Wednesday, October 21, 2020

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Book

The Monster Theory Reader edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock. University of Minnesota Press. 2020.

Monsters have been a passion of mine since I was a toddler, and part of my professional life for over thirty years. I've watched a lot of movies, I've read a lot of books including novels, folklore, fairy tales, occult histories and cryptozoological studies not to mention hundreds of books on horror films. Occasionally I'd come across some book that set out to explain peoples fascination with monsters. I never touched those. I've never seriously analyzed my own fascination, and had no intention of tainting it with some academic psychiatric explanation. I just wanted to appreciate monsters the way I always had and to deal with them intuitively in my own work.

Likewise, I was aware that there was an academic arena called Monster Theory. I didn't know anything about it and wasn't really curious. So, what got me to pick up a copy of The Monster Theory Reader? I'm not really sure, but it may simply have been to see if there was something I was missing out on that might inspire me in new directions. With some hesitation I figured I'd give it a shot, hoping it wasn't going to be 500 plus pages of academic writing.

I can't imagine that people who write academic papers actually enjoy reading them, and I'm pretty certain they don't speak that way when they lecture, or converse with a collegue. Why this style of writing is so embraced bewilders me. It's sole purpose seems to be to obfuscate flimsy arguments by repetitively circling around an idea with as much self referential academic jargon that the obtuse vocabulary masks the emptiness of the article itself.

The Monster Theory Reader is pretty well balanced where such articles only represent a small number of the articles contained, though one of them is the longest article in the book.  Half of those articles, didn't seem to have anything to say. As for the rest of the book, while it was interesting to see Freud's Essay on The Uncanny, which gets referenced in lots of books pertaining to monsters, and Masahiro Mori's short essay which introduced the concept of the Uncanny Valley to the world, the takeaway was that monsters can represent whatever you want them to;  an oppressed minority group, whether it's the poor, black people, women, Jews, the LGBT community, immigrants, foreigners, you name it, and there are several essays here devoted to one group of another. My response is, duh! You don't need to have a Phd to figure that out.

There was an interesting essay on how a group of movies from 2012-2014 dealing with giant monsters from the Pacific Ocean that observed that human representatives from that part of the planet were woefully non represented in those films, nor were their cultures. There were also a couple other interesting articles including one on conjoined twins. While the lack of cultural diversity in Hollywood movies is nothing new, and should always be food for thought until it's no longer an issue,  I'm not sure how it forwards the academic study of monsters. The latter mentioned article, and another here on the Japanese Tanuki and how the introduction of the train into Japan essentailly brought to end the tales of travelers harassed by spirits on their journeys, were more what I was hoping for. I wanted to see more about how folktales from around the world tied into the cultures that produced them. If someone wants to introduce me to books that have more of that kind of content, I'd like to read them. If the arena of Monster Theory is an endless stream of articles on monsterizing the Jew, or the Muslim, or Women, or equating monsters with capitalism and the KKK, then I feel like this field is already done and over with.

I'm not sorry that I picked up this book. About half of it made for interesting reading. If nothing more, it reminded me of what I loved about the subject, and what I had absolutely no use for.

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