Monster Mash

Credit: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Credit: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

About a month ago I started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). A friend had been taking these free, online classes and was deeply engaged with the material and her classmates. I’d been missing school (nerd, I know) and thought this kind of format mights scratch the itch. I’d completed an online degree program, so despite my general allergy to tech I was comfortable with the ins-and-outs of this sort of system.

My friend sent me a list of websites to check out and I immediately began scouring their offerings. After far too much time being spent looking over every possibility I landed on two courses. One was a bioethics class that was promptly postponed. The other was “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World” through Coursera. So far I’ve read original fairy tales (gory), children’s literature (creepy), Dracula (surprisingly dull), and now I’m immersed in Frankenstein. One element of the course is watching series’ of short video lectures by the prof on various topics relating to the week’s reading. This past week, one of the topics was categories of monsters.

Turns out, one of the reasons it’s believed we create monsters in our fiction is to face overwhelming fears facing humanity. Vampires, for example, cause us to face fears of mortality, committing unforgivable transgressions against society, and the temptation to commit illicit sexual affairs. Werewolves force  us to face our fears of a dark, overcoming nature lurking underneath the surface of our humanity. Zombies represent our fears of “them,” masses we consider “the other” over whom we only hold the advantage of knowledge (eating brains, anyone?).

Historically I’ve believed that horror genres had nothing to offer those striving for holiness, love, purity, all those good and worthwhile virtues. I don’t believe that anymore. Monsters actually serve a valuable purpose in my spirituality. When I can’t wrap my brain intellectually around fears, evil, darkness in the world, I can create a representation which will allow me to address it head-on. I’ve done this in the past without realizing it. We do it all the time when we demonize others: the human trafficker, the abusive foster parent, the sexual predator, the genocidal leader. By stripping the person of their humanity and reducing them to their evil, they become manageable. Execution. Extermination. Exorcism. We have answers to the problem of monsters in the world.

Until the mask we’ve fixed upon them slips, and we see the human face peering back at us. When they reclaim that part of themselves that is just like me, that flesh-wrapped image of God broken and marred and disfigured as it may be, I can no longer justify my Van Helsing approach. It just gets complicated.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have to explore these works I’ve avoided in the past. I love when my prejudices are challenged and new worlds are opened up to me. And I believe the “monster mechanism” is something I’ll be experimenting with in future writing. I also hope I can continue to learn the unfairly difficult lesson of extending forgiveness, even mercy, to the human “monsters” of this world.

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