Thursday, July 7, 2016

Of monsters and animals

The Hooded Utilitarian is a comics blog that often discusses other media which have been traditionally considered "lowbrow", such as superhero movies, horror movies, space opera and TV serials. I don't like the smug tone that much of the articles and threads seem to have and I'm wary of the heavy political bias of many of the contributors, but I keep an eye on it anyway for the occasional piece about furries and other interesting insights which occasionally pop up. One of the latest articles is in fact insightful and close to the topics of my blog:

I've rambled before about humanity vs. nature being an outdated and misleading story archetype, and such contemporary iterations of the story just keep proving how dishonest it is as a premise. You simply can't have a story about murderous giant sharks or pythons or whatever without fake science to justify it, because in the real world very few animals actually attack humans and such attacks happen in circumstances that are either too unlucky and odd to turn into a compelling story or stuff that movies don't want to deal with. The note about the mosquito is spot on as that's actually the most deadly animal for humans by a huge margin. (I recommend the first thirty or so episodes of the podcast This Week in Parasitism for extensive coverage of that and other related issues.)

The article mostly analyzes the power dynamics displayed in that story archetype and how they relate to racism. Racism in movies is a valid concern of course, yet the parallel feels a bit contrived to me. That's the typical humanistic approach of boiling everything down to internal conflicts of the human species and considering such conflicts the only problems that matter. But the culturally enforced conflict between humans and "the rest of nature" is a huge philosophical problem with its own dignity and it is very distinct from racism, even thought some of the dynamics are similar. I long for the day media critics will realize that a racist movie and a movie portraying sharks as worthless monsters are both flat out wrong.

As an artist I see this as an ethical issue which is especially pressing for fantasy/imaginative artists of all flavors. Making monsters out of creatures which are known not to be so is unethical. When you have to make up lies in order to paint some creature or individual as the bad guy, chances are you are being an irresponsible storyteller communicating a factually wrong message about the world to your audience.

If you really have to, at least use eldritch horrors which actually evoke the shapeless inner demons we can't control. I have my issues with Lovecraft but that's the one thing he got right: sadness, despair and hardship are closer to the indescribable Great Old Ones than to a CG shark. I don't see how defeating the ridiculously fake version of animal could give anyone a real feeling of empowerment.

Matt Lindley, Azathoth, 2012

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