Monsterization and Society : how to convert anything (cute or cruel) into the target of hatred

What exactly is monster ? As I grow older, I started to observe a broad spectrum of monsters from a creature with pure evil intention like Smaug (The Hobbit) to just a bizarre looking creature that is only interested in cookie like Cookie monster (Sesame Street), from a natural being like Godzilla to artificial giant like Mechagodzilla, from an intelligent agent with high technology gadgets like Predator (Alien franchise) to a savage primitive life form like Alien (Alien franchise), from social creatures like Sullivan and his friends from Monster, inc to mysteriously isolated bigfoot from Himalayan. These various characteristics demonstrate that “monster” is an undefined category with a blur boundary reaching out to all the misfit. Therefore it is such an ambitious plan to write something that can generalize these group such in the same way that it is difficult to write something that speak of humanity as a whole without creating a bias stereotype. However, there is one thing in common among all of these creatures, which is the way that human classify and “monsterized” them into the group. These three theses presented in this paper are focusing on the way in which something has been clustered into the genus of monstrosity.

Monster is a dynamic conjectural status, anything can become a monster and not become a monster.

As Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher says “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”, there is a possibility that monstrosity can be internalized into oneself literally and philosophically. The blur line between what is monster and what is not is always unclear as Akira Kurosawa demonstrates in Rashomon. The general view of morality is challenged in Rashomon when different characters reveal different gray stories that is hard to judge whether their actions are evil or not. As the story progress, the group sitting beneath the Rashomon city gate change their perspective along the way about who is the “philosophical monster”. In Godzilla, the literal giantic monster is a tangible reflection of the nuclear trauma in Japan, as William Tsutsui pointed out “Godzilla is a sincere horror film, intended to frighten rather than amused, which engaged honestly — indeed, even grimy — with contemporary Japanese unease over a mounting nuclear menace, untrammeled environmental degradation, and long shadow of World War II”. But on the other hand, Godzilla is a victim of the catastrophe itself because it’s habit under the ocean has been disturbance by the nuclear bomb. By looking at different perspective and gaining more information, the perspective we have for certain subject shift along the way. In Monster, inc (animation), the creatures working at the power plant scared human by performing various stereotypic monstrous tricks (roaring, showing sharp tooth and fanks, creating scary noise) to obtain electrical power. Boo, the girl protagonist was initially scared of Sullivan, who is actually a polite and good looking monster because he was performing monstrosity to her. However, as Boo started to develop the relationship with Sullivan and learn more about his true personality, her perspective toward him change. At the end, Boo think of Sullivan as “Kitty”. This scenario in Monster, inc demonstrates how “monster” is detached from the physical characteristic. This emphasis that “monster” is not permanent, but rather a humanly constructed status that is dynamics and subjected to change.

To successfully call something a monster, a person must have certain societal power.

Going along with the first thesis, if the “monster” is a constructed status there need to be the constructor. In the collage of monsters above, there is an offensive internet meme that symbolized Islam as a savage dinosaur that attack other religions (the writer has no intention in insulting Islam). This visual evidence demonstrates how group of human attacks other group by turning them into a monster. To successfully call something a monster, a person must have certain societal power: ruling power, religious power, intellectual power, persuasive power to drive the process. For example, in Early Modern period (1450 to 1750), there was a witch-hunt, which is a search for people labelled “witches” or evidence of witchcraft by the ruling class and religious leader, who were afraid of people that were threatening to them. The process of justifying the massacre by converting people into monster could not be done without the use of military power combined with persuasive religious system. Another form of power is the intellectual power. In both Jurassic park and Godzilla films, the scientific expert were sent to investigate creatures that have massive destructive power. In the Jurassic park, the main question for the expert is to confirm whether the dinosaurs are animals under human control or cruel monsters await to escape. Similarly, the expert in the Original Godzilla film (1954 film) was on a government mission to investigate the anomalous event and find out whether the unexpected creature is harmful or not. These two movies and other monster movies always show at least one expert in the monster investigator team, which demonstrated how intellectual and academic credibility are used as the power source to establish what are monsters. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the cursed prince or the beast isolated himself in his own castle and did no harm to the surrounding society. However, with the competition with Gaston, the charming man in the nearby village, Gaston spread fear about the beast among his fellows and persuade the group of villagers to confront the prince by establishing him as the blood hungry monster. These scenarios show various way that human use powers : ruling power, religious power, intellectual power, persuasive power to justify what they establish as “monster”.

In contradiction, it is challenging for peoples with the lack of power to establish the presence of monster even when the monstrous creatures already created destructions. In the Babadook (2014 film) and many other children monster movies, the parents always deny a notice of the threatening monster from a child, which does not have as much power and autonomy compared to the adult. The parents usually undermine the notice as some source of imagination or childish prank. Another example for the fail establishment of the monster due to the lack of power can be found in The Host (2006 film), the protagonist’s claim of the attack by an unusual monster was ignored by the government due to the fact that he came from a low income family. These two denialations demonstrate how the existence of the creature and its damage are not self evident for society to be afraid of, thus the societal power is the key in which the absent of it results in the fail establishment of the monster.

Monsterization is a process of simplifying the subject

Who should be a afraid of monsters? and why do we need to be afraid of monsters? There are many instances that the monsters do harm to human like when Godzilla destroy cities of Japan. However, If we blame Godzilla as a monster that cause massive destruction regardless of the context, we may forget to realize the real “monster” behind the scene that start the whole nuclear bomb and World War II. When something is the monster, it is easy to join the crowd marching to kill that threatening thing because it is so difficult to empathize with monster. However as Nietzsche says we should see that in the process of fighting monstrosity we do not become the monster ourselves, therefore It is critical to ask ourselves the question “why do we need to be afraid of monster?” Is it because “we” see the true harm of the monsters or because someone in power convince us through their credibility. Monster today may not be monster again tomorrow, and what is NOT monster today might be the future monster. Monsterization can be dangerous as I mentioned the internet meme that attack Islamic religion in the thesis II because Monsterization is the process of flattering dimensions and simplifying complexity into a target for hatred. The crucial point for society is to remember that monster is not simply the cause of the problem, but it is the signal that something is wrong and it need to be fixed. And the first step into solving the problem that is to stop generalizing it as a monster.

This article is written for SLC 421 : Ghosts, Monsters, and Supernatural in Japanese Literature&Film