and marketed as commodities, and yet the
unending longing of consumers for these narratives indicates a desire for
something spiritually richer than the processes of consumption and capitalism.
Booker's text does not quite live up to the promise of its title and introduction, as
he relies mainly on examples from film and television in support of his argument;
this leaves the reader wondering whether there might be other aspects of
"American culture" to consider. Nevertheless, he offers an accessibly written,
compelling, and complex argument about the dual nature of supernatural and
fantastic narratives, well grounded in consumerist theory and strongly supported
by his knowledge of popular culture texts. Red, White, and Spooked, therefore,
will be a useful resource for scholars working in the fields of fantasy, science
fiction, and popular culture, particularly those with a film and television focus.
Booker begins his journey into the supernatural with an introduction that
locates his argument within the theoretical realm, relying on Fredric Jameson's
discussion of "magical narratives" as evidence of Utopian desires. He also refers
to the sociologist Max Weber and other Marxist critiques of capitalism, noting
that Neil Gaiman's American Gods seems close to a Marxist point of view, in that
the capitalist society portrayed appears to lack "any sense of wonder or magic"
(xi). Booker, however, wishes to complicate this critique; one of his principal
arguments involves the idea that American society is aware of this lack and
therefore actively desires to recreate magic through participating in supernatural
story-telling. In the introduction, Booker acknowledges that American literature
has included supernatural elements from its earliest days, as in Washington
Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820) or the writings of Edgar Allan
Poe. This nod to the literary antecedents of his main sources is useful but
somewhat brief, as he moves on in the next paragraph to the acceleration of
supernatural and superhero tales "in the past few decades" (xii). The resources of
film and television programming provide the meat of Booker's study, and the
number of examples he offers here (many of which receive further discussion in
later chapters) provides impressive support for his argument. He also spends time
providing a case study of the appropriately titled television show, Supernatural
(2005-), which Booker claims exemplifies the dual nature of American
supernatural narratives. That program deals with human confrontation with
potentially evil superhuman threats and yet belies any real anxieties by presenting

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BOOKS IN REVIEW 309

such threats in a self-aware and ironic fashion, alongside humor and pop-culture
references. Booker concludes by describing the three main fascinations of the
supernatural narrative in America: the narrative of adventure, the appeal of heroes
and heroism, and a "paranoid interest" in confrontations with supernatural evil
that threatens life as we know it (xxii). These three fascinations provide the
structure for the three main sections of the text.
The first major area of Booker's study discusses the longing for adventure in
American history and culture, beginning with the concept of "voyages of
discovery" (3), a theme supported in American history by examples from
Christopher Columbus to Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next
Generation (1987-94). This section perhaps deals the most extensively with
works from areas outside the film/television nexus, as Booker moves easily from
travel narratives to Tarzan of the Apes (1914) to the birth of science fiction. He
also demonstrates a good knowledge of historiography, with reference to
historical data and studies. The second section of Red, White, and Spooked then
moves to the desire for heroes in American culture, observing the central paradox
of American heroism: the vision that "we all supposedly have the potential to
become heroes" (49) negates the concept of extraordinary individualism, which
leads to the desire for superhuman or supernatural heroic figures. Here Booker
begins by discussing the tradition of folk and frontier heroes such as Davy
Crockett and Daniel Boone, then moves to a discussion of superheroes from
Superman to Luke Skywalker, the quintessential farm boy who finds an
extraordinary destiny, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a Chosen One who imbues
many others with her special abilities at the close of her story. This discussion
makes Booker's point about the paradoxical nature of American heroes very
effectively. In the third and final section of the text, Booker examines American
paranoia, what he refers to as "the longing for evil" (130) in American culture; he
begins with Puritan narratives that "demonized" Native Americans (129), linking
the supernatural with the threat of the outsider and thereby emphasizing a national
identity and feeling of community?us (US) versus them. Booker traces this
theme through Cold War science fiction, 1970s horror films, and The X-Files
(1993-2002), with its theme of alien/governmental conspiracy, and even the
contemporary offerings of Lost (2004-) and Heroes (2006-). He concludes this
section by suggesting that this type of supernatural narrative both reassures
audiences that there is order in the world?evil is not simply random?and also
challenges those audiences by requiring them to engage in new processes of
cognitive mapping, as viewers must actively make connections and attempt to
solve intricate mysteries, as exemplified by Losfs convoluted narrative. Overall,
each section provides strong support for Booker's larger claims about the
attractions and contradictions of the supernatural narrative, with numerous
examples drawn from popular texts throughout American history.
Red, White, and Spooked includes an excellent bibliography of contemporary
and historical supernatural texts, adding to this study's usefulness for scholars of
the genre, and Booker's writing is accessible without sacrificing critical acuity,
as his knowledge of cultural theory and history is evident. Booker does focus on
film and television sources far more than other contemporary aspects of

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310 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 37 (2010)

"American culture," but his arguments about the paradoxical nature of the
American supernatural narrative may be productively extended to other media in
the future, and his study is overall complex and intriguing.?Kristin Noone,
University of California, Riverside
Horologists Unite! Take Back the Night (of the Soul). Samuel Gerald Collins.
All Tomorrow's Cultures: Anthropological Engagements with the Future. New
York: Berghahn, 2008. 150 pp. $29.95 he.
Imagine yourself set down on the arid plains of the Kalahari, the deep jungles
of Palenque, the verdant isles of the Pacific. The invitation to "imagine yourself
opens the first field-work-based ethnography by Bronislaw Malinowski (1922)
and is the great lure of science fiction, two virtual worlds that Samuel Collins
thinks together in All Tomorrow's Cultures. In anthropology's weird space-time
continuum, going a long way through space also promises to take you back
through time (today's "primitives" are imagined as "our" past) and also forward.
Collins explores how social science and science fiction have influenced each
other's understandings of temporality and "tomorrow" in Euro-America over the
past 150 years. He shows how anthropology's assumptions that parting the mists
hiding moderns from our ancestors would reveal our "true" selves not yet
misshapen by industrialization, Wonder Bread, and couch potatoing. He shows
how these journeys are also portents. These Others might hold our future. Perhaps
it will be egalitarian, with sharing deeply etched into every interaction, every
experience of selfhood. Perhaps it will be polymorphously perverse, titillatingly
promising really hot future sex (tantrics are for kids). Perhaps it is a puzzle whose
unraveling might save us, if we heed the Maya's mute stone warnings of
civilizational collapse due to warring superpowers (a past to accessorize a
present/future of Cold War Mutual Assured Destruction) or unfettered resource
extraction and ecological disaster (a past for granola-crunching viewers of An
Inconvenient Truth [2006]). Imbricating with the present, these future/pasts carry
threats and the Enlightenment promise that by so knowing we can imagine other
scenarios, brighter futures. This pregnant node of self and other that combines
past, present, and future through involutions of anthropology and science fiction
is the setting for Collins's fascinating book. It is a small, tight text whose inside
feels larger than its outside. Reading it is like opening a watch keeping time on
a wormhole, finding the whirligigging gears and elements suddenly, dreamlike,
transforming into a Wellsian machine taking you to quite unexpected
chrono(il)logical spaces.
Engagement with the future is, of course, an exercise in sf and in optimism of
the will, but readers also get a stiff dose of horror, the dark night of the soul.
Collins opens with the dread that capitalist globalization's threat of the end of
history and TINA (There Is No Alternative) has totally colonized our
mentalscapes, combining
faith and belief in perpetual change with an abyssal vision of repetition and
stasis... Instead of a future characterized by... unforeseen occurrences we get the
rapid linear succession of "new" products that are endless iterations of consumer
desire.... [0]ne of the most maleficent effects of globalization: the attenuation of

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