The overall argument that Cohen introduces to a general audience is that monsters do exist and they are created within a culture. The purpose of writing is to present an understanding of the existence of the monsters and the way they are created by individuals and cultures. The tone of the text is somber given the fact that the author speaks about a subject that causes fear and dread. Cohen presents a very convincing model for understanding monsters in society and pop culture. The monster theory applies to the understanding of the concept of monsters from many different perspectives. The question of whether monsters exist or not is one that can be conclusively answered through an investigation of all the theses presented in the text. From the perspective of the monsters being a creation of the society and the people that live within, it is true that monsters are real.
Thesis 1: Main Claim
The first out of the seven theses that Cohen presents to his audience is that “the Monster’s body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy….The monstrous body is pure culture” (Cohen 4). The monster, therefore, Cohen affirms that it does not mean anything by itself, but can only be understood and explained as a cultural construct. The monsters within the culture are an embodiment of the deep-seated fears and anxieties that exists within that particular culture. This is the reason they are created and ascribed a meaning.
Evidence (2 important examples)
The aliens are viewed as the creatures from the terrestrial world that are coming in to take over the world. The nature of the creation is too serious that some people have argued to have encountered the aliens. Some have cited them and even captured them in cameras. The aliens are an idea of the monsters that is too common in the western world today. There are many films about the aliens that have been created, all for the purpose of communicating the possible reality of these aliens. As Cohen contends, the aliens are created out of the fear within the society of the outsiders, different from us in terms of culture, race, and religion among other characteristics. We have created the aliens to communicate our fear of those people who are considered different from us. The fear is that these people could be coming in to take over our society and culture.
The image of Osama Bin Laden was created in the mainstream media and pop culture as a monster that should be feared in the west. For a long time, it was used as the focus of all fight against terrorism because the monster had to be slain. It is out of the fear of terrorism that the monster was created in the society. Islam has also created as a monster within the western culture due to Islamophobia and the fear of terrorism. As Cohen would argue, the monsters exist within us because the culture has created and presented them to us. We have been presented with what to be afraid of. It is also out fear that has led to their existence.
Like any other monster, the Terrorist is more than a creation of the popular culture. The monster is as real as many are afraid to believe. The creators of the monster are careful to construct something that is so real and bring shivers. It is based on the realities of the culture and the time that it exists that monsters are created and become so real to the audience. In the case of any changes in the culture and times, more monsters emerge. This is a reflection of the reality that the monsters are created as a product of the cultural space and time. They are presented to the audience being as real as their own existence. It is the culture that is responsible for creating and assigning meaning to the monsters.
Thesis 2: Main Claim
The second thesis states that “The Monster always escapes” (Cohen 4). There is always the damage that is left behind by the monster, and just about the time when society is about to come to terms with it, the monster disappears only to take another form and reappear somewhere else. The fears, anxieties and other concerns affecting humanity continue to change. Therefore, this means that the monster has to protean; alter his form based on demands, such that it continues to fit in the changes within the culture. The author alludes that the monster does not cease to exist, but only escapes to emerge in another form. The monster will persist to the constantly changing, real-life culture’s fears, anxieties, desires, and fantasies. The shape-shifting nature of the monster allows it to continue to exist within the culture as various cultural aspects change.
Evidence (2 important examples)
The monsters always change the form in which they come in. While watching a film with the zombies, they do not exist in the same form throughout the movie, or else they are less likely to have the horrific effect. In the same way, the same story that was told in the past about the zombie apocalypse will not have the same effect if it is presented against in the same form. There are always changes. For example, the introduction of technology caused changes in the films to adapt to the new changes. Hence, the monster will always change with the transformations experienced in the cultures within which they are created.
The monsters, such as vampires do not completely go away. They escape for some time before emerging back in more forms that are horrific. A good example is the Vampire Diaries, where the original and more lethal vampires keep appearing from the past to terrorize those living in the present. When the audience is already used to the existence of the vampires and even getting used to living with them, the more lethal vampires come back introducing the audience back to the horror they are expected to cause. There are always new forms that emerge when the existing ones fail to bring the effect. There is a common belief that horror films never come to an end because even when the monster is slain, there is the possibility of coming back in a different or the same more lethal form.
The monsters created in the popular culture do not always exist in the same form. They keep on changing and taking new forms as things change in the society. They are a creation of the culture, which is also always changing. Hence, to remain relevant the monsters keep on disappearing and appearing in new forms, with the same or a different meaning to the society. Creators of the monsters play an important part in advancing the change. The monsters that were too scary, for example, became a part of the society, leading to the need to create new ones to replace them. It is for this reason that the horror stories keep on changing because with time they lose the effect. Even real monsters such as terrorism keeps on assuming new forms to remain relevant and achieving the objectives.
