"They weren't human. They were monsters." "All monsters are human."
July 28, 2014 8:13 PM   Subscribe

The Devil In Disguise: Modern Monsters And Their Metaphors

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Witches And Modern Women

My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead
From a creative standpoint these fear projections are narrative linchpins; they turn creatures into ideas, and that’s the point.
But what if the audience infers an entirely different metaphor?
What if contemporary people are less interested in seeing depictions of their unconscious fears and more attracted to allegories of how their day-to-day existence feels? That would explain why so many people watched that first episode of “The Walking Dead”: They knew they would be able to relate to it.
A lot of modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies.
Or does 'the modern zombie narrative epitomizes millennial fears'?
Why Vampires Never Die
In a society that moves as fast as ours, where every week a new “blockbuster” must be enthroned at the box office, or where idols are fabricated by consensus every new television season, the promise of something everlasting, something truly eternal, holds a special allure. As a seductive figure, the vampire is as flexible and polyvalent as ever. Witness its slow mutation from the pansexual, decadent Anne Rice creatures to the current permutations — promising anything from chaste eternal love to wild nocturnal escapades — and there you will find the true essence of immortality: adaptability.
Monsters and the Moral Imagination

by the way, Romero's Night Of The Living Dead is out of copyright
posted by the man of twists and turns (20 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Modern vampire narratives quite correctly put them as 1%, rather than representing the fear of ancient religion, foreign pestilence, and sexual panic they're the pillars of society - establishment, undead parasites cloaked in wealth and history that when threatened, turn their attackers into them, colonizing not lands but actual people. True Blood never gets credit for exploring this (albeit shallowly) while Hannibal is nothing but that.

Zombies, of course have become too diffuse to have meaning - they became a plot device, reason "why is this happening?" "Cause zombies" but the core of the idea is the same*. Zombies are the ultimate worker and ultimate consumer, and just a drop of blood is enough to turn you into one, a complete unperson They move in hordes.

I'm annoyed the Werewolf has been so neutered by modern monster stories - it means nothing if they have control over the transformation, the pull of the story is that it's out of their hands, unhinged and animalistic - werewolves are drunk husbands or rabies victims or suffering mental torment, reasonable men and women who become beasts at night, unrecognizable to their friends and family. They do it cause they can't stop.

Funny how Mr. Hyde never turns up, modern versions paint him as a Victorian Hulk but the actual story Hyde is smaller than Jekyll. The potion allows him to change form so he seems *not upper class& and can commit whatever debauchery and crime he wants without being recognized while still having all the benefits of being an upstanding doctor. The class warfare themes could not be more obvious, which is why it's maybe ignored.

Fringe was unique in resurrecting the Doppelganger as a horror trope, extrapolating the Twilight Zone episode "Mirror Image" into a whole mythos, but we're still mostly stuck with the Big Three Monsters: Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves. Witches have so many sub-types as to be another THING (and I'm writing something now ALL ABOUT WITCHES so I have lots of WITCH THOUGHTS) but it's interesting how they've morphed in role over the years- just even in movies. We're way more likely to be on the Witch's side now, someone outside society punished rather than some infectious node within it.

*of course the other idea of a zombie as someone under the thrall of another, a being unable to rest with no will, has largely died. Ghosts too. We can do Vampires but not spooks.
posted by The Whelk at 8:44 PM on July 28, 2014 [31 favorites]


Also, the loss of the religious element to these monsters.
posted by The Whelk at 8:57 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


What if contemporary people are less interested in seeing depictions of their unconscious fears and more attracted to allegories of how their day-to-day existence feels?

This reminds me of Don Draper's ongoing thesis. When the German market research lady was pushing the "death wish" thing, and continually through the series he keeps going with the idea that people want to be subtly encouraged that what they're doing is the right thing even though time is exploding and everything is nuts. Monster movies are vehicles for that, showing people dealing with the craziest shit but whatever way they deal with it turns out to be right in the end.
posted by bleep at 9:16 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


