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Monster Mash-up


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.

Comments

( 45 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
perilousknits
Oct. 29th, 2008 12:27 pm (UTC)
The opposite of this, having someone assume you are dumb or a bitch because of your attractiveness, also drives me crazy. As an attractive woman, I've gotten a lot of hostility from other women over the years and it only really let up when I got married (guess I'm less of a threat if I'm married -- oh how little they know!).

Once, a man who had been flirting with me all day heard me make a witty comment and he said, "Hey, you're smart!" like it was a HUGE surprise to him, "You look like a cute blond airhead, but you're really smart!" Er . . . thanks.
attack_laurel
Oct. 29th, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)
Yup, that's the reverse situation - cute people must be evil, and brought down. It's no more true than the other.
(no subject) - femkederoas - Oct. 29th, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
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caemfind
Oct. 29th, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
I've always wondered if the difference, the ugliness, the outsiderness of others really petrifies people because of the possibility it might be them sometime. They chase it with sticks and flaming torches to get it away from themselves lest they be infected by it and so incur the mob against them. It's kind of like the middle school obsession on who your friends are because you're going to get lumped into whatever group that is.

When I was growing up we moved every three years or so. By the time I finished high school I'd been in 9 different schools. And I also got chubby (don't you hate that word!). I was the outsider most of my school life. People stayed away lest I infect them. Until I got good at art and lost weight. Then I was popular. It's all so weird.

But it does cause me to be very careful how I look at others. Once you've been on the receiving end you don't want to inflict that on anyone else.
attack_laurel
Oct. 29th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)
This is true - suffering breeds empathy. I am in the curious position that in the SCA, I am one of the "popular kids" - as stupid as that sounds. There are people who hate me because in their minds I represent the kids at school who rejected them, even though I was one of the bullied ones all through school, and suffered just like them (and sometimes more - I got a lot of physycal and mental abuse).

This is only one of the reasons to look beyond physical attributes - you never know who's going to turn out cool. :)
(no subject) - alphafemale1 - Oct. 29th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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gwacie
Oct. 29th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
Enter the Internet!
I was terribly unpopular in school and so for me when I discovered on-line chatting and gaming in College it was incredibly liberating. Here was a world where what you looked like didn't matter, what mattered was being able to type fast and handle language well. In a way the Internet is providing popularity to the unpopular.
apollonia
Oct. 29th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
It's not just men who look at people differently when they are overweight. My former supervisor told me that I needed to dress better, as I was working in a professional office. Talking to one of my co-workers, who would wear the same things as me, but in a smaller size, she was praised for being well dressed. And our supervisor was a woman.
attack_laurel
Oct. 29th, 2008 03:07 pm (UTC)
This is how badly we have been indoctrinated into the idea that beauty is somehow a moral value. Grrr.
evil_fionn
Oct. 29th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
I lost a lot of weight as well, and the same thing happened... Suddenly, I was "worth getting to know". But to be fair, maybe it was also that I gained some self-confidence to talk to people that I was lacking before. (I'm shallow... sue me.) :-)
The hardest thing about the situation is dealing with my 15 year old daughter... She likes to dress "emo". She smiles infrequently. Then she gets bent out of shape when people categorize her as "emo".
I've had to sit her down and explain, "Look, this is the way you are choosing to present yourself to the world. It's just that, YOUR CHOICE. Now, you can be happy with your choice and ignore the world that sees you as something you don't think you are, you can be unhappy and sit and whine about how persecuted you feel you are because of your choice and annoy the hell out of your mother, or you can choose differently. No matter what you decide, it's your decision on how you present yourself. So deal with it and understand that somewhere, someone will always judge you on appearances."
I probably won't win any parenting awards. :-)

caemfind
Oct. 29th, 2008 03:05 pm (UTC)
Both of my kids are grown and gone now but we had similar problems. Sometimes I think they unconsciously bring on rejection (or at least the odd looks)of that type to justify their crappy teenage attitudes. It's hard to be a rebel without a cause but they're taught by their culture that they're supposed to act up and then take it out on the parents. My daughter used to gripe that no one was asking her out and she was dressed like a boy for most of high school. Cause and effect. Eventually they figure it out.
(no subject) - lorebubeck - Oct. 29th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evil_fionn - Oct. 29th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
reasie
Oct. 29th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
When I was a kid, well, we were rather poor and dressed badly in cast-offs and hand-me-downs and I was told rather frequently that I was ugly and fat.

