Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer

For my PhD research into monster mashups, I’ve ended up reading a lot of things with cheesy titles. Jane Slayre, Wuthering Bites, Grave Expectations, Mr Darcy, Vampyre – I could list them all day. Compared to these, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer isn’t too bad, but it’s got the same gleeful level of camp and (ir)reverence for … Read more

Our Zombies, Ourselves: A Lecture with J. Halberstam

At guest lectures I usually come prepared to fully understand about half of the references made, and get excited about one or two particular sound bytes. Not so at Jack Halberstam’s lecture on Zombie Humanism at the End of the World (originally titled ‘Our Zombies, Ourselves: Queerness at the End of Time’), kindly hosted by the Cardiff … Read more

What They Do in the Shadows is Basically What We Do, Too

Whatever I had been expecting from vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, it wasn’t what I got in the end. And I mean that in the best possible way. Where to start? With plot, I suppose, though that may be the least interesting part about this film. What We Do in the Shadows follows a film … Read more

Here Be Dragons: Why It’s Good to Identify With the Monster

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2015 will bring as many changes, challenges, stories, and monsters as 2014.

Sadly there is one thing that won’t be returning in the new year. After nine seasons on television, The Colbert Report, starring the satirical right-wing persona Stephen Colbert, ended on December 18, 2014. Multiple articles have talked about the political mark Colbert has left on television and on the USA, but today I’m interested in something a little less “real-world”.  In addition to his interest in politics, Stephen Colbert is a huge nerd.

During the penultimate week of the show Colbert had a special guest star: Smaug from The Hobbit. Smaug came to promote the third and final Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, which hit cinemas in December. You can watch the interview on Colbert’s website, or here via YouTube:

Not only do I find this interview hilarious, particularly with its references Sherlock actors Benedict Cumberbatch (who also voices Smaug in the film adaptations of The Hobbit) and Martin Freeman (who plays Bilbo Baggins), and its caricature of Smaug as a Republican one-percenter – I’m also hoping it represents a continuing trend of glorifying the monster. Over the last few decades there’s been a marked increase in the number of stories told by the bad guy. Culture blog i09.com even had a recent post asking people to list their favourite re-tellings of stories from the villain’s perspective. There are any number of reasons why we find monsters and antiheroes fascinating, and recent pop culture has seen the development of enticingly multi-layered villains, but to be honest, I’m interested in stories that play with monsters in this way for another reason.

When we get right down to it, sympathising with the monsters gives us great practice in humanising people we might otherwise hate. By thinking at length about the reasons that people have for doing strange or terrible things, and imagining what those reasons might be creates empathy. Every single one of us, knowingly or unwittingly, has a group of people that we demonise. Sometimes the hatred that we feel towards these people is earned, but more often our vilification of them is linked to processes of which we are largely unaware. We dehumanise them so we don’t have to feel bad about hating or harming them, and so we can feel better about ourselves. While there are also negative sides to such empathy, in the best of cases, sympathising with the bad guy trains us to think before we assume. Who can ever think the same way about evil henchmen again once they’ve watched the scene below, from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)?

What would the world be like if we imagined a similar story for every person we hated or considered to be monstrous?

Of Apes and Angels

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” –Terry Pratchett, Hogfather (London: Corgi, 1997), p. 422 This blog has recently undergone a move from WordPress.com to a real domain, as well as a re-design that includes a new name – something more vivid and less technical than ‘Neo-Historical … Read more

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Today marks the very first Jane Austen Day – which would also be the author’s 239th birthday were she still alive. While a lot of websites have been celebrating by listing 30 tips from Jane Austen for a successful life (“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be … Read more

Posthumanism

Every piece of research needs to have goals, and mine has two.  The problem with these goals is that they’re kind of difficult to understand unless you explain one term: posthumanism. This term is tricky to approach as well, because it actually has two meanings. One of the meanings has to do with altering humanity through technology, with the idea … Read more

Intro to Monsters

So as of this week I’m a freshly minted PhD candidate. This means I’m finally going to have to get around to putting all those thoughts and scribbles I’ve been accumulating over the last couple of years into what is essentially a book on monsters. In the PhD application I just submitted to the Amsterdam School … Read more

Travis Louie and the Other Victorians

Artist Travis Louie paints some of my favourite portraits. Part Victorian photography, part monster mashup—no matter how hard I believe that his fantastical creations never actually existed, looking into their eyes I can never quite shake the feeling that they’re still out there somewhere, taking selfies and giving the paleo diet a go.