There just seem to be too many kinds of monsters.
Last month I told you about the giant spider in Earth v Spider. Now that was a monster I could understand. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf and whatever lived in my closet (not the standard under the bed monster for me) were monsters I could understand. I’d know them on sight, or in the case of Closet Monster, by feel in the pit of my stomach. A little kindness would make Frankie easy to handle, soft voice accompanied by a smile, that’s all I needed for him. A nice wooden stake and a little garlic would keep the Count from seeing my neck as a chicken leg. This was no problem. There seemed to be no real specs on the wooden stake so a sharpened Popsicle stick would probably do the trick. The Werewolf knew what was going to happen to him on a full moon and usually he’d run off, so the key there was to let him run off and not follow him. Easy. Whatever was in my closet could be outrun with two steps, a sock aided slide across the floor and a masterful one yard leap into bed while simultaneously grabbing the covers after flipping the light switch to the off position. I had that down.
Seemingly apropos of nothing, I went on an Orson Welles tangent this week. I love Orson. In one half hour period I found Orson calling Harry Cohn, the old movie studio head, a monster, then Dick Cavett recalling his interview with Welles (the one in which Welles referred to Cohn as a monster) and Cavett referred to Welles as a monster talent and intellect. We all know that Citizen Kane was a monster, or actually two monsters, the character and the movie both deserving the term. See? That’s what I mean by too many kinds of monsters, good ones, bad ones, scary ones, wonderful ones, mythic ones, cartoony ones. There are dead monsters and live monsters and monsters that are just ideas. There are imaginary ones and real ones. There are some monsters I love, but lately I feel like we’ve been overrun by some pretty destructive monsters on an almost weekly basis. From factory owners in Bangladesh to American loonies who actually say out loud with no perceptible shame that “Waterboarding is when we baptize the terrorists with freedom” we seem to have monsters running amok.
There are societal monsters in the shape of ideas that wind up twisted into racism, injustices of every stripe, fascism, misogyny and more. Each of those twists spawn more twisted monsters like lynchings, innocent men being executed, re-education camps, honor killings, gay bashing. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg, and this is a global problem. All of those twisty monsters breed, each generation becoming a further aberration. They join with one another forming alliances of hatred and violence that make the monsters exponentially more dangerous and toxic, bigger and stronger.
Greed marries Disregard, giving birth to Poverty, Hunger, and Ignorance. Their extended family tree includes other famous monsters like Rampant Consumerism, Envy, Diamond Lil–a diamond studded bra that drips with the blood of the children who dug up her stones, and the handsome Gold Plated Gun that drips with the blood of, well, whoever it’s pointed at. That whole family is full of monsters.
According to one of the Ku Klux Klan’s latest iterations God insists on the white race conquering and subjugating anyone who isn’t white. The ever colorful Fred Phelps of Westboro tells us that God is a vicious brute, filled with hate and vengeance for just about everyone. Glenn Beck holds up a machine gun at a convention while tossing out strings of dangerous nonsense words that include a few bombs like Hitler, slavery, Constitution and naturally, God. Everyone applauds their God of choice and his monster prophet without finding any of the prophet’s ideas or words offensive in the least. God is clearly a monster. Not just the Christian God either. Look around. Seems God’s been on a tear lately, stomping through one belief system after another like King Kong swatting airplanes on the Empire State Building, roaring from high above the street, “Build a bomb in my name. Drop it from a plane. Leave it in a backpack. Strap it to your body. Kill the Muslims. Kill the Christian Infidels. Kill the Fags. Kill Yourself. Carnage is proof of your faith in me. Do it for your country. Do it in my name, it is my will. It’s all right there in my book, whichever book you prefer, it’s there I tell you.”
In some cities both the police and the criminals are monsters on any given day. Perhaps they draw lots or have an even day/odd day schedule. The police in California beat a man to death, 8 men with batons to one guy on the ground. That family tree is showing up again with Anger and Power in the starring roles this time. A sadist keeps three women in captivity for a decade giving Cruelty and Depravity some time in the limelight.
Monsters. This list could go on forever, and seemingly has, having been added to since the dawn of time. Afraid you don’t have enough food? Go conquer your neighbor. Make sure they fear you as you fear your projected lack. In fact, make them fear you more than that. Draw and quarter them or burn them at the stake. That will definitely make a statement. That point of view seems to have morphed into: Afraid the guys around the way will think you’re weak? Go shoot up a neighborhood and kill a couple of the kids and they’ll know you’re strong. Afraid that everyone but yourself is a criminal bent on stealing/killing/raping? Get six or eight guns, fly an American flag (or in certain neighborhoods, a Confederate flag), put an NRA sticker on your car and in your front window and you’ll be safe. Your five year old might not be once your eight year old finds your gun stash but you’ll keep those external monsters at bay for sure. Afraid you won’t have someone to feel superior to? Go to Harvard, write a paper saying all Latinos have sub-par intelligence and have a political think tank accept it as an actual piece of scholarship on which to base policy recommendations.* That will make you an “elitist” monster, and you know how monstrous those elitists can be.
Tonight some people will put their children to bed after listening to them pray, they’ll shine the flashlight under the bed (or in the closet) to show them there’s nothing under there, they’ll read them a soothing bedtime story and tell them monsters aren’t real. They will hope to allay their children’s fears while not recognizing their own. They forget to tell them that fear feeds the monsters. They don’t tell them that some kids know monsters are real when they hear their stomachs growling, when they hear a shot ring out in the night, when they hear a neighbor’s door smashed open by gun wielding men in black helmets. They know they’re real when they hear their aunt scream upon hearing her son is dead in a war far away or in the street down the block. Some kids know monsters are real when their parents work three jobs and can’t be there at night to shine that flashlight under the bed, while other children know it when the bomb goes off in their grocery store in Syria or Iraq or Lebanon.
Some days I’d consider making Medusa my patroness, hold her head aloft like Perseus and turn us all to stone. I’d pray the rosary with two of Baudelaire’s verses instead of Hail Mary’s:
You walk upon corpses which you mock, O Beauty!
Of your jewels Horror is not the least charming,
And Murder, among your dearest trinkets,
Dances amorously upon your proud belly.
Whether you come from heaven or from hell, who cares,
O Beauty! Huge, fearful, ingenuous monster!
On other days a guy plays a banjo across the street from my house and I hear it through the window or someone sends me a glorious photo of an Antoni Gaudi building and for a while the world is monstrously beautiful. The cats are curious about all the hissing and bumping coming from the box on the bookshelf. I had to tape the sides to keep the snake hair from escaping. I pour some tea, push a button and watch Citizen Kane and Lady from Shanghai, keeping my sweater by the door just in case I need to run out to talk softly and smile in order to soothe Frankenstein.
*Jason Richwine dissertation
Baudelaire Poem is Hymn to Beauty from Fleurs du Mal