Who’s even scared of monsters anymore?

Flickr/Loren Javier
Flickr/Loren Javier

By Melissa Zahorujko

No doubt we are all looking forward to seeing Monsters University—the long-awaited sequel to an animated Pixar movie we were all quite fond of in our younger years. Those lovable blue and green monsters are certainly unforgettable. But, I question, since when has it become acceptable to describe monsters as ‘lovable’? The last time I checked, the word “monster” was defined using adjectives such as “ugly”, “frightening”, and “daunting”. There’s nothing remotely lovable about a description like that. Movies like Monsters Inc and its sequel definitely don’t abide by the original meaning of the word, telling stories of cute, fluffy and all-round endearing creatures that only go by the name of “monsters”. They’re just not frightening at all.

Back in the old days (and by old, I mean centuries ago kind-of-old), terrifying monsters were used as the fear factor in fairy tales and folklore to encourage good behaviour in children and promote moral views. Take Beauty and the Beast, for example. The tale, written mid-18th century, introduces us to a self-absorbed and selfish man who, as a consequence for his immoral ways, is turned into an ugly, petrifying monster feared by all the villagers.

Little Red Riding Hood is another fairy tale example. The big, bad wolf was a monster-like animal representing sexual predators that children were taught to fear and avoid. Remember the part where the wolf—dressed as grandma—tries to lure Little Red into his bed? Scary, huh? Yet, these days, we all seem to forget the moral of this classic tale as it has been repeatedly made and remade into light-hearted entertainment via the film and television industry.

Speaking of wolves, let’s not forget the whole wolf/vampire teenage obsession, especially brought to attention by the likes of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Kevin Williamson’s Vampire Diaries. Whilst the fear-inducing vampires of the 19th century sucked all the lifeblood out of innocent victims, today’s vampires apparently ‘glitter’ in the sunlight. How frightening. Apparently, they can even fall deeply, utterly and irrevocably in love with their food source, which also happens to be more than a hundred years younger than them. Well, despite that seeming slightly paedophilic and rather similar to that scary situation with the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, teenagers show no aversion to these “monsters”. It’s really quite the opposite.

Vampires have become an object of sexual desire, passion, and love, rather than one of fear. Today, we all know at least one teenage girl obsessing over the supposedly gorgeous, brooding Edward Cullen or the lust-worthy Salvatore brothers. But I don’t think anyone in the 19th century ever witnessed teenage girls walking around wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Team Dracula” printed across their chest during the time Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published. Some of these modern-day fanatics are, in fact, drawn so obsessively to vampires that they make their sexual fantasies become a written reality. Have you ever tried reading a Twilight fanfiction? I strongly advise you don’t.

It’s more than clear to me that monsters are becoming adored rather than feared. They’re no longer scaring children into obeying their parents, but are instead being put under a more positive light by our media and entertainment industry. And who’s to say that’s a bad thing? I’m sure monsters are enjoying their hard-earned break from tyrannous villainy. But perhaps, every now and again, we need to remember why monsters were invented in the first place and how their presence in stories makes a difference. It was through fear that they really taught us important life lessons, ultimately helping to shape our social intelligence.

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