The first article has a great quote, from Mieville's Theses on Monsters:
Epochs throw up the monsters they need. History can be written of monsters, and in them. We experience the conjunctions of certain werewolves and crisis-gnawed feudalism, of Cthulhu and rupturing modernity, of Frankenstein’s and Moreau’s made things and a variably troubled Enlightenment, of vampires and tediously everything, of zombies and mummies and aliens and golems/robots/clockwork constructs and their own anxieties. We pass also through the endless shifts of such monstrous germs and antigens into new wounds. All our moments are monstrous moments.
Though Mieville ends with a warning:
The saw that We Have Seen the Real Monsters and They Are Us is neither revelation, nor clever, nor interesting, nor true. It is a betrayal of the monstrous, and of humanity.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:23 PM on July 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Great set of links, but not nearly enough Buffy. The horrors of adolescence made real, monsters in the flesh, was so much of the appeal of that show. Terrors of knowing who you really were, who your friends were, secrets of the adult world, what was really going on in the school library...
posted by gingerbeer at 9:26 PM on July 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


Reader, I Buried Him: Jane Eyre’s Battles with Monsters
In this article I will look at three print versions of the Jane Eyre story: the 19th century original, Jean Rhys’s prequel/fanfic Wide Sargasso Sea from the 20th century, and Jane Slayre from the 21st. Each novel uses a different supernatural creature to characterize Bertha Mason, the madwoman in the attic: a vampire for Brontë, a zombie for Rhys and a werewolf for Erwin. In this progression we can see the changing social and cultural climate of each century and how that has changed people’s fears.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:37 PM on July 28, 2014


All monsters are not human. If only.
posted by dbiedny at 10:26 PM on July 28, 2014


Witches do have infinite variety, and since you've mentioned them, I'll probably be thinking about them for the rest of this insomniac evening.

Thinking of them especially in the context of the dominant monotheistic religions, all three of which are happy to keep women bound in a nearly endless amount of rules. And the witch is free of all that shit. They get power, freedom from the rule of men, freedom from the rule of God, freedom from all the things (such as the maternal instinct or the virginal ideal) normally imposed by the mere fact of their femaleness.

In some respects, it's basically a revenge fantasy conjured up by the potential victims; the subconscious expression of the men who feared women weren't always going to endure their bonds, and the coming vengeance would be particularly terrifying, from a male point of view. And therefore these ideas had to be rooted out and burned at the stake before it was too late.

And what's always been interesting to me is how these male fantasies of the witch could not even imagine a female deity. Their witches worship, and fornicate with, Satan, the Horned God, or some such variation. They would never be seen completely free of some sort of male influence.
posted by honestcoyote at 1:09 AM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


by the way, Romero's Night Of The Living Dead yt is out of copyright

My understanding is that because of some whoopsie on the copyright notice it's never been under copyright.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:21 AM on July 29, 2014


Jacques Derrida: 'Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: 'Here are our monsters,' without immediately turning the monsters into pets.'

One of my good friends is a writer and he struggles with this a lot. Once you name something, you tame it - so how can you write about monstrosity?
posted by kariebookish at 6:30 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that because of some whoopsie on the copyright notice it's never been under copyright.

That's right. The original title was Night of the Flesh Eaters, and the original title card had the copyright notice. When the name was switched, the distribution company forgot to put the copyrigt notice on the new title card, and, bammo, thanks to copyright law at the time, the film instantly entered the public domain. Obviously there is a case to be made that, in the long run, this was a good thing, as the Romero zombie has pretty much taken over the world, but Romero himself still seems a bit irked about the subject.
posted by maxsparber at 6:48 AM on July 29, 2014


With new shows like Salem (2014) and Witches of East End (2013-) on Lifetime, witches are experiencing their own charmed moment of cultural zeitgeist, one that comes out of ongoing feminist politics.

I know that for a lot of women of a certain age, Dark Shadows’ resident witch Angelique really resonated as a sort of feminist icon in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s when the women and girls who were the show's target audience were hungry for one.

She was originally brought on as a simple femme fatale, a stereotypical jealous woman out for revenge on the man who done her wrong (with whom the audience was seemingly meant to sympathize). But Lara Parker brought such charisma and depth to the role that she became so much more. Although it was often in the service of either thwarting or recapturing her ex, she was a powerful woman in her own right and over the course of the series got to show a gamut of complex emotions motivations. She became more of a wild card than a simple villainness.

Her story also had an element of intersectionality with class, since she started out as a servant competing with her mistress for the same man. We see her go from willing to take the crumbs left over by the rich folks, to humbly eager to fit in with them once she's got the chance, to "Screw you all, I'm going to be the mistress of this place and too bad for anyone who doesn't like it." And no matter how many times powerful men tried to control her and get rid of her when they couldn't, she always found a way to come back.

