In recent popular culture, the monster within has become a source of power. For example, the lyrics of “The Monster” (2013) by Eminem suggest that inner darkness can be a creative force:

“I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy
Well, that’s nothing . . .”

Even more explicit is Kanye West’s “Monster” (2010):

“Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Lochness,
goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience,
question, what do these things all have in common?
Everybody knows I’m a motherfucking monster,
conquer, stomp ya, stop your silly nonsense . . .”

However, this is not exactly new. Ancient Greeks believed creativity was divinely inspired by nine gods known collectively as The Muses that each focused on an art such as poetry or dance (Cotterell 64-65). In the Romantic era of Great Britain, an excess of black bile in the body would produce a melancholic disposition that facilitated creativity (Baker 27-28). Hence the trope of the depressed poet. In the first case, you were literally possessed and then inspired to create. In the second case, a physiological and potentially disastrous anomaly changed who you were.

What is new is the simultaneous personification of “inner demons” and the willingness to embrace them as a means of power through a sacrifice of the conscious self. We both recognize that there are monsters inside our head, and that there is no such thing because we are them. This liminal relationship is murky at best, and unnavigable at worst. As a Teratologist, my research frequently takes me down dark roads. While researching the Boogeyman, I combed through cases of missing children, pedophilia, and gruesome child murder. Between bouts of weeping (yes, even us “objective” academics can feel subjectively), I become lost in a seemingly bottomless pit of rage and vengeful misanthropy. While trying to understand a certain kind of monstrosity, I was confronted with my own. Additionally, I had to question whether it’s possible to be unbiased on such a topic, especially when the “monster” within me was demanding to be let loose. Is it possible for us as individuals and a society come to terms with our own monstrosity, using it as a guide and source of power, without falling prey to it? While many artists, such as Lady Gaga who released the album “The Fame Monster” (2009), are jumping on the “monster” bandwagon, the jury is still out.

Works Cited

Cotterell, Arthur and Rachel Storm, eds. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. London: Hermes House, 2006. Print.

Ingram, Allan and et al. Melancholy Experience in Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century: Before Depression, 1660-1800. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.

If I were to tell you that there was a monster in the water that glows in the dark, you might not believe me. Until I showed you a picture along with taxonomy and a plethora of scientific documentation. That monster, by the way, is called an Anglerfish. Creepy fact, the male latches onto the female and slowly fuses with her until he’s nothing left but testes; talk about a clingy, codependent partner.

We often scoff at anything outside our immediate environment with which we have a daily familiarity with. Especially since the rise of modern science, and the immediacy with which information can be transmitted via the internet. We’ve become skeptical to the point of arrogance. Ironically, disproving misinformation has remained as difficult as ever. For example, despite the commonly held belief, unless you are severely deficient in Vitamin-A carrots will do nothing to improve your vision.

Looking retrospectively on books like On Monsters and Marvels (1573) by Ambroise Paré, a French surgeon who wrote the treatise as a way to explain the various causes of monsters, it’s easy to think of ourselves are more enlightened. Especially when reading chapter 20 “An example of the mixture or mingling of seed”, which gives the example of “a child conceived and engendered of a woman and of a dog, having from the navel up, upper parts similar in form and shape to the mother, and it was very complete, without Nature’s having omitted anything; and, from the navel down, all its lower parts were also similar in form and shape to the animal, that was the father” (67). However, I challenge you to use the search terms “half human, half dog” or “dog child” online and ponder just how “enlightened” the human race as a whole really is.

There are limits to knowing, which we’ve seem to have forgotten in our post-modern world where we can get a false sense of knowing from immediate online gratification, whether or not the information is actually true or we really process it. I propose the following:

1) That we can’t possibly know all there is to know because of the sheer quantity of information.
2) That we can’t possibly know all there is to know because we lack the brain capacity.
3) That what we do know is not all there is to know.
4) That what knowledge we do acquire, we might not actual know. For example, you may be able to say a sentence in a foreign language, but it doesn’t follow that you know its full significance or the language itself.
5) That some things we just don’t want to know.

Herein lies the monstrosity of knowing. Knowledge and knowing are too distinct concepts, and each are limited in various respects. We as humans are limited in our ability to acquire knowledge, and in our capacity to know. Knowledge therefore becomes somewhat threatening. It’s always just out of our reach, yet always present and circling. For each small tendril we see and perhaps grasp, there is a million tentacles undulating in the darkness just beyond our periphery; and what we do have may not be what we think it is. Perhaps a bit of humility and judicious caution is in order.

Works Cited

“Anglerfish.” National Geographic. <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/anglerfish/&gt;

Maron, Dina Fine. “Fact or Ficton?: Carrots Improve Your Vision.” Scientific American. Web. 23 June 2014. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-carrots-improve-your-vision/&gt;

Paré, Ambroise. On Monsters and Marvels. Trans. Janis L. Pallister. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Print.

