What are monsters? Are they scary or just strange? It’s a shifty word that keeps on shifting. Monsterness is in the eye of the beholder – although, with the beholder being, itself, a monster made of eyes, this may be tautological. Sometimes they’re cuddly and sometimes they’re insectile, sometimes they want to be us and sometimes they want to eat us. The endless flexibility of the word is confusing and enthralling, a word that encompasses Sully and Adolf Hitler, Cookie Monster and Charles Manson.
Maybe it means a creature that humanity doesn’t want to see. Something too big or confusing or scary or improbable. Vampires are disconcerting even if they don’t eat people. They defy explanation – plus, like, they could eat a person if they decided to, right? Well, so could a person, if it comes to that. Most of the worst things done to people are done by people, and it’s been that way for all of recorded history. Mostly we don’t even call the people who do the worst things monsters: We call them pioneers, visionaries and missionaries, entrepreneurs.
Is it any wonder so many of us wish we could just be monsters? To belong to horn and tooth and fur, divorce from humanity. What could be more human than wishing you weren’t?
Sometimes I feel like a monster, like I can’t be let into the light, like my existence is too improbable and my wants unspeakable. It seems self-important to say how much I feels out of place, like I’m selling myself as exceptional when I’m merely invisible. It’s so common to feel a kinship with the monsters. So many of us can feel the fur and the fang that don’t exist, can feel our tissue rejected by the body of humanity, feel certain there must be another home for us out there. Isn’t that what we were taught as kids? That the monsters are out there, that we could come live with them if we must, that they always await us if we become too wild to be held by our world?
Alas, the monsters were in us all along. We made them to be what we needed them to be: A friend when we were lonely or an inhuman face to paint over all-too-human crimes. That’s why we make art today, to create a little yard where the monsters can play, where the fur and the fang can slake its thirst without hurting us or without, in the end, showing us anything we weren’t already prepared to see.