Let's talk monsters. No, not vampires. I'm saving vampires for tomorrow, since vampires are all about sex, and I don't want to blow my... um, ...wad too early in the week.
Let's talk about Frankenstein's Monster instead.
He's interesting to me, because the cultural image of the Monster has been peculiarly shaped by Boris Karloff's interpretation, which is nothing like Mary Shelley's initial imagining. Her monster was articulate, read literature (conveniently found in a cast-off trunk by the side of the road, but stranger things have happened in novels), looked reasonably human (in spite of the stitches), and was totally creepy, engendering no real sympathy, and finally got lost at the North Pole and (presumably) froze to death.
At least, that's what I recall. I haven't read it in a while. Go look it up on Wikipedia if you must.
But Karloff's Monster was child-like, almost non-verbal, and in many ways, acted like a person with a mental disability. In the movie (if I remember correctly - go imdb it you lazy bastards), he finds a little girl playing with flowers, and he plays with her - but when they run out of pretty flowers to throw in the water, the Monster throws the girl in the water, unable to distinguish between pretty flowers and pretty little girl. Of course, she drowns (because 19th century movie girls never know how to swim), and this leads to the inevitable showdown with the villagers and the pitchforks and the burning, glaiven glaiven, oy.
Karloff was a genius. He took a basically psycopathic character and turned him into a symbol of the innocent who is persecuted for his difference. We feel sympathy for the monster even as we know he did bad things. It's not his fault.
The Monster is the outsider in all of us. Once, when societies were less travelled, less globalized, and less tolerant, the Outsider was feared, reviled, and often persecuted, whether they were actually different in origin, or simply unfortunate enough to be born with a physical or mental disability that made them stand out. There are still many people who cannot stand difference - of looks, of opinion, or of ability, but we are more tolerant of the Outsider than we have ever been, perhaps because most of us have had the experience of being some sort of outsider, and experience engenders sympathy (and teaches us that we are not immune to ostracism).
In our society, disability is an easy differential to make, and certainly, we could take Karloff's Monster in that direction. Mental difference is terrifying to many people, and it is one of the most poorly-tolerated illnesses we experience on a fairly regular basis.
(I have a sister with special needs, and having grown up with her (and fought with her, and protected her, and fought with kids who refused to understand her), I am very comfortable with the idea, and not ashamed at all. Why should I be? For all her faults, my sister is awesome. More people need to become comfortable with mental difference, and the world would be a better (and better handled) place.)
But that's too easy - lets talk about a much milder form of difference - attractiveness. As a society, we worship beauty. We evaluate people almost solely on looks, and not on intelligence, sense of humour, compassion, empathy, or the ability to make a bitchin' cupcake. We surround ourselves with ads of beautiful people, we watch beautiful people on TV, and we spend billions on products to make ourselves prettier.
The money would be better spent on books.
The Monster is ugly - and that, even more than his deeds, is what makes the villagers want to burn him and his creator in their castle. Ugly has been used throughout history to denote evil, and we unconsciously (or consciously) judge everyone we see on this scale. Unattractive is bad, and outright ugly is very, very bad. But, by making his Monster sympathetic, Karloff reaches into every one of us, and turns that around. The villagers are attractive on the surface, but they are ugly in their thinking and response to the Monster. The Monster is ugly on the outside, but a pure innocent underneath.
In movies like Heathers, Mean Girls, and others, we also see this side of the coin - the prettiest, most popular girls are the ones who are truly ugly underneath, and we cheer for the "outsider" who makes them get the ending they deserve. However, I think this is too simplistic a view - it's merely the same dichotomy reversed, and is a revenge fantasy, not an improvement on the original situation as far as societal evolution is concerned.
How about ignoring the physical, and seeing only what's underneath? I think the lesson we must draw from the Monster is that we are too dependent on entirely arbitrary criteria when we judge people (including our presidential candidates) (look! Political content! Ahhh!). Actions and ideals matter, not how much hair someone has.
I actually got to experience this kind of judgement personally - when I was heavy, I was mostly invisible to men, but when I lost weight, suddenly I was fascinating. I got told I was intelligent, talented, clever, amazing, and what they all really meant was I was suddenly cute to them. All these positive personality traits got applied to me because I was attractive.
What a bunch of idiots.
I am the same as I ever was - maybe I'm a little more experienced, maybe a little wiser, but the essential me has never changed. I'm intelligent, I have a sharp sense of humour, I notice details, I'm creative. Inherent in the change I saw in behaviour towards me was the flaw I see in society - looks are absolutely no indicator of the kind of person underneath, yet it is the most important factor in judgement by almost everyone. Some of the greatest people in history have been less than attractive; Susan B. Anthony was hardly a looker, and Ghandi was one weird-ass looking dude, but they changed history. Who the fuck cares what they looked like?
The Monster is ourselves, but the villagers are also ourselves. One is the personal, the other the mob mentality. We need to stop judging people by superficial accidents of nature, and start looking beyond our prejudices.
I mean, really. What on earth is the point of judging people by their looks unless you want to canoodle with them? Looks should pretty much be irrelevant for anything else.
To quote Ogden Nash:
It's always tempting to impute
Unlikely virtues to the cute
...but it's usually a bad idea.