As a dancer, I know every second counts. One second determines whether you’re behind the music, ahead of the beat, or right on cue. Additionally, I know that training here and there can add up. Every morning while I brush my teeth, I perform extension exercises like these from Claudia Dean.

The mundane life can give a false sense of eternity — that there will always be a later, or that an even better opportunity will arise. Monsters remind us that nothing is guaranteed. A common zombie trope is when survivors talk about how suddenly the zombie epidemic occurred, how unbelievable it was at first, and how they still somehow believe it’s all a dream; that everything will return to the “time before”.[1]

So whether your a computer engineer writing poetry on your lunch break, or the next Vaganova doing relevés behind a Starbucks counter, cling to every moment as though you might not get another one and make every one of them count; because they do.

Works Cited

Siriusmistake. Runner Five, Report! Tumblr, 24 April 2017. <www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com>

Zombies, Run! Dev. Six to Start and Naomi Alderman, 2012. Smartphone application. <www.zombiesrungame.com>

[1] Season one of the running application “Zombies, Run!” plays such dialogue of survivors in Town Abel while you run on various missions outside the town gates:

SAM YAO (Season 1, Mission 7): Yeah, before all this, I bet you had a pretty good life, eh. Someone like you, yeah, I can see it – people you cared about, job you didn’t hate. I know, lots of people don’t like to talk about that stuff. “Think forward,” the Major says. “Rebuilding is key.” But, yeah, I feel like… We have to remember what it was like, so we know what we’re building, don’t we? Now, I don’t mean escalators, and shopping malls, and frozen yogurt… ooh, although I could really go for an ice cream roll right now. Do you remember those things? Cake outside, and ice cream in the middle… or was it… was it the other way around? I don’t even remember anymore! Hang on, wait, wait, hang on – I’ll go and check (www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com).

MAXINE MYERS (Season 1, Mission 13): Do you know what I mean if I say that a person can keep on having an instinct, even long after the reason for it is gone?

It’s like, um… my parents had a dog – Buddy. A little mutt, half spaniel, half something else, but real smart, you know? He was a great dog, Buddy, and even after I left home, he used to come and greet me when I came for a visit. So excited, like I was the best thing he’d ever seen! He died in the end, of course, but even ten years after he was gone, I used to walk into that house, ready to crouch down with my hands on my knees, so he could jump up and lick my face… Even ten years after he died.

We should go easier on ourselves, Runner Five. It’s only a few months since the world ended. Stands to reason we’re going crazy. Us against New Canton… the world’s split us into fractions. Oh, I still miss that damned dog. Some part of me still believes I’m gonna see him again, and some part of me… I guess I’m still keeping Paula’s secrets because some part of me believes that the old world is coming back! Have you even had time to grieve for anyone you’ve lost, Runner Five (www.zrtranscripts.tumblr.com)?

 

Not exactly teratological, unless you’re a terrified of strong women and men displaying fantastical aerial feats with confidence.

I will be competing in the Pole Sport Organization’s Pacific Regionals 2017 to be held on April 8th-9th at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I will perform on the morning of the 8th in the Championship category, Level 2. If you’re in the area, come support pole sports and dancers from around the western United States who work strenuously to demonstrate the beauty and grace of strength.

For more information: Pole Sport Organization-Pacific Regionals 2017

Our parents are the first people to tell us “no”, to make us feel small and inadequate. They loom over us and by their sheer size constantly remind us of the threat of violence – whether or not they intend to carry through on that threat. They are the first people we love, and the first people we hate; they are our first monsters.

The theme of “parents as monsters” is a recurring motif in media going all the way back to Grendel’s nameless mother in Beowulf; a “swamp-thing from hell” with “savage talons” who battled the hero in her underwater lair (105). Contemporary media has exploited this fear to unsettling levels. In the film The Monster (2016), the audience reads in the opening sequence: “They are hiding and watching, just wait and see, oh, there are monsters for you and for me.” Over the course of the film, we are introduced to ten year old Lizzy and her abusive alcoholic mother. While stranded on a road in the middle of the night, the pair must fight off a monster lurking in the woods. Flashbacks reveal Kathy’s many inadequacies and the audience is left to wonder if Lizzy wasn’t an accidental pregnancy. At one point we see Lizzy hiding in the basement with the car keys because Kathy and her abusive boyfriend Roy need to make a beer-run. Roy’s muscular frame rampages downstairs and rips down the makeshift tent Lizzy had constructed. The audience holds its breath until Kathy intervenes trying to placate Roy while getting the keys from her well intentioned, but naive, daughter. Losing patience, Roy finds the keys and runs off with Kathy begging him to wait. Torn between Roy and Lizzy, Kathy takes one more second to look at her distraught daughter before slapping her and running after Roy. The film ends with Lizzy killing the monster, her mother dying in the process, and telling the audience: “Mom tells me there is no such thing as monsters, but she is wrong. They’re out there, waiting for you. Watching, in the dark. Sometimes where you see them, sometimes where you don’t. I know that now. I’m not afraid anymore.” The implication being that Lizzy’s mother was as equally monstrous as the creature that ate her. Other films have likewise explored the wrong turn motherhood can take including Mommy Dearest (1981), Goodnight Mommy (2014), and The Babadook (2014). Noticeably, fathers are absent in these films. If mothers are the monsters under the bed that eat children, then fathers are the ghosts that walk the halls – whose presence can be felt and evoke unsettling discomfort, but remain on the periphery out of sight.