But the thing is, I was always really quite pretty - I have photo evidence and a few admissions by former high school antagonists to prove it! I weigh about 30 lbs more now than I did back when I was "Fat" and I'm surely less attractive now that I'm mid-thirties and have zits (which I never had as a child! damn it!) and such... yeah, so it's weird. I was an outsider, people didn't like me, therefore I had to be ugly, even if I wasn't. And the darn fool that I was, I really believed it, you know?
carbonphoenix
Oct. 29th, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
That's the way childhood works
hsifeng
Oct. 29th, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
Seriously now, I am not trying to open a can of worms with this comment (waives the ‘political dialogue white flag’); but I think it is going to be interesting to see how returning veterans are going to be treated/integrated from our most recent conflict in Iraq.

The stats show that IED’s are causing more amputations in US service members than in any war since the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression – take your pick). They are also causing more brain damage and long term disability than any number of US combatants have ever survived previously – thanks to modern medicine.

In a ‘beauty lead’ society, one has to wonder what these men and women are up against when it comes to coming home.

I just hope we learn our lessons about this quick, and that they don’t suffer for our ignorance.
helblonde
Oct. 29th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
A somewhat related story
One of my dear friends only has half of her left arm. She is one of the most intelligent, lovely, and talented people I know. Anyone who gets to know her completely forgets that she's one-handed.

She was the Matron of Honor at my wedding. At a family brunch after the wedding, one of my new aunts-in-law commented "she's so inspirational." After taking a minute to figure out wtf auntie was talking about, I had to agree, but that's because I know my friend (engineer, musician, seamstress, the list goes on).

I can't imagine what auntie thought was so inspirational about being MoH at a wedding otherwise. I mean, she overcame her (non-)disability to get dressed up and carry flowers? That's not saying much about auntie's expectations of people with physical limitations.

As to what you are saying about our vets, I suspect that the brain damaged will be as ostrasized as ever, but that the people who are maimed will encounter more of the weird patronizing that my friend gets. "Oh, you got up this morning, showered, dressed, and brushed your hair... how inspirational."

Re: A somewhat related story - attack_laurel - Oct. 30th, 2008 10:05 am (UTC) - Expand
sbuchler
Oct. 29th, 2008 08:14 pm (UTC)
I had the exact same experience loosing weight. Thank you for sharing - it helps to know I'm not the only one to experience that :-S
attack_laurel
Oct. 30th, 2008 10:10 am (UTC)
It's disturbing and enlightening all at the same time, isn't it? :) I had grown up "fat" (for certain values of fat; I didn't get really, really fat until I married my first husband), so I had never dated, or experienced someone being attracted to me (I thought I was ugly, too), so it was delightful and at the same time completely rage-inducing to suddenly be at the center of attention.

So I never trust people when they say I'm good-looking, because I can't see it myself. I started really working hard on honing my talents, so that I did not rely on such a transitory thing as beauty for approval. :)
(Deleted comment)
attack_laurel
Oct. 30th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
I do love that about British movies - Judi Dench is my hero. :)

I think Hollywood (the place) secretes a virus that makes producers see every woman as terrifyingly fat - the great story Maragaret Cho tells of the producers of her show telling her she needed to lose weight to play herself on TV is so typical of the attitude. One of the things I love about Kirsten Vangsness (Garcia on Criminal Minds) is that she has not lost weight - quite a feat, considering that every other woman on that show is OMG stick thin (I noticed it again last night, when one of them stood sideways to the camera and almost disappeared).
taamar
Oct. 29th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC)
Speaking of the weirdness involved in losing weight, a good friend of mine lost 100 pounds (was 230, now runs marathons) and has had a hell of a time because the behaviors that are 'friendly' from a fat girl are sean as 'slutty' from a pretty girl in tight jeans. Her actions didn't change at all, but women started treating her as a threat and men started saying she was easy.
attack_laurel
Oct. 30th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)
Yup - that's the other thing that goes along with the stereotype. This happens because (I have this on good authority from a man I trust) fat girls are not seen as sexual by a lot of men, so their actions are not interpreted in the same way as "fuckable" (my work, not his) girls. In the same way, because she was not seen in a sexual light by the guys, the other women did not see her as competition. As soon as she lost weight and was suddenly sexually noticeable, she became a threat to the other women, and a target to the guys.

There are many unevolved women who see life as simply something to be dealt with until they Get A Man[tm], and so every other cute woman is hated and feared as competition.

There are many men who divide the women around them into "fuckable/not fuckable", and any woman who falls into the "fuckable" category is prey, and only seen in terms of her fuckability.

Moral of the story? Girl needs to get herself a higher class of friends. >:(
( 45 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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