There’s that old adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Images are one of the major transmissions of information, and attempt to represent a particular essence and recreate an experience in the audience. The blogs http://frankensteinsbrides.tumblr.com and http://dash-of-dark.tumblr.com try to evoke an anxiety and melancholy in their audience through subtle images (and sometimes not so subtle) of horror.

But we often take for granted just how much we are wired to respond to images, and how much impact they have on us. The philosopher Stephen Asma writes about the evolutionary history of the hominid imagination and states: “The mind’s ability to improvise stories was preceded by its ability to improvise gestures, tools, and images” (103). Before we were able to think in abstraction, our representational associations were visual. Our first associations as the human race were embodied cognition, not linguistic conceptions. Even as “modern humans”, we still begin our journey feeling and seeing our way through the world as children.

Still, there is a bias (especially in Western scholarship) to only associate knowledge and thinking with logic and abstraction. This is a particularly harmful hegemony when put into the context of Teratology. If information isn’t nicely packaged in linear models and supported by rigorous experimentation, then is doesn’t count as real knowledge and therefore it’s less significant. Less significant, the impact and transmission of that instinctual information is brushed aside. The world is a monstrous place and we are constantly bombarded by visceral information we must shift through, not only for our survival in the case of danger, but also in order to be Good. Compounded by social media and the internet, the ease of information transmission has overloaded our senses with images of terrorist decapitations, gang violence, and rape pornography. Even on the lighter side of the scale, turning on the television has become a game of Russian Roulette. You never know what you’re going to see.

Research is still out on what impact this will have on the human psyche individually, and on the whole as the first generation to completely develop in the “Age of Information” grows up. System I of our brain, which is wired to respond visceral and physiological to threats, is still reacting to all this information. It takes a conscious effort on our part to engage System II that employs rational and abstractive thought. We don’t know why that picture of a creepy clown disturbs us, but it does. It takes extra time and energy to think: “It’s just a picture, calm down. Plus, most clowns aren’t scary. They are just normal people with a normal job. Even if there was a creepy clown, I can deal with it by calling the police, etc.” Employing System II every time we hear something on the radio, see something on TV, read something in an email, or respond to a ping on our phone is exhausting. Sometimes we just let things slide.

Regardless of whether or not we do interrogate every piece of information and process it consciously, there is still the subconscious impact we don’t have any control over. Those images settle to the bottom of our mind where it’ll fester to produce a ghost that will haunt our cognitive basement. Perhaps seeing a video of a burning school will stir anxieties about parenthood. Maybe that murder meme you thought was hilarious will stir the pot of your dreaming mind and force you to face something you haven’t been wanting to deal with. There’s no telling when you’re dealing with the murky and still mysterious world of the mind. Images have power and long before marketers were using them to get you to vote for their politician or buy their product, religions were using them to represent the divine mysteries and artists used them to capture knowledge. Images are able to tap into the primordial self and unlock the doors of Being. With such a fearsome key, perhaps a moment may be spared to think about which doors to open.

 

Works Cited

Asma, Stephen T. The Evolution of Imagination. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. Print.

Us peasants pay homage to a court,
where Life and Death are supreme,
its prince Sleep is a dozing sort,
his sister Oblivion never seen,
Hail to the King and Queen!

Jester Joviality has bones that creak,
Illness boasts a musty petticoat,
Tragedy sports a cutting beak,
while Suicide carries a sad note,
and Catastrophe does naught but gloat.

Fatigue is usually dragged by Reason,
Apathy never bothers to show,
War tramples every season,
and Hate never lets Love know
the parties Lust is going to throw.

Peace normally makes an appearance,
if Hope can stand the company of Doubt,
Mercy will usually run interference,
if Justice and Wrath are about,
the twins Faith and Patience usually pout.

To this court we all belong,
and without exception pay what’s due,
the rich, the poor, the meek, the strong,
will all repay the debts we accrue
by the great courtiers we bend to.