What can we glean from these films? In a Shelleyan manner, we are Frankenstein’s creature let loose upon the world. We have no choice about who brings us into this world and under what circumstances. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 45% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. The biggest demographic for birthing are women in their 20s, women who have either just graduated high school, are still attending school, or who are in the middle of trying to build a life for themselves. Without a lot of life experience, it’s difficult to be emotionally mature and financially stable enough to give children the best opportunities. Additionally, picking the right partner to be a parent often doesn’t figure into many of the romantic comedies littering the silver screen. Mainly it’s about finding the right “one” for you and that warm, romantic feeling you get when you lock eyes with your soulmate at just the right moment under the stars. There are exceptions of course, such as Bridget Jone’s Baby (2016) and The Back-up Plan (2010), which deal with single motherhood; but these movies seem to imply that parenthood is auxiliary to relationships and that motherhood is the natural culmination of womanhood. Again, fatherhood and the role men play in parenthood seems ancillary. From this perspective, men are waiting on the sidelines waiting to be called in and are transient in the whole process. In the back of our minds it may occur to us that the majority of people accept parenthood as the natural outcome of permanent relationships, but this doesn’t seem to enter into the messages the media inundates us with or the signals we send each other. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that we can’t be sure if the Babadook is a real monster or just the manifestation of Amelia’s resentment towards her son. The sing-song pop-up book that introduces the monster reads “I’ll soon take off my funny disguise, take heed of what you’ve read, and once you see what’s underneath, you’re going to wish you were dead” (The Babadook). As Samuel’s possessive and destructive behavior takes a psychological toll on Amelia, the audience can’t help but sympathize with the widowed mother who feels unable to cope with loss, loneliness, and crushing parental responsibility. Soon her repressed frustrations and suffering surface, posing a monstrous threat to Samuel. The ending is ambiguous, with the Babadook being locked in the basement safely away from Samuel. Once again the monster is relegated to the darkness and out of sight. Maybe our parents are dealing with their own monsters — internal and external. Maybe we should, as parents, children, and partners, discuss what it really means to be those things.

Works Cited

Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. Bilingual Ed. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.

The Babadook. Dir. Jennifer Kent. Causeway Films, 2014. Film.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Pregnancy rates were highest for women in their 20s.” Web. 30 December 2016. <https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db136.htm>

Guttmacher Institute. “Unintended Pregnancy in the United States.” Web. 30 December 2016. <https:// www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/unintended-pregnancy-united-states>

The Monster. Dir. Bryan Bertino. Atlas Independent and Unbroken Pictures, 2016. Film.

I will be attending the R.A.W. (Research Art Writing) conference at the University of Texas, Dallas on February 24-25, 2017. My paper will address the “Scary Clown” phenomenon of autumn 2016 in the United States, and its relationship to the political climate surrounding the presidential election. If you’re in the area, come show your support for teratology and the scholars who dedicate themselves to this important field. More information can be found at the event’s website: http://www.utdgsaraw.com

Paper Title: Clowning Around: The Monstrosity of Politics, Terror, and the Scary Clown Phenomenon of Fall 2016

Abstract: During the last phase of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a phenomenon of “Scary Clowns” in which individuals terrorized their communities by dressing up as clowns spread across the country. It’s significant that these individuals chose clowns, rather than masked hockey players, to torment their fellow citizens. When placed within the narrative of the Other, the “Scary Clown” phenomenon can be viewed as an expression of deep resentment towards a problematic democracy in which individuals feel too much change is happening too fast. The physical danger of terrorism, the financial threat of immigrants, and the cultural peril of diversity subverted the rules of an Anglo Patriarchal democracy established two hundred years ago. With such rules undone, overwhelmed individuals donned the visage of an entity beyond rules whose existence is dedicated to mockery and subversion. Clowns are masked individuals without a concrete identity, and who are out of place in society which puts them in a unique situation to act beyond social norms. This paper provides a brief historical account of clowns and the “Scary Clown” phenomenon, addresses political climate in which the phenomenon occurred, and suggests the significance of such aggression towards American society.