October 31, 2009

Obligatory Thoughts on Monsters and Wild Things

Nothing complicated for this one; since it's Halloween, I thought I'd cough up one of my reheated metaphorical theories about monsters and horror and stuff. I actually hate horror movies and monster stories, but I appreciate the symbolism that many of them have. Since I've studied too much Dante and Milton, my own tendency is to attach all kinds of western Judeo-Christian stuff to monster narratives, and so I glommed on to the idea that each type of monster is a metaphor for one of the seven deadly sins. It's not a very original idea, but none of them ever really are, so I'll just list 'em:

Vampires = Lust, Zombies = Sloth, Werewolves = Wrath, Ghosts = Envy, Skeletons = Gluttony, and...and that's about as far as I get. I can't think of any undead-ish monsters that apply to Pride or Greed. Devils work well for Pride—that was Satan's original problem, after all—but they're not human/corporeal like the others are. Witches aren't really monsters either, and there are plenty of Wiccans who'd be offended by that idea anyway, so I don't include them.

That's that, except to note that these things have popped up everywhere in western literature (and every other culture, too) for thousands of years. Some interesting twists have always been involved—Victorian classics like Frankenstein's monster alluded to the hubris of science creating life (hey, there's a good one for Pride: a golem), and Dracula and vampires have always symbolized uncontrollable carnal desire—but the most interesting ones for me have been modern-ish takes: the bored, diva-tastic bloodsuckers of Anne Rice; the zombified shoppers of 1950's horror films, etc.

One problem is by creating these outsized metaphors for the most disturbing human behavior, we sort of gloss over the fact that mere humans tend to do more monstrous things than any fictional nightmare. In spite of that, I do have a few favorite monster metaphors. One of them is the werewolf character Lupin from the Harry Potter books, who has always struck me as a stand-in for an HIV-positive person. Not full-blown AIDS, but something with enough of a stigma and sting to make the simple allusion to lycanthropy work for a kids' book.

My other favorite is the Bret Easton Ellis short story collection "The Informers." Ellis, of course, famously gave us "American Psycho," but I went back to re-read "Informers" after it came out on film earlier this year to a chorus of pans. The movie had no vampires—and for a collection that was, literally, sold in Japan under the translation "Vampires and Zombies" (as an allusion to the hyperbolically active and passive freaks of 1980s Los Angeles), that was supposedly a major fatal flaw. Since I haven't actually seen the film yet, I'll refrain from judgment.

Speaking of movies, though, Em and I did belatedly catch "Where the Wild Things Are" today and, well… I don't really have anything meaningful to say about it, because I didn't really feel anything about the film one way or another. I don't know how else to describe it except by quoting the baseball writer Roger Angell, who once said something like "Whenever I went to a Yankees game, I felt like [megalomaniacal team owner] George Steinbrenner was in the way. I wanted to see Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, but all I saw was Steinbrenner."

That's sort of how I feel about this movie: I wanted to see Wild Things, but all I saw was (director) Spike Jonze and (writer) Dave Eggers and their achingly hip neuroses. Now, maybe I'm too used to being manipulated and told how to feel by movies (I did just cite Harry Potter, didn't I?), but to me this "Wild Things" seemed emotionally cold and almost dead (with the exception of actress Catherine Keener). That self-consciously arch, Wes Anderson-type ennui that pollutes so many movies of the past decade had its tendrils in this one too—and it made the thing so desperate to be Meaningful and Important that it kinda turned me off. But who knows—maybe I'm not getting something, which is very likely.

Anyway, on that ugly note, happy Halloween, kiddies. Eat lots of candy and don't worry about us grumpy old people and our silly griping—it's only a metaphor for the bitter ravages of age, after all. Did I mention it's my birthday in two days?


  1. Dragons = Greed?

    I dunno. Those big, scaly bastards always seemed to hijack someone's hoard of gold or other treasures, pile it all up and sit on it for seemingly no other reason than to say, "I'm sitting on a big ass pile of gold, bitches!"

  2. "...with lots of beautiful vimmin."

  3. Ha! Knew we were wired along the same brain frequency.

    Poor old Rainier Wolfcastle. May God have mercy on his soul. Though in the meantime I wouldn't mind sleeping as he does.

  4. Wait, did he get killed off? Were his approval ratings eventually as shitty as the Governator's now are?

    I thought he got married to Milhouse's mom and they lived Austrianly ever after.

  5. Yeah, he's alive. Mine was a forward-looking assumption that he will eventually need mercy when his day arrives. After all, he killed James Lipton!

  6. Lusty vampires seem to always be reminding young ladies of sexual dangers, specifically the dangers of premarital sex. The whole Count Dracula story seems to be saying "ladies, don't go kissing that sexually free being over there. If you do you'll never marry a nice, reserved and possibly oppressed gentleman and you'll roam the earth forever as an undead slut." Maybe I've gone to far with that interpretation?

    In defense of Wild Thing... I liked it. I thought the emotions of the monsters were incredibly simplified, but to me that made sense as something supposed to be a figment of a child's imagination. Plus, for as many "grown ups" as I know ran to see that movie, I thought it was intended to be accessible to kids.

  7. Mia, I'm still thinking about it the next day (which is a good thing) so I'll probably have to see it again before I make more silly generalizations. Namely the one about Spike Jonze; I mean, I loved "Being John Malkovich" because it was so unbelievably weird and surreal, but I think there's something about the child-brain that I can't connect with anymore.

    Not totally--that would be horrible--but in ways that someone like Emily still finds really easy since she works with kids all day. Since I don't, I have no idea how to deal with kid-logic when it manifests itself, and instead just get grumpy and old. Which is a major, major problem. :(

  8. very glad to have stumbled upon your blog. Thank you.


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