Of course, it was daytime TV of its era, so there was always going to be a certain amount of mooning over love and marriage for social advancement, but the power of these scenes is still palpable today, and I know they had an effect on the young girls who rushed home to watch the show. I knew at least two girls growing up who had been named after her.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of my good friends is a writer and he struggles with this a lot. Once you name something, you tame it - so how can you write about monstrosity?

You know, I've always felt this was Stephen King's greatest weakness. He does horror really well up to the point where he feels he has to explain the monster (e.g., It), at which point it becomes cartoonish and unthreatening.

Our sense of terror and anxiety is inextricable from the unknown, which is why ambiguity makes for the best horror.
posted by echocollate at 10:10 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


The saw that We Have Seen the Real Monsters and They Are Us is neither revelation, nor clever, nor interesting, nor true. It is a betrayal of the monstrous, and of humanity.

I don't know what this is supposed to mean.
posted by echocollate at 10:14 AM on July 29, 2014


Funny how Mr. Hyde never turns up, modern versions paint him as a Victorian Hulk but the actual story Hyde is smaller than Jekyll. The potion allows him to change form so he seems *not upper class& and can commit whatever debauchery and crime he wants without being recognized while still having all the benefits of being an upstanding doctor.

The Sexual Revolution did in Hyde. Back then, it was "He needs to take a potion to disguise himself so he can wallow in the decadence of the lower classes." Today it's "Hey, I'm cutting out early tonight to go clubbing." Walks off singing "We're up all night to get lucky"
posted by happyroach at 11:38 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of why I was drawn into the description of Bird Box: A Novel, although I have yet to find out whether the book lives up to the hype:

Something is out there . . .

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.


From a reader's review:

I do have a vivid visualizing brain and I’m sure that strengthened my embrace on this story, but comparable to H.P. Lovecraft’s descriptions of the Non-Euclidean geometry of alien architecture, Josh Malerman speaks of optic-horrors incomprehensible to the human brain. You can’t see it without seeing it (I couldn’t see it) and when you do, you can’t understand it. Trying to imagine something that I couldn’t possibly imagine was strangely (deservingly) unsettling.

That said, I have the worst luck of really anticipating a good story based on reviews and ending up very disappointed, so we shall see.
posted by quiet earth at 12:01 PM on July 29, 2014


You know, I've always felt this was Stephen King's greatest weakness. He does horror really well up to the point where he feels he has to explain the monster (e.g., It), at which point it becomes cartoonish and unthreatening.

Our sense of terror and anxiety is inextricable from the unknown, which is why ambiguity makes for the best horror.


I want to put a top hat on this comment and marry it. His addiction to explaining is the #1 thing that makes me unable to stand Stephen King, and I don;t often meet anyone who feels the same way.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


we're still mostly stuck with the Big Three Monsters: Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves

Why do you think that is? What are the other monstrous possibilities?

I'm thinking: doppelganger, creature (like Frankenstein's), elf/faerie, hybrid, yeti/sasquatch, shapeshifter, old ones?

Maybe the Monsters we choose to be frightened of currently, z's and vamps, are a reflection of increased social stratification. Sophisticated 1% ers at the top, a shambling mass of unthinking consumers at the bottom.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:01 AM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


TheWhelk, I just realised what the modern take on werewolves is - the monster pack or found family. You have a condition that is either inherited or bitten, and there's a definite hierarchy of leadership that also carries responsibilities and benefits. They're very much a metaphor for exploring families in the modern context that are constructed by a mix of blood relations and through deep friendships and love, as well as negotiating roles and duties within the pack/family.

Now I want a story about unionized werewolves.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:23 AM on July 31, 2014


Maybe the Monsters we choose to be frightened of currently, z's and vamps, are a reflection of increased social stratification. Sophisticated 1% ers at the top, a shambling mass of unthinking consumers at the bottom.

For my money, zombie stores are almost always about class conflict (or carry that subtext, anyway). They literally won't stay in their proper place as ordained by the society that no longer has any use for them.

Going back to the pre-Romero zombies, they were usually even more explicit, with zombies being used for slave labor.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:45 AM on July 31, 2014


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