Thursday, 3 November 2011

Socio Scooby Logy Doo

So I am writing an article on monsters and it might look childish but science is in the end just fiction confronted with reality and there are probably some realities in our cultural monsters. Of course, the fascination for monsters is not shared by everybody, the fact that I have grown in geeky culture through and through is either the chicken or the egg of this fascination. Now I will present here some observation about the contemporary monsters we encounter in our comics, films and books. While reading this, let's keep in mind that monsters have existed since the dawn of humanity and are as important memes as deities and some deities happen to be monsters. I will though speak only of contemporary monsters and I will not work on their evolutions as it would have to follow the evolution of society. ( Yey, I have here the idea for another article to come ).

Let's start with the basic for any analysis: a simple definition and a simple taxonomy ( an Aristotelian organization) of monsters. The definition will be 'a supernatural threat to humanity'. And the subgroups of monsters are the big monsters, the hunter monsters and the swarm monsters. As you can see, it is pretty basic ( basic reflexion has time and time proven to be really infinite and might actually be an oxymoron). Now we have to see what I mean by these subgroups.

Well the big monsters are most probably the oldest monsters humanity had. They are the giants and the titans, the cyclopes and the leviathan, the king kong and the godzilla. They are the top of the food chain that everybody expects but never meet. They have also been embodied in science with mega-volcanos, intergalactic crashes, surprising tsunamis and lunatic suns. The newest kind of big monster I can think of is the alien spaceship. The aliens in themselves can embody different kind of monsters, but the spaceship usually represents what is too big to be controlled. The fear behind monsters is probably the one of finding something we could never have control on. We have to thank though hollywoodian mythology which always finds a way to destroy the threat and makes us forget that destruction is not a synonym for control.

Now a monster that I think has appeared only at the end of the 19th century ( though this has to be verified) is the swarm monster. The best example is of course the zombie. They have the power to increase exponentially and though they are small and weak, get us because of their number. I said that the first swarm I can think of in our culture are the morlocks in the H.G. Wells ' The Time Machine'. They represent the mass of workers having evolved in subhumans and are the enemy of the small elitist communities of Eloi. There is so this elitist representation of the proletarians that we can find in the end in zombie movies as well. Of course, swarms are also represented by science nowadays though diseases and infections, but the fear I think is the lost of power of the few who think themselves smarter against the mass of slow, small minded beings.
Finally, I add the hunters. The hunters are actually like human beings but generally feed on humans. The differences are only the differences we want to see. As such, it works like racism does, in the sense that we generalize an evil on a specie more or less similar to ours and the legitimization for hunting them down is the prejudice, without considering their weaknesses ( except as a mean to eradicate them). What is funny is that at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, we have seen an interesting evolution that tries to show an open-minded humanity which seeks to understand how these hunters are unique individuals that might deserve life. I am of course speaking of this attitude towards humanizing vampires, werewolves, witches and the such to involve them in romances with humans. We are now trying to glamorize their weaknesses and show their powers as tools given to the chosen few to protect humanity ( from itself usually). We could ask ourselves if in our culture, there is not a slow glorification in the media for the sociopath as a rational egoist, which happened to be the perfect human in a neoliberalist system.

There is a fourth group which I do not want to consider at this time: the ghosts. They represent too many things at the same time ( gods, hunters, different teleologies on life,...).

Ok, so we have different monsters, and we have humanity. What humanity represents most of the time is a specie-centered group which loses any ideal of being one with an ecosystem. Of course, modernity has disconnected us ( except through different resistance group which tried to present a positive organic perspective of the world) from this reality for the illusion of control. Monsters though show that we cannot control everything. As I have pointed out, big monsters cannot be controlled like sheeps and swarms are by definition overwhelming. Here, the interesting part about control and the environment is that when we have increased our capacity to travel, we have had to write down laws, as norms are not shared for every communities. Laws represents how everybody should act within a given-space. Hunters represents what laws cannot stop. Hunters are far more problematic for humanity because they also represent the excuse for humanity to be unlawful. Of course, in the middle-age, we managed to legally condemned witched through godly trials but we have stopped believing ourselves and now we have no laws to hunt hunters. We do now give them the rights we give ourselves or the one we give animals.

In a lot of cases with monsters, we become so obsessed with the survival of our species that we do not even consider other animals we used to live with. All the stories turn around the humans and how they confront the new threat. Of course, animal centered stories are not that common. It does show that monsters reinstate the dichotomy human vs. nature. They somehow legitimize our superiority because we can talk about our fear of them and find ourselves as victims ( what christian societies love to see themselves as). It is a human vs. nature where the sign-system disappears. With monsters, who cares that Britney Spears was a best-selling artist. The past and the future disappears, so knowledge of the signs created by humanity get in the background, excepted possibly for the hunters where their weaknesses are often hidden in some old books.

It is a paradoxical situation, to see that monsters represent the end of modernity and also the end of traditions. Traditions have never disappeared, but most of the time just transformed themselves. When I use the word tradition, I am speaking of ritualized social interactions. This is especially true with swarms. They oblige the humans to be constantly on the move to find an island of peace. This constant traveling, continuous escape, might be actually the ideal-type of true modernity, where no one is bound in a space or a time but has to always reflect. It does of course challenge our ethics, as knowing whether protecting the weak is something the group has to do, as it might put in danger everybody.

The final question when doing a laying down the problematics of a sociology of monsters is the question of the Nation-State. I will repeat the Weberian definition of the nation-state as the entity that has the legitimized monopoly of violence. Of course, this notion is anchored in the Hobbes' prince to whom we give all our force so this prince ( State) can protect us. The Nation-State though has rarely got the power to save us from monsters. It does echo the previous paragraph that states that modernity becomes ambiguous with swarm monsters, but the nation-state problematic appears with all the monsters. If the State cannot protect us, it is also too big to unite us all, it is too slow to pass useful laws and it is why militia appears and it is not even some form of idealized anarchism that takes place. The question of reinstating a State at the end of stories is not even often raised ( the exception I have in mind is Independence day where running the State becomes a hereditary profession).

So, I will stop here with just to never diminish the potential of fiction to question our society and I will dwell into more reflective entertainment now for our next discussion.
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