Excerpt from The Road

I recently stumbled upon my “stats” page and discovered my twenty-two followers. I can’t adequately describe my feelings, because I’ve never felt them before. My cheeks flushed and I felt slightly embarrassed, people were reading my ideas? I thought I would simply float in the anonymous sea of the internet until it all crashed in the Skynet apocalypse. Then I felt giddy and overjoyed, people were paying attention to me. I smiled, and would have jumped for joy had years of academia not robbed me of the capacity to outwardly express emotions. Then I realized, I had followers. Oh no…I hope they don’t expect miracles of brilliance and life changing epiphanies. Certainly not now that I’ve restricted myself to one cup of decaf coffee a day. Finally, I felt a solidification of resolve to continue my work. Whether or not it’s any good is pure speculation, but at least people were noticing. That’s something. My graduate supervisor said, “It’s better if people argue with you or even disparage your work. At least they’re paying attention. A lack of attention is a death sentence in scholarship.” I’ve encountered numerous obstacles to my work, not only because of its multidisciplinary nature, but also because of its radical message. Two things that cause allergic reactions in traditional academia.

So thank you to my followers thus far for an emotional roller coaster contained within the span of a millisecond. Thank you for noticing my work and for your support. Cheers to you. *raises a glass*

When it comes to mitigating risk for women within the context of inter-gender relationships, messages tend to be skewed. A substantial amount of cultural dialogue tends to focus on sexuality, difference, or violence. For example, martial arts classes tend to focus on training women how to prevent rape and assault from men. They rarely focus on broader means of strength training or dangers from other women. The message seems to be “some men are dangerous and out to get you, so your main concern should be on how to deal with that”. When I recently changed martial arts instructors, one of the first things that came up was rape prevention. I stated that I had been training since I was a child, long before I was aware of sex or sexual threats, and that martial arts was a form of self-discipline and strength training that helped me be a better person. It’ll still come up, such as when my coach has me in a head-lock on the ground: “If he lets up the pressure or lets go to undo his pants, this is how you can get out of this lock…”. No matter what my goals are, how hard I train, or the context, masculine threat is always present and intrusive.

Slowly, the concept of a strong woman is gaining momentum in the United States. After Pantene launched their “Strong is Beautiful” campaign, numerous other companies and organizations took up the idea. But we still have a long way to go regarding how we as societies and cultures deal with masculine danger. There is an immense lacuna of dialogue about how women and men are supposed to deal with that threat positively rather than reactionary, and what it signifies for inter-gender relationships. While reading Peter Vronsky’s Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters (2004), I came across this passage entitled “Verbal Nonconfrontational Dissuasion” in his chapter “Surviving a Serial Killer”. It gives the reader advice on the best way to survivor an encounter based on criminological evidence:

In many cases, serial killers “depersonalize” their victims – they are substitutes for other people or props in their fantasies. Ted Bundy stated that he avoided getting into any extended conversations with his victims because that might remind him of their personal characteristics. The FBI suggests that talking is probably the most effective and promising way to defuse a violent situation.

Tell the rapist that perhaps you and he could go for a beer first, suggests the FBI. This is not as stupid as it sounds. Any kind of unanticipated reaction can stall the rapist and give the victim time to set the stage for an escape. Focus on personalizing yourself in the assailant’s perception: “I am a total stranger. Why do you want to hurt me? I have never done anything to hurt you. What if I were somebody you cared about? How would you feel about that?” Keep the dialogue in the present tense, the FBI suggests – serial killers rarely think too far into the future. Do not use lines like, “You will end up in jail if you do this,” for you might only remind the assailant of the necessity of killing you as a potential witness – even if he has come to like you. Above all, do not use the popular feminist appeal, “What if I were your mother, sister, or daughter?” The assailant might be precisely fantasizing that he is raping and killer his mother, sister, or daughter when he is attacking you. Such statements as “I have VD” or “I am pregnant” should also be avoided, as they may reinforce the assailant’s fantasy that you are somehow “bad” and deserving of rape and death (376-377).

Monsters are steeped in a long tradition of murder and rape. From incubus and succubus, to siren and centaur. The representation of the worst aspects of humanity are embodied in creatures that violate the body and spirit of unlucky victims. It’s no coincidence then that serial killers and rapists are themselves labeled monsters. But to just cut them off from the rest of humanity belies the traits they share with us, and the traits we share with them. Yes, they are deviant but the social and psychology foundations are the same as ours however far they may have gone awry. Criminologists and psychologists study criminals looking for the reason why someone would do horrific things, as if by finding that one thing we as a society could oust them from the human species and save ourselves: “See? They aren’t really human, they were a horrible aberration that doesn’t really count. Humans are amazingly wonderful and couldn’t possible do those terrible things.” By denying them their humanity, we ignore the monstrosity in each of us. Those deviances are shades of gray on a relative scale. The misogynist who believes women are merely breeding cows holds the same view as a killer who views women as animals. They difference between the two is very real, one kills and the other does not, but the foundation from which they hold their beliefs is very much the same. Could Vronsky’s advice of “Verbal Nonconfrontational Dissuasion” be useful in broader encounters of masculine threats, such as from misogynists? Could it be used to enact cultural change on how masculine threat is treated? Or must women always take the burden of mitigating and dissuading “monsters”; knowing that they are out there looking for victims?

Note: I do not claim to agree or disagree with Vronsky’s methods for evading serial killers. His work is his own. Should you be unfortunate enough to find yourself in such a situation, use your best judgement and remember that your life is worth using every ounce of strength, wit, and grit you possess. Don’t give it up easily. Though you’re in a dire situation, you are still in control of your choices, and once you give in to helplessness you’ve lost. Good luck and God be with you.

Works Cited

Vronsky, Peter. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. New York: Berkley Books, 2004. Print.

 

Thank you to everyone at PSO and the Pacific regionals. This was my first pole competition and it was an amazing, life changing experience. I felt empowered both as a dancer and as a woman to be surrounded by so many supportive individuals who believe in the artistic value of what we do, and that a strong woman is a beautiful woman. Thank you also to my loving family who were with me every step of the way, and sat through every hip-hop and EDM song imaginable just to show their support. I’m already planning choreography to Sinatra as a way to make it up to you. This gold medal represents one step closer to a dream, that someday I can represent my country on the international stage at the Olympics. Thank you to everyone in the pole community who made it possible, and to everyone who continues to feed dreams. Keep poling, keep spinning.

Teratology is a form of inquiry that can grind away at your mental equanimity. While there are enclaves in film, literature, and moral philosophy/psychology that grapple with the idea of human monstrosity, they are treated as esoteric and unrelated to their tradition, perhaps even the whole of humanity, at large. You’re more likely to get funding with “An Analysis of Eastern Cosmology in Byronic Poetry” than “The Monstrosity of Contemporary American Pre-schools”.
Odd, when we all seem to acknowledge the fact that humans as groups and individuals can be quite monstrous. Perhaps it is as Oppenheimer writes:

[E]vil promotes no joy, no human satisfaction, though it may enchant with ecstasy and through an unbearable cynicism offer a release from the mundane. At its most vivid, evil desolates. It opens doors on frightful possibilities, those that reach beyond the sickening final insults of death and oblivion, into suggestions that a good deal of life, even as it is lived by those with the best of intentions, may contain in its opaqueness something ugly, chaotic, foul, which has, perhaps for only a brief while, achieved a beautiful appearance (3).

It’s much easier to study something beautiful, or something non-offensive, than it is to study something horrifying. The former doesn’t leave you with a crushing unease that weighs upon you long after you’ve punched the time clock. It doesn’t haunt you while you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table surrounded by loved ones, or echo in those quiet moments when you suddenly have nothing to do and are all alone. You don’t need to justify your chosen field to colleagues or prove your sanity to acquaintances.

Yet, we need teratological scholars who are willing to ask hard questions and muck through disturbing information, just like we need homicide detectives who are willing to sacrifice their peace of mind in order to uphold justice and prevent future suffering. We need teratologists who are willing to work within offensive spaces and voice things most people don’t want to hear, just like we need social workers who are willing to go into disturbing environments and illuminate a situation some would like to keep quiet. Without inquiry into the nature of monstrosity, human and non, we risk ignorance and the chance to do something about it.

Works Cited

Oppenheimer, Paul. Evil and the Demonic: A New Theory of Monstrous Behavior. New York: New York Univerity Press, 1996. Print.

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)?