Text by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019
Artwork by Christopher Suciu, Copyright 2019
The Best Way to Speak to a Monster is From a Distance
Humans have always feared the unknown. More often than not, it meant death. Throughout time, the term “monster” has been used to explain the inexplicable whether it was a strange shape or sound coming from an unexplored part of the woods or the man who will abandon all sense of morals to get to where he wants to be. Monster is such a broad term that Webster’s Dictionary defines it both as “an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure” and “one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character,” which makes sense given that both of these examples are out of the norm. Monsters matter because they are a category in which society sorts the misfits, the unexamined, and the suspicious; there are exceptions to every rule and monsters are the outliers from whatever is perceived as “right.”
There is a certain fascination that comes with witnessing something out of the ordinary. While women in the 1400s would hide their children behind their skirt to shield them from beholding a deformed man on the street, they would have no problem with paying money to observe him behind bars or glass. Putting a barrier or separation between normal people and mysterious forces makes them appear less realistic and thus safer. It is with this feeling of safety that people will engage in activities such as walking through haunted houses or watching horror movies. If they know they won’t get hurt, then the fear is an exciting rush rather than a question of survival. Stephen King, American horror author, argues that “we’re all mentally ill,” (King, 16) and that perhaps the fear factor is braved to prove that it can be done. But more likely, it is “to re-establish our feelings of essential normality,” (King, 16) because the people in the theater screaming at a screen to run away are far more sane than an actress knowingly advancing towards a monster. It is the monster that is used as a platform to define normality and make the average Joe feel like at least they’re doing something right; so long as they’re not dripping with green goo or hiding in a teenage girl’s closet with a knife, they’re succeeding at life.
This has been the mindset for centuries. Daniel Cohen, French economist and professor, brings to light how the Aztecs and the Incas were terrified at the sight of men on horses (Cohen). Having never fathomed the relationship, they assumed the two bodies were one, yet again using that term, monster, to define something unknown. But even way back then, the people were fascinated by monsters when it meant they wouldn’t have to be faced. Cohen talks about how “griffin’s claws or the roc’s eggs were brought back” (Cohen, 139) from travels, making people believe that these creatures were real. They would buy these things valuing them as exotic and maybe even magical without even questioning why they resembled why perhaps their “feathers” looked like palm leaves or why their “griffin’s claws” resembled animal tusks or horns. People just couldn’t resist believing that there were rare creatures out in the parts of the world they wouldn’t dare to venture; the idea of the unknown is scary and exciting, but the actual notion of leaving home could mean danger or even death. So why risk it? Venturing the unknown is hardly celebrated.
That’s why most people’s interaction with something they’ve never seen before or those woods that just don’t feel right to be around are from the comforts of their own home or theaters. Horror movies satisfy the curiosity of what lies beyond Nancy’s humdrum nine to five office job. Given that the horror genre observes the weird and creepy, it makes sense that the people who work on them aren’t considered on the same spectrum when it comes to artistry. Michael Varrati, American screenwriter, columnist and actor, has written an article that examines just that. He believes it’s absolutely absurd that people who make monsters possible in cinema and literature are “routinely looked down upon by the ‘real’ artists,” (Varrati, 1) how could a comedy be viewed as any more or less artistic than horror? Well, because comedy involves believable characters in normal or at least semi-realistic situations. Horror is laughable simply because creatures are strange, they’re intriguing but not worth more than an prolonged glance of judgement. Again, the point of people still giving monsters their attention in this modern world is to remind themselves how normal and socially accepted they are.
A more concise example would be Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This creature is certainly hideous, even learning language and emotion doesn’t stop people from fearing his grotesque presence. Zoe Beenstock wrote an article in which she addresses “whether individualism can produce sociability,” (Beenstock, 1). She doesn’t shy away from revealing the natural contradiction of human tolerance. It is often assumed that accepting others and celebrating individuality and differences is taught from childhood; and yet there are still hate crimes and separation. What people view as monstrous is that which is unfamiliar to them.
So perhaps humanity has not made so much progress in understanding others and the world after all. But that is okay, because the world is so vast that what really matters is that humanity consistently puts its efforts towards understanding and improving. In conclusion, monsters matter because they are a reflection of what is not yet understood and are the basis on which people judge normality. Without monsters, people would be left to judge themselves and their personal flaws and immoral behaviors. Monsters are a scape goat, something to point a finger at and say, “Well, at least I’m not THAT thing.”
Beenstock, Zoe. “Lyrical Sociability: The Social Contract and Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein.” Philosophy & Literature, vol. 39, no. 2, Oct. 2015, pp. 406-421.
Cohen, Daniel. “The Birth of Monsters.” Monsters, edited by Andrew J. Hoffman, Bedford/St.
Martins, 2016, 134-139.
King, Stephen. “Why We Crave Horror Movies.” Monsters, edited by Andrew J. Hoffman,
Bedford/St. Martins, 2016, 16-18.
“Monster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/monster.
Varrati, Michael. “Unfairly Maligned Monsters: Why Horror Matters.” The Huffington Post,
TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Apr. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-varrati/horror
About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a sophomore enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-change/