When the monsters are used in films and literature, the admiration and desires of the audience are sparked by the way the monster is created. Some writers are careful to create the sort of monster that the audience can admire and even desire to become. Such creations are very common in the modern day popular culture. They have come to be greatly accepted by the audience indicating why their market is growing. Hence, the writers are in completion to create more of the stories with the admirable monsters. Increasingly, the monsters are no longer feared in society, they are either admired or abhorred depending on their character, just like humans. The wish-fulfillment drama has altered the conventional view of the monster. They are being created within the culture in such a way that they are aligned with the expectations of that culture of good and evil.
Thesis 3: Main Claim
Thesis 3 states that “The Monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis” (Cohen 6). The monster is a warning sign, heralding a crisis concerning the categories of culture used in the comprehension of the world. This also applies to the efforts to understand the monster himself as well as the individuals and their societies. The monster goes against the conventional nomenclature, implying the need for entirely new categorizations and “compartmentalization” within cultures. According to Cohen, the existence of the monster does not fit any of the prevailing categories within any culture. “A mixed category, the monster resists any classification built on hierarchy and binary oppositions, demanding instead a ‘system’ allowing polyphony, mixed response (differences in sameness, repulsion in attraction), and resistance to integration” (7). Conclusively, the author portends that the monster is too large a genus to be understood based on the conventional classifications. Therefore, Williams agrees that although they are created within the culture, no cultural classification can correctly capture them.
Evidence (2 important examples)
Monsters do not fit in any of the prevailing classifications that are evident in society. One of the great examples to illustrate this is the creation of the vampires. The vampires take a human form, and unless one sees the fangs and red eyes when they are thirsty for blood, it is not possible to know that they are not humans. The creators of the Dracula moved towards the creation of monsters that would take the human form. In the film, The Twilight Saga, the writer has created vampires with the potential to live with human beings; the children are even attending school. However, they do not fit into the conventions of humanity no matter how much they try to live like normal humans. The vampires, with the ability to live with human beings, bring about a challenge in classifying them.
The Euglena has been considered a monster of the microscopic world. The one-celled animal does not fit in either of the various categories of animals. The creature could have been an animal, but it has chloroplasts, which make it possible for it to photosynthesize. This is an organelle, which is lacking in animals. Being neither a plant nor animal makes it some sort of monster because it calls for the definition of a category that only “itself” belongs. It created a mystery in trying to understand the creature, just the same way the monsters in other cultures do. Monsters are their own categories, which cause scientists and other experts a great deal of headache trying to unravel the mystery. The challenge is that they invade a kingdom in which they cannot belong. Evidently, they have the potential to invade any world like in the case of the Euglena.
The construction of the alien in society is one of the strategies for understanding the reality of the monster in society. Aliens evade the culture that is not their own and no matter what, they cannot be classified as part of the convention of that culture. The aliens have caused major challenges in the efforts to situate them in any of the prevailing categories. The aliens do not fit in any of the three categories that scientists have classified life on the earth: minerals, plants, and animals. The aliens are known to invade the social space, causing a great deal of mystery because they do not fit into the normal categories within the society. The same case is used when considering the invasion of foreigners into a society, such as the illegal aliens in America. The same alien rhetoric is applied to them because they do not fit into the social and cultural space.
Thesis 4: Main Claim
Thesis 4 states that The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference (Cohen 7). The main claim, in this case, is that the created monster is not a part of the society, but an outsider. He is an eternal other. It is the culture’s Not-Me, the rejected self of the culture. This means that he is viewed as dwelling in a world that is not his own. Cohen observes “the monster is difference made flesh” (7). When the monsters are created within a culture, it is to depict the outsider who is a source of threat to the actual occupants of the society or culture, those justified to belong. Depending on the culture/society/era, the monsters are considered a threat when they occupy that culture or society. Cohen contends that the monsters are a production of “race” as well as other biases that exist in a particular culture. The monsters that are created are supposed to be inferior to those who genuinely belong to the culture or society. The monster is created in such a way that it does not fit the conventions of the society within which it is presented. Those belonging to that culture have their own cultures, religions, politics, and economics, among other characteristics that make them to belong. On the contrary, the monster is created in such a manner that he disturbs the status quo. He is not the same as those who belong and can never be taken in as being part of the culture or society. The monster cannot be pigeonholed based on the categories within the culture that are critical in understanding the members of the culture. He is an entirely different being and no matter what, he cannot fit. In fact, “threatens to destroy not just individual members of a society but the very cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed” (12).
Evidence (2 important examples)
When the children of Israel were expected to enter the Promised Land, they were confronted with “the aboriginal inhabitants of Canaan.” The creator gave the land to them and they were expected to assume occupancy. However, they were threatened by the monsters that were created to show a hindrance to their success in occupying the land. The monsters were “envisioned as menacing giants to justify the Hebrew colonization of the Promised Land” (Williams 38). They had colonized a land that justifiably belonged to the Hebrews.
Another example of a monster is the creation of Victor Frankenstein, which even he himself is afraid of. In his efforts to create a human being, Victor ends up creating a very scary monster, which does not belong to society and is subjected to the harshness and rejection of the people who rightfully belong. The monster becomes the herald of the classification crisis. The threatening aspects of the creature are founded on the characteristics of the society, including cultural/social, racial, economic, political, and sexual. He is a threat to the social order and what the people are accustomed to. It becomes evident that Victor has created a monster that did not have a place in society or culture.
The monsters are created to show that the represented aspect is a source of fear to the members of society or culture. In this case, a perfect strategy is when the west looks at the terrorist as a monster. This is someone who is not a part of the society; he is an outsider whose existence within the said culture causes a huge threat to the actual occupants of the culture. The outside is always out to cause trouble at least from the perspective of the insider. It is the reason the insider constructs the image of the outside monster, which is out to cause problems.
Thesis 5: Main Claim
In thesis 5, Cohen suggests, “The Monster Polices the Borders of the Possible” (13). While creation of the monster attracts exploration, it also opposes such actions as among its rationales is guarding the boundaries erected by a culture in defending itself against the absurdity and challenges that could face its systems. Cohen insists that “The monster of prohibition exists to demarcate the bonds that hold together that system of relations we call culture, to call horrid attention to the borders that cannot–must not –be crossed” (13). The boundaries are established for the purpose of guiding the society against the externalities that might have negative ramifications to the cultural fabric. There are many aspects that if allowed would cross the boundaries and tear the cultural fabric. Indeed, such are what monsters guide against.
Evidence (2 important examples)
Monster in the Closet is an example of such a creation of the monster where homosexuality is revealed as a monster. The social and cultural fabrics are revealed as being under threat due to the monster, which is homosexuality. The monster is created in relation to the fears that emanate from the queer behavior such as the fear of HIV/AIDS and the anxiety about the morals of the society being destroyed in the process. It is in a society that views heterosexuality as the norm and that homosexuality is most likely to be abhorred and created as a monster. The destructiveness of the monster is an actual deconstructiveness, the threat of which is evident in the society. Hence, to prevent the possibility of the destructiveness being experienced in the society, behaviors such as homosexuality are shown as being monsters.
Web monsters have emerged as a way of communicating the destructive effects of technology. The older members of society are afraid of the destruction that the technology is threatening to cause. Hence, to create fear and possibly protect the younger generations from the effects, there has been creation of web monsters. The mobsters come in the form of robots among others. In a children’s show on the TV, Game Shakers, a robot is created that is admired by the children at first until it threatens to cause terror by throwing one of the characters off the roof. Such creations of the monster are expected to protect the society from the ruin by the monsters themselves (Smits 490). While there are efforts to understand technology, for example, they also bring about the negative side that communicates the need for caution.
The monsters that play this role are carefully crafted by the creators to serve the purpose. Depending on the purpose, the society is presented with something that should cause fear and hence restraints. For example, when the children see homosexuality as a monster they are expected to avoid the practice. At least, this is the main goal in creating the monster. They are created because of the need to protect the society and its culture. Whatever is a threat is cast as a monster that should be abhorred and avoided. Hence, while there are efforts to understand emerging issues in society, the monster side causes them to be avoided as a means of protecting the society. The “deconstructiveness” of the monster is an important aspect of the culture and the intention of protecting those existing within it.
Benshoff, Harry M. Monsters in the closet: Homosexuality and the horror film. Manchester University Press, 1997.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, ed. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
Emerson, Ralph W. “The American Scholar.” Speech. Phi Beta Kappa Society, Cambridge, MA. 31 Aug. 1837. EmersonCentral.com. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Smits, Martijntje. “Taming monsters: The cultural domestication of new technology.” Technology in Society 28.4 (2006): 489-504
Williams, David. Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Medieval Thought and Literature. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.