The Social Function of Haunted

Written by Jordan Meyer

It seems that we often use haunting to discuss our culture’s social mores and taboos. For example, scholars Colleen Boyd and Coll Thrush theorize that stories of haunting associated with Native Americans are really a means of discussing the social shame held by those who have benefitted from the oppressions of the past. Without directly discussing this shame, however, non-native Americans share ghost stories associated with these indigenous peoples, thus becoming haunted by their own shame.

We live in a society that often idolizes the first generations of European settlers, referring to some as our “Founding Fathers” while majestic oil paintings of them loom in many galleries. To admit that their treatment of the Native Americans was wrong and that they were guilty of mass genocide has become a moré in many parts of our society – especially when we realize how much our ancestors gained for us through this oppression. As such, haunting becomes a means of circumventing the norms of society. It allows a discussion of social mores and taboos that, like the specters of lore, are at the edges of tangibility.

Boyd and Thrush cite a number of examples of how this masking of social shame has played out in popular culture. Some of these examples are rooted in stories specific to a localized region, while some of them, such as a mention of a scene from The Blair Witch Project in which the characters stumble upon a Native graveyard, are much more generalized and direct. Of course, the mere mention of being haunted by indigenous peoples also brings any number of campfire stories to mind as well. Regardless of time and place, it seems that social shame appears to be the common meaning held by the vast majority of these stories, with the repressed heartbreak resurfacing in the form of the spiritual Other.

Works Cited

Boyd, Colleen E., and Coll Thrush. “Introduction.” Phantom Past, Indigenous Presence: Native Ghosts in North American Culture and History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. Print.

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