Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Monsters: monstrous, sexy, appealing and cuddly

A question that has been rattling around in the back of my head is this: Why do we keep altering our traditional monsters to make them cuddly or sexy?

Weren't they good enough as monsters to terrify us? By changing them are we removing our fear? Or are we expanding upon the mythologies, warning on a greater scale not to trust the beautiful and the appealing just because they are beautiful and appealing?

It's a bit of each as far as I can tell Plus a dash of intentional altering of the product, thereby expanding the market, in order to make the monsters appeal to children and the squeamish. Well, maybe just the squeamish, the over-coddling mothers of children and the mothers of babies.

For centuries monsters were appealing as they discouraged and frightened and they could be physically classed as monsters as well as being monstrous by nature. Until the recent years. There was the occasional appealing monster though but not many. Appealing monsters generally included gods and devils who would act against humanity, either impulsively or with consideration. Dragons were in a way beautiful but that beauty was hidden by flame and fangs. Pixies and fairies came in both forms, beauty as a disguise for monstrous actions. Adoration and worship of an immoral entity or one anti-humanity was an accepted concept but one condemned in practice.

So where did the cuddly versions of monsters come from? Disney and the like. The feeding of the cute and cuddly to the parents and children. Fed to the parents so they can feed it to the children. Fed to the children so they can demand products of the parents and create peer pressure. Let's just say marketing and advertising is highly manipulative, and I'm thankful not to be working in the field anymore. 

Why monsters weren't good enough in their monstrous forms is because they wouldn't appeal to these two highly varied groups as such. Monsters would in soft, cuddly and gentle forms though, especially if they're presented as misunderstood, gaining sympathy.

Children themselves can be quite vicious and cruel and can appreciate a good frightening story full of monsters because they don't view the world through moral lenses. Morality is learnt, sometimes even through stories that include our traditional monsters, and isn't present in children until they've felt regret, remorse and that desire to turn back time. Usually after making a friend or family member cry.

Children have empathy at a much earlier stage than morality and it is through the use of this emotional connection that morality is learnt. Pre-empathy is around the "mine, mine, mine" stage of a toddler. It is then that they learn to give and take and that another person might respond well or not. Yes, they remain self serving for a while longer and sometimes never break out of such behavioural patterns.

But my point is that even from this early age an acceptance of monsters being monstrous is possible. It is the parents who choose not to reveal nasty monsters to them, instead choosing the cuddly versions, rather than the children having an aversion to monsters. Fear is a natural response. So is curiosity. Keeping the child's life monster-free because of these reactions is a mistake and, I think, a shame (re the degradation of cultural). I approve of children learning morals through a fear of potential repercussions rather than by finding out hurting someone hurts themselves after the damage is done.

The adult version of this type of learning is found in religion with its reward and punishment system, the teaching of religion acting as a warning system, and it is approved by the vast majority of people on the planet so why not use monsters to teach morals? We have before and many still do.

As for the appealing versions, the sexy monsters, there is much to be said about having an appealing monster acting monstrous. Not so much for one acting like a wilted flower, without might or strength or fear on its side, only soppy romance. Yes, I like my monsters to remain monsters. The glimpse into the dark side of humanity, into our fears, hatreds and desires reveals much more about us than the altruistic and moralistic sides. It is only through curbing the darker aspects of humanity that we become truly civilised. Whether we learn such control at an early stage or a later is the only question. Again, some never learn enough.

To keep monsters monstrous, whether only in nature and not appearance, helps us deal with occasions when humans act monstrous, especially beautiful, appealing, pitiful humans or ones who can be sympathised with. By being exposed to monsters acting monstrous the revelation that it is in the nature of the being not the appearance comes about. But only after the initial realisation that the being is a monster at all, such a realisation being difficult for a person to figure out without early exposure to traditional monsters.

The only potential side-effect to look out for is that this discovery is not made and that people come to be judge on appearance alone.


  1. Good blog with great points! Though I would like to offer another perspective: maybe the monsters have become more sexy to help us better understand that some people/things that are very appealing to us can also lead to our destruction.

    1. I agree that's part of why they work so well as monsters and are included in our traditional batch but the latest slew of sexy monsters are mostly to gain greater audiences. For females, they create many a soppy male character who claims our sympathies because of their struggle against their nature. This could be interesting but the stories are usually dull to me because of the over-use of romance. (As you may glean from that comment I'm not a romantic at heart. But I do occasionally do romantic things. There is a difference...) I guess I like the traditional sexy/appealing monsters who didn't go to such lengths to pretend they're other than what they are. Ones that look down on humanity and take the objective view of our actions. Such viewpoints reveal so much more about ourselves.
      At least there are sexy monsters, both male and female, who are fighting for the cause (good or bad, whichever that may be). It does bring in a little of the objective viewpoints.

      Oh, and thanks!