Malice in Wonderland : the perverse pleasure of the revolting child
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“Malice in Wonderland: The Perverse Pleasure of the Revolting Child,” explores the place of “revolting child,” or the child-as-monster, in horror cinema using textual analysis, discourse analysis, and historical reception study. These figures, as seen in films such as The Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, and The Exorcist, “revolt” in two ways: they create feelings of unease due to their categorical perversion, and they also rebel against the family, the community, and the very notion of futurity. This work argues that the pleasure of these films vacillates between Othering the child to legitimate fantasies of child abuse and engaging an imagined rebellion against a heteronormative social order. As gays and lesbians have been culturally deemed “arrested” in their development, the revolting child functions as a potent metaphor for queerness, and the films provide a mise-en-scène of desire for queer spectators, as in the “masked child” who performs childhood innocence. This dissertation begins with concrete examples of queer reception, such as fan discourse, camp reiterations, and GLBT media production, and uses these responses to reinvestigate the films for sites of queer engagement. Interestingly, though child monsters appear centrally in several of the highest-grossing films in the horror genre, no critic has offered a comprehensive explanation as to what draws audiences this particular type of monstrosity. Further, this dissertation follows contemporary strains in queer theory that deconstruct notions of “development” and “maturity” as agents of heteronormative power, as seen in the work of Michael Moon, Lee Edelman, Ellis Hanson, Jose Esteban Muñez, and Kathryn Bond Stockton.