Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monster Mash

In college, I took a fascinating course called Monsters: Imagining the Other.  We watched monster movies each week; read novels, as well as texts by philosophers, psychologists, theorists, etc.; and explored the cultural significance of monsters. Our amazing professor bound up each class members' required monster journals and papers, and this artifact has been with me since its creation in 2002. In the spirit of the season, I found my section in the class book and pulled out some sentences here and there to stitch together a Frankenstein of monster musings. Happy Halloween!
Once the pod people invaded the body of a human,
they retained the appearance and memories of the former individual
Invasion of the Body Snatchers was allegedly made to address the Communist paranoia of the 1950s. By studying the way people are drawn to invasion stories, it becomes evident that, even when removed from the issues of the Fifties, invasion stories play an important role in today’s culture. Not only do they help relieve modern concerns, they also tell us about the function of monsters in general.

Slippery anxieties find solid form in invasion films. Invasion of the Body Snatchers features pod people who suck emotions and individuality from their prey. Even if the monster shares the same appearance and actions as us, something dangerous may lurk beneath the surface. Fearing a Communist take over, some 1950s Americans worried they were next in line.

While Invasion of the Body Snatchers examines the nature of the “enemy,” Independence Day shows the country coming together in a time of crisis. A stripper rescues the First Lady, dissolving boundaries that separate social classes. Before the final fight with the aliens, the President addresses the crowd - urging everyone to forget differences in race, gender, status – and instead focus on saving the world. Indeed, the man who ends up destroying the Mother Ship is a drunk from a trailer park – not the typical hero we so often see in films.


In his monster theses, Jeffery Jerome Cohen
states that the monster can act as
"an alter ego...an alluring projection
of (an Other) self."
Fight Club can be considered a monster movie. In his monster theses, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen states that “every monster is…two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (13). Tyler Durden fulfills the Narrator’s psychological need, and carries a cultural message.

Tyler appears when the Narrator’s apartment explodes. The Narrator can no longer define himself with possessions and material objects.  “The monster’s body…incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy, giving them life and an uncanny independence” (Cohen, 4). Tyler isn’t disgusted by living in a broken, dirty house with rusty running water. He doesn’t desire money or fear the corporate system. Tyler wears clothes the Narrator could never wear, is sexual in ways the Narrator never dared to be. Tyler doesn’t let others walk on him. He lives in the moment and acts to satisfy himself. As Tyler states, “All the ways you want to be…that’s me.”

"All the ways you want to be...that's me"
Although Tyler is created by the Narrator’s desperation to improve his life, Tyler serves as a cultural message board. This is also the role of the monster; they “demand a radical rethinking of boundary and normality” (6). Tyler’s message is simple: start thinking for yourself, stop surrounding yourself with meaningless items.

The power of Tyler’s cultural message is both liberating and frightening. Through Project Mayhem, the Narrator sees how impressionable society is. Instead of truly integrating Tyler’s lessons of independence, the members of Project Mayhem behave as if in a cult. They lose all ability to think for themselves, and eagerly await Tyler’s next orders. Instead of liberating others, Project Mayhem creates mindless drones. When something as strong as Tyler comes along, the weakness of the system is revealed, as it easily crumbles under his influence.

Although they share one body, Tyler and the Narrator are two personas. Tyler can do whatever he wants, since he exists outside society’s boundaries. The Narrator is the voice of reason, we often see him standing cautiously on the sidelines. Tyler asks us to look inside and see if we are truly happy. "Monsters ask us how we perceive the world, and how we have misrepresented what we have attempted to place. They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions" (20).  The Narrator needed to realize that Tyler's ideals were a part of him, and that he could act upon them - without completely losing his voice of reason - when necessary.  At the end of the film, the Narrator symbolically shoots himself, and thus Tyler, who drops to the floor.

But Tyler isn't dead. He has been drawn back inside the Narrator's mind. He has been integrated. The Narrator has urges for both a domestic life and a life of revolution.  Two conflicting beings lie within him, making it hard for the viewer to ultimately separate one from the other. He won't easily fit into a category of "good" or "bad" because he is both. And this is a terrifying aspect of monsters - the realization that we all have similar capacities for both preservation and destruction.


  1. I enjoyed your monster post. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Becky! I'm falling behind on my blog output this month, which is already almost behind us. I'm still so amazed at your blogging frequency. Keep it up!

  2. Great post. I've always had very conflicting selves inside me: good little girl vs. brazen hussy, for example, or law abiding citizen vs. troublemaking pot smoking revolutionary. Now that I'm around 60 I think I've integrated them much better than I did in my 20's.

    1. Well said :) That's a good point - that as we grow older, we are better able to understand and integrate all aspects of our self. It also seems to me that as we get older, we are hopefully less afraid/hesitant to show parts of our "monster" selves (parts we may otherwise have hidden, out of self-consciousness, etc.) to the world in constructive